Unbound Growth Blog

Book Review: Karma and the Small Town Rules

Posted by Carole Mahoney

 8/12/13 2:45 PM

How Big Brands and Small Business Can Prosper in a Connected Economy

Why I read it: Despite the fact that the majority of my career has been with small business entrepreneurs, I have also consulted with large enterprise brands. Going between the two worlds gives to some interesting observations on what they have in common. And it has everything to do with one to one relationships.

I grew up in a small town and was that little girl behind the counter at my family's many businesses. But I also watched the internet change how we communicate with each other. The small town rules seem natural to me. Convincing larger brands that they needed to take lessons from small town business has not been an easy sell, however. So when I came across mention of the book; Small Town Rules: How Big Brands and Small Business Can Prosper in a Connected Economy on a Sunday night Twitter #blogchat, I added it to the wish list.

I think the authors shared my frustration that larger companies still dismiss small business as irrevelant to be able to learn anything from. But they were more frustrated since they wrote the book on it. In short, it's a misconception that small means slow and not scalable. In matters of being in tune with the customer and able to adapt quickly to their needs, small town businesses and entrepreneurs have a distinct advantage in a connected economy.

What small business entrepreneurs and big brands have in common.

The internet has changed everything. Duh. It’s not a news story that needs repeating. From how we communicate and socialize, to they way we buy and live- few things are not as they were. It is also no surprise to big brands and small businesses alike that they need to innovate the way they do business. Not just sales or marketing, but everything from HR to customer service, business model to product development. Change is the only constant. Small town rules lays out some insights for big brands on how to translate small town into big brand from the back end.

Technology can’t save us. Like many entrepreneurs and enterprises, I used to have this false hope too. I learned, not fast enough in my opinion, that the tool is only as good as the user. I also learned that tools shouldn’t just reduce human error, but also improve the human element and interaction. And no one needs to tell us how fast technology is changing. Why should we care about Facebook’s latest Search Graph release? Oh big surprise, Google changed its search algorithm again! Give up on staying ahead of technology. Get in tune with the customer and move into the right technologies with them and for you.

We are all having an identity crisis.  Small wants to be big, and appear to have more customers and employees than they do for credibility. Big wants to be small to appear to have that more personal and local feel. Transparency (because of the internet) has foiled any plan to appear as anything other than what we are. Humans want to deal with humans they can trust, and it starts with knowing who we are, what we do best and how others see us. It is as Dr Suess said, "Be who you are, for those that mind don't matter and those that matter don't mind."

Innovation means survival. Not just doing something for the sake of it or because you can, but because this is what your customer wants and where they are going. That’s where you need to be too. And when it comes right down to it, if you do what is right for the customer, if you treat them right (which they decide, not you) then you will not just survive, you will find a place to grow.

The innovative driven brands realize that customers want a small business look and feel because small town businesses treat their customers differently. The direct contact with customers is what has allowed many successful small businesses to capitalize on social media and the internet. The connected customer can talk directly with each other and with the business owner- in front of everyone who wants to listen in. That can be a good thing for good business, and karma for the bad ones.

Small town businesses already know how to scale individualized attention. Why? Because the rules they follow are set by the customer.

Here are some additional highlights and notes from Small Town Rules:

  • Back end to front end: Focus on high impact tasks and balance back end to front end in managing your business. "The best ones have a reputation for knowing every customer personally and for catering to their customers. That's the public part...but there are many more strategies and tactics behind the scenes; managing multiple lines of income, thinking long term, maintaining frugality, creating community, and building local connections."
  • Buyers want small. Economic development in prospering communities are more like villas with residential condos, shopping and entertainment all within walking distance. This isn't just how we are buying, it is how we are starting to live. "The local movement is pushing a transition in society...the renewed interest in healthy neighborhoods, in shopping local, and in small businesses brings every company back to a small town environment."
  • Every buyer in an influencer. The Peter Shankman and Morton's Steakhouse story happened when Morton's Steakhouse met Peter at the airport with a steak- even though he says he was joking when he tweeted the request. Morton's did more than was expected because they knew that anyone could be an influencer.
  • Question assumptions. Who hasn't believed at one time that the natural progression of things was first came marketing, then came sales, then came happy customers with wallets to avail? Not so much how it really happens all the time, is it? "Business think that sales naturally follow marketing, but if prospects are not followed up and cared for, they will never turn into customers. Hard work building trusted relationships is what produces sales."
  • Business-as-usual is a dangerous myth. Plan for attrition, plan for zero, every resource can be exhausted. "Some businesses act as though there is an inexhaustible supply of customer, as they burn and churn through buyers, never servicing the ones they already have. Unfortunately, many businesses treat vendors and employees in the same fashion."
  • <insert next big thing here> will save us. Anyone can make money in a boom. Who didn't make money in real estate between 2003-2006? Who wasn't an SEO expert in 2000? "The idea of easy money in the boom is common in business. Speculators rush in to the latest fad for quick profits. People dive into subjects that they know nearly nothing about in the hopes of making a big score. Entire businesses are built on the idea that the rising tide will lift all boats. Of course the tide will turn...speculators rush out for the next big thing, and many businesses are lost. It comes back down to the fundamentals. Only superior execution and experience result in profit."

There is many more things I highlighted in Small Town Rules, but I will save it as a resource for the ingagements book and recommend you pick it up for yourself. There is a wealth of links and resources in the book for both big brands and small businesses. While the focus seems to be more on the back end of the rules over the front end, the two are inevitably connected in a transparent and connected economy.

And on the front end, we know what is happening, we might even know why it is happening, and whether or not you think it is a good thing or a bad thing, two questions remain. How do we translate what we know into action? Who can do it, or help us do it?

Image credit.

Topics: book review, entrepreneur, Ingagements, small business

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