Small business CAN fare well in choppy waters

Once upon a time I thought I wanted to be a captain of industry, owning a big business with aspirations to employee 100’s, nay 1000’s of employees. But as I grow older I can see now how my ambitions and sense of equality are much better suited to the small business world. And as I discussed the ‘financial storm’ with a few big business colleagues a useful analogy sprang to mind, with small business being a streamlined yacht and their big business more like the huge frigate.

The ‘big business’ frigate is huge. It is built to last, having evolved over many years of sea faring and based on the principles of big is best. With an enormous infrastructure there are many hands on deck in the event of an emergency. To be frank, if one member of the crew falls over board, it is not going to mean the ship sinks. Millions have been invested in it with concept of design weighted in tradition and the belief that BIG is very much best.

When the sea starts to get choppy, the crew barely notices, if there is a little crack in the hull then it stays afloat, if the odd rivet works its way loose, the captain is not immediately aware. And the captain sleeps well, in palatial quarters, comfortable in the knowledge that the boat will be safe in the hands of his enormous crew.

But the reality can often be very different. The captain in his palatial cabin hasn’t noticed the seething discontent in the ranks and the brewing mutiny – whilst he enjoys his fine wine and food in full view of his crew, the deck hand live on crackers and water and so their resentment grows. The missing rivet although not initially causing any major problems has led to an unseen insidious case of rust rendering the boat critically flawed. And the chap that fell over board was the navigator, who would have seen looming iceberg coming sooner! And now the captain who has finally seen the trouble his boat is in can’t turn the frigate around soon enough, the turning cirle is just too huge to avoid the calamitous collision.

Small business – the skippered yacht of the business seas – will feel the wind as it picks up and notice as soon as the water gets choppy. Every component and crew member is vital to its staying afloat – as soon as a tear occurs in the sail has to be mended quickly or the yacht will fail to make progress, and even the smallest hole in the hull may make it sink. Losing a team member overboard would be unthinkable. The crew and skipper share cooking, cabin and compensation with leadership still evident and crucial but with a greater equality and appreciation of the individual’s contribution. Any grievances are aired promptly and dealt with swiftly – the team effort is relied on and rewarded. And when the yacht sees the iceberg it can quickly tack and avoid it. It can be reactive, fast moving and adaptive.

I guess a continuation of this analogy is to ask how a small business can grow yet retain all the great qualities of its streamlined yacht like exterior! I guess a flotilla of yachts and a central command with good communications, but then that’s another article!

I know a lot of small businesses are frightened in the choppy water of today’s economy. It can be frightening even in the calmest of seas. But be reassured that big is not always best. The upside of small business is the ability to react and adapt quickly. And our teams are always willing to work hard alongside their captain even when it’s stormy seas.