Business review for small businesses

Looking external through a lens

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Snapshot : Small, medium and large organisations all offer their own advantages and disadvantages. Small businesses can often get caught up in action mode. A business review for small businesses is a huge opportunity to pause, think and reflect. We discuss the value of being humble and being conscientious. And how the ability to find the right rhythm of think – do – feel in your business can deliver positive results. 

We’ve had experience working with small, medium and large organisations. If you ask us which is the “best’ size of organisation, we’d be hard pushed to give you a definitive answer. It’s like asking who your favourite child is. Each come with their pros and cons. It’s really all about context. 

Large businesses challenges

While large organisations tend to offer higher salaries, more structure in areas like training and development and a wider range of roles, we know many people who work in large organisations who are frustrated. Frustrated with the complexity and lack of pace. Frustrated with the many layers of corporate BS that go along with large organisations. And while larger businesses may feel more ‘safe’ from a job security point of view, when redundancies happen, they happen at scale. Successful businesses don’t always last, and when they fail, they fail big. Who’d have thought popular (now ex-) Masterchef judge George Calombaris would be laying off 400 staff via Instagram this week for example?

In smaller businesses, you have the benefit of being right at the coal face when it comes to getting things done. There’s very much less corporate BS and you don’t have multiple layers of approvals to seek to get things done. You are more likely to see the results of your work come to life. And spend a lot less time creating Powerpoint decks and writing reports. But layoffs still happen. You have a constant eye on cash flow and invoices.  You don’t have the same ‘security net’ that larger organisations provide. All that freedom, but also an increased awareness of risk. 

Small business challenges

This post started when we came across this Reddit thread earlier in the week.

The OP mentions he used to feel better when he received positive feedback from his manager in previous jobs. Now he’s going down the entrepreneurial route, he’s finding the lack of feedback and positive engagement mentally challenging.  When you work in a big organisation, the structured feedback and (usually) positive intent of a manager can help you feel engaged and fulfilled and like you are making a difference. 

But in smaller businesses, you have to seek that affirmation elsewhere. It’s a topical subject for us as we’ve just gone through our first quarterly review and it was an opportunity to reflect back on our progress. We had underestimated the value of the business review for smaller businesses. We’re now very glad we took the time to do this work.

The importance of reflection

In our review we used a mixture of frameworks and formats typically used with larger organisations. But applied those to our (small) and still new organisation.

We don’t believe this structured business review for small businesses happens very often. We’ve been lucky to be in contact with many small business owners and entrepreneurs since we started our new venture. What we recognise is the constant pressure to get things done. To be active. There’s always something else that needs to be done. And you can quickly find as a small business owner, you are busy with things that aren’t actually that important. That don’t contribute to your goal. If you’ve actually defined a goal. Or are off-brand. If you’ve actually defined your brand.

Three-brains business review

It felt indulgent to take the time to reflect back on our first three months of operation. But it helped us recognise how far we’d come in a short time. It also helped us identify a few areas of the business plan where we hadn’t clearly defined and articulated what we needed to do. That meant we’ve spent some time ultimately doing things that won’t contribute to the goal. It’s always far easy to give others advice than to act on your own advice. 

We will share some of the tools and processes we used to complete this audit / review in upcoming posts and articles. It’s a useful and helpful process for any business, but in particular small businesses. We believe in sharing knowledge and thought it would be helpful to at least share the structure of that business review here. Because unless you are looking for investors we don’t believe most small business owners take the time to do these types of reviews. Reach out to us if we can help with this review structure and process in your business.

Business review for small business example structure

  1. Goals – refine and define the financial, brand and organisational goals for your business
  2. External audit – what is happening in your category and with your competitors and how are you identifying and then segmenting and targeting your consumers
  3. Brand architecture and identity – Have you clearly defined your brand and are all the activities you are completing contributing to building your desired brand identity?
  4. Activity plan – Which should cover all relevant areas of your business like communications, e-commerce and customer experience
  5. Summary – We’ve said it before and we’ve said it again, the business model canvas is a great way to get your plan down to a page and reviewing our own BMCs for our consulting and T-shirt businesses has really helped us identify new opportunities for the next quarter and really focus and tighten our sales and marketing efforts.

Be humble and conscientious

In Lazlo Bock’s Work Rules* he shares many great learnings from his time leading the HR function at Google.

He shares lots of stories about Google’s culture and people development. We liked that he shares things that worked for Google. But also what didn’t work. 

One story that stuck out for us were the two behaviours that Google looked for when recruiting. They look for these behaviours because they tend to ensure the greatest chance of success at Google. These two behaviours were be humble and be conscientious. We see lots of parallels in those behaviours that can be transferred in to the world of the small business operator.

Be humble

In many of the bigger businesses we’ve worked with, you meet many people who are pretty damn far from humble. The fancy inflated job title, the corner office and the ‘rhythm’ of being in meetings all the time can tend to fuel the ego. And yet when those people get taken out of that environment, they can often struggle to operate in other businesses without all those trappings. Whereas the more humble can tend to fit in anywhere. In a small business, when you are in such close contact with your customers, humility is a super important value. The arrogant small business owner will not go far. 

Be conscientious

And when you work in a smaller business, and have to pretty much do everything, you have no choice but to be attentive and to make sure things get done. Whether that’s advertising or outbound sales calls, or checking the Terms and Conditions of your website or even sending out invoice reminders, you have to be conscientious. Or it just doesn’t get done. 

We’ve spent a bit of time on small business forums recently and know this can be a real challenge. We’ve made a point of being super helpful on those forums, because we believe in sharing the knowledge we’ve been lucky enough to gather along the way. It’s a positive karma thing that we know will come back to us in good fortune in the future. 

In some of our content articles like be a better marketer and be a better online seller, we share thoughts on the behaviours that help in each of these areas, but these two ‘Google’ areas are fantastic business behaviours for any situation.

Finding the rhythm of your business. 

Where are we going with this?

After our review, it struck us that setting time aside at least once a quarter is a good chance to reflect on the rhythm of our business. We want to recommend the call of the business review for small businesses. We want to reiterate the value of building in reflection time to your schedule. Pause every so often and congratulate yourself and your team on the progress you’ve made. Acknowledge the mistakes and the gaps and put plans in place to fix them. But don’t beat yourself up about it. 

But when you are done, get ready to swing back into action with renewed purpose and focus. Your actions are what keeps your brand and business rolling. Like writing regular blog posts. Your cycle of think- reflection and do – action is a great rhythm to set yourself up for . These rhythms usually already exist in bigger businesses but are often missing in small businesses. 

And finally, like the comments in the Reddit post that prompted this post, take the time to help others. It will make you feel better. The business review for small businesses is a great time to reflect on this. When you work in marketing, creative and e-commerce areas it can be easy to get lost in jargon and technical detail. But realistically, what makes the difference is how you connect with others. Give out praise. Make positive and constructive comments when someone asks you for help or feedback. And do it in a humble and conscientious way. It really works.

Google it and see. 

* As an Amazon Affiliate, we earn from qualifying purchases. 

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