What's Old Is New Again In Small Business

As the saying goes, what goes around comes around. It's an axiom because it's true. And when it comes to small business, it's never been more evident than it is today. Yes, technology and innovation have changed the world, but the way we do business today is not unlike it was 150 years ago.

Imagine being a small business owner in the 1860's: no automobiles to move product, no mass media to advertise, and no way for large-scale manufacturing. 

The majority of families survived through farming. They would grow enough to feed the family, use produce or livestock to barter for products or services, and make sure they had enough resources to do it again next year.

The other group of entrepreneurs would offer services to others. The blacksmith, the general store merchant, and the family doctor.  How would you start a business in this environment?

First, all of these people need customers. So how would they find them? You could advertise in the local newspaper, you could post advertising pieces around town, but most of commerce happened through specialization, word of mouth (a.k.a., reputation) and trusted relationships.

For example, if you need to outfit your horse with new shoes, the blacksmith will make the shoes and the farrier would put them on the horse.

150 years ago little time was spent trying to get the attention of anyone who would listen, and most of the efforts to find customers would happen through one-on-one conversations and trusted relationships.

Fast forward to 1960's. There are large tractor trailers to haul goods across the country. There are a limited number of television outlets to run ads and radio which is listened to by almost every potential consumer on a daily basis, and massive manufacturing options. Scale was the objective: the bigger the better, for everything. Bigger distribution networks, bigger advertising budgets, bigger manufacturing outputs.

These people need customers. How would they find them? Print, radio and television ads. Just like scaling operations, scaling marketing messages would have big payoffs. The louder the message, screaming at the largest audience, would result in more success for the business. 

Fast forward another 50 years. What is it like to be a small business owner today? Two-day delivery is the minimum expectation. One-hour delivery is possible. Media is so pervasive we can't avoid it except in our sleep. Manufacturing is so precise, many items can be made to order. 

In this environment with so much noise and endless options, how do you find customers? Ironically, the tactics look much like they did in the 1860's. Specialization, word of mouth (and still reputation), and trusted relationships.

To get new clients you need to solve a specific problem they are facing. You must be so good with your solution that your client is eager to use you again, and tells anyone else they know with the same problem that they MUST use you. 


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Photo by Jonathan Bean on Unsplash

 

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Aaron Armour

Aaron has been managing teams for more than 15 years, some as large as 200 employees. He has managed business units with $36 million in revenue and projects with $50 million budgets. His experience spans multiple industries including Telecom, Retail, Banking, and International Startup. Aaron is passionate about helping business leaders identify roadblocks, develop a clear plan to start growing again.