Saturday, July 14, 2007

Who Are You Really?

On the return trip from the East Coast, one flight on my two-leg journey was cancelled. My scheduled one-hour layover in Atlanta turned into a six-hour layover. Fortunately, there was a full-size bookstore in the airport and I availed myself of the opportunity to consume a new book cover-to-cover in one sitting.

Although it was published in 2005, “The 7 Irrefutable Rules of Small Business Growth” by Steven S. Little was on prominent display both in the main entrance and back in the Business section. I quickly skimmed the chapter titles to see what these “rules” might be and made the decision to purchase the book immediately when I saw Rule 1—“Establish and Maintain a Strong Sense of Purpose.”

In this first “rule,” Little explores how people form businesses around ideas. He encourages small business owners to examine the central creative concepts, market needs, goals, and scopes of their businesses. In a quick, one-page treatment, Little suggests some questions for business owners to answer. He follows them with a brief, somewhat superficial explanation of how critical they are to an organization’s success—both internally (within its own culture, for you, and for your employees) and externally (for appeal to the outside world, to the market, in attracting customers).

What he doesn’t come out directly and say, but what is implied in making this Rule #1, is that your business’s identity is the foundation on which you conceptualize, write, and direct your growth plan. From a consulting standpoint, I would argue that these questions, once answered, also help inform your marketing efforts. Take a look below and consider how useful the answers will be to identifying your advertising market, your messaging, your business “story,” your communications and press releases, and your product or service descriptions.

(As an added bonus, I think you’ll find that answering them may also energize you, helping reconnect you to the passion you had that led you to launch your undertaking in the first place!)

Little’s questions are listed first, with my corollary questions in italics afterwards.
Who is your company supposed to serve?
Who is your company serving? Are you serving those you’re supposed to serve?

What do you stand for?
How does your company make that stand? Is it clear to customers what your company stands for?

Why are you doing what you are doing?
Is it what you want to do? Is it what you set out to do? Do you need to refocus or are you on track? Are you personally fulfilled with the work that your business is doing?

Why should you be doing what you are doing?
What is the emotional, social, economic, or political imperative of what you are doing?

What unique strengths does your organization foster?
What is the unique benefit that your company is about? What is the unique contribution of your company to your local community? Your employees’ lives? Your own personal strengths?

What is your company trying to accomplish?
If everything you want to achieve came true, what would that picture look like? Describe how your company accomplishes its dreams and visions.

By the way, I did read the book in its entirety that day and recommend it to everyone who is interested in either expanding a business or increasing profitability. It’s an accessible introduction to important strategic concepts that most small business owners don’t have the time to sit and consider. The author doesn’t try to supply you with detailed instructions for implementing growth systems, but he does provide plenty of useful content, including short case studies, that will spark your imagination. Additionally, each chapter concludes with “Suggested Next Steps,” to help you integrate these rules into your own business’s management.

My favorite local bookstore, Powell’s Books, has it available as an e-book download, new, or in a limited number of used copies. (No, I didn't sell them mine! I anticipate being able to use this book as a reference and resource for a long time into the future.)

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