The Ambiguity Of Small Business Definition

When different people are using the phrase ‘small business’, do they refer to a common set of definitions? Like, how many employees are listed in the payroll? Or, the number of years it’s operative? A literature review of 23 papers, which have been published from 1958 to 2002, tries to shed light on this issue. The review revealed an inconsistency regarding both characterization and definition of small business.

The variety of definition used in these papers unable to set an agreeable format for small business definition. Mayer and Goldstein (1961) define small business as an employer of less then 200 employees. Potts (1977) set the barrier on 20 employees in addition to a minimum eight years that the business is operative. Robinson (1982) define firm as small if the number of employees is less then 50, the annual sales is under three million dollars and it’s operate as sole ownership. Covin and Slevin (1989) define small business according to number of employees – more then five or less then 500, as well as a minimum of five years that the business is operative.

Rue and Ibrahim (1998) define small firm as an employer of more then 15 employees. Perry (2001) set an upper limit of 500 employees as a sole identifier for business to be regard as small. The review clarify that the ambiguity is stable over time. The lack of uniform definition in the sixtieth continued throughout the decades into the millennium. The industries targeted by the different scholars do have one common base; the focus was on industries with low to average economic growth such as manufacturing, trade (retail, wholesale) and service.

Scholars have addressed the problematicalness regarding the inconsistency of small business definition for quite time, Golde (1964) which examine small manufacturing employers with less then 500 employees, argue that it’s an arbitrarily definition which can adequately feet non manufacturing firms. Welsh and White (1981) claims that small business tend to group in certain industries, such as – wholesalers, retailers, service and manufacturing. Peterson et al., (1986) note that the most common definition is the one that used by the Small Business Administration (SBA), in part, that definition state that small business can be define as one if both its ownership and operation conducted independently, and it’s not dominant at the industry which is operate in.

D’amboise and Muldowney (1988) write about the complexity of small business definition, which can be a result of the variety and different types of firms this phrase try to encompass. Pickle and Abrahamson (1990) address the question, what is a small business? There answer is that some will regard small business as such if it’s employ certain number of employees, others will claim that small business is one that limits his operation to local market, and part will classify business as small according to it’s nature (e.g., local pharmacy, clothing store, jewelry store).

Five Things You Need To Remember Before Starting a Small Business

Everyone knows someone who has decided to go into small business but did you know that 70% of all small businesses fail within the first 12 months of operation. In some countries that failure rate is as high as 85 to 90%. Small Business is one of the toughest industries you can ever decide to take on and most people who go into small business go into it for the wrong reason.

I have started 4 small businesses over the last 10 years and every single one of them has been started from scratch and survived into a thriving business. Just recently I have decided to sell one of the businesses off cause it had done what I expected it to do which is the first issue you need to think about.

Issue 1. Have a Clear Understanding of What You Want To Achieve In Your Business

The majority of people, who actually go into business, go into it for the wrong reasons. Even I have been guilty of that. So what is this wrong reason, most people start a small business because they believe they can do a better job then their current boss. Maybe this is true, maybe it is not but what most people really want is better working conditions and better pay. No one can blame you for wanting that. If that is all you want, then I strongly suggest you stay away from small business.

One of the key issues you must remember before evening thinking about starting a small business is this. Do you know what your business will look like? If you were walking down the street, how would you want to be found? What impression do you want to give to your clients? What clearly do you what to achieve in this business?

The second clear understanding you must have of your business is, when will you know when it is finished? When you have built what you want to achieve and more importantly, how will you get out?

See most people when they go into business have no exit strategy and that is one of the worst things you can do. Before you ever start a business, the first thing you must work out is how you are going to get out of the business.

Two years ago, I started a small car cleaning business. My wife and I both started it because she wanted to see if she could build a business. Our exit strategy was to sell the business once it was done. How we would sell it was something we were not sure of?

See we could have taken a number of approaches to this. Our exit strategy could have been to franchise the business, sell it to a single owner or to float it on the stock market. We chose that we only wanted to sell it to another owner, but we still built the business in such a way that there was still plenty of growth and opportunity in the business for the new owner, but we had removed the risk for them on how to run the business by clearly documenting everything they needed to do to run that business.

Before ever starting a business, always think about how you will exit the business, when you have achieved your objective for that business. If you do not have an exit strategy in mind, then you will never get out of the business.

Issue 2. Keep a Strict Schedule

Small business is consuming. Unlike in large corporations where you can hire many people to do a range of tasks, small business requires the small business owner to do many of the tasks themselves. Some of the tasks include doing your books, lodging trademarks, doing the ordering etc. Often when you start in small business, you can not afford to hire people to do these tasks.

What I have personally found is that if you do not keep a tight schedule and document your meetings and tasks you have to do then it will not take very long before you will be swamped by all the things you have to do in the business every day. It is this phenomenon that often leads small business owners to quit and fail in the first twelve months. Let me tell you this, the warning signs that this is starting is when you say to your wife on a Saturday or Sunday afternoon that you are going down to the office to catch up on paperwork for a few hours. Once you get into this habit, you will never stop doing it and the business will consume you really quickly.

I strongly recommend all small business owners keep a diary. My preference is to use Microsoft Outlook, simply because it includes a calendar and you can make sure that each day you schedule your work plus your appointments to make sure you do not forget anything. If you do this, then you will find over time you can get through this plus you will learn how long it should take to do the various jobs that make up your business and whether it is worthwhile in getting someone to actually do those tasks for you.

Issue 3. Build Your Own Mastermind Group

I read a book a little while ago called Think and Grow Rich and is written by a gentleman called Napoleon Hill and he talks about the thirteen secrets to success and obscene wealth. One of the things that I learned both from this book and being a small business owner was that I needed a Mastermind Group.

The Mastermind Group is simply a group of professionals who can help me achieve my objectives for my business. Literally anyone can be part of your mastermind group and some of those would be people like a lawyer, an accountant and other people like your peers who can help you in building your business but it may also include people who are not in business as well to help you keep that balance. The Mastermind Group are really those people you turn to for advice and direction. You do not necessarily have to take their advice but a good mastermind group will allow you run through scenarios on what is happening and the potential outcomes.

Issue 4. Have one night when you do something on your own for you!

One of the big issues that I have had over the last ten years is that I have not been doing every single week is something on my own but I say that I am in the process of changing that. Often when you start in business, with the excitement of building your own business you get so consumed that you forget about a life outside of your business and your business becomes your life.

This is really not a good thing nor is it healthy. Even multi-billionaires do things for themselves outside of business. Look do not get me wrong, business is fantastic and fun and can be both enjoyable and a nightmare however there are other things out there outside of business.

When you start a small business, do not neglect your sports, do not neglect doing something social, if you do, in the long run you will find that you business suffers. Plus, in small business it is very easy to become bitter and twisted but by maintaining those none business activities it will help you to balance your life.

Issue 5. Don’t neglect Your Partner or your Family

I would love to see the divorce statistics for small business owner’s because I am quite sure that the divorce rate in small business would have to be about 70 or 80%. The majority of married couples (and I am talking about 90% of the small business people I Know) that I know who have gone into small business in their 30’s have actually been divorced within 18 months of them starting the business.

Look there are lots of reasons why this happens, but in a lot of the cases, the partner who has gone into business neglects their family and money gets tight. In the partners case it is not their fault it is simply because the person gets consumed into the business and they forget they have a life outside of the business.

If you have a family, make sure that you do at least one activity a week as a family. Whether it is having a family night at home such as a video night or games night, or even just going to the park to play once a week, make sure that you do it. PLUS, you must ensure that at least one night a week must be for just you and your partner. If you do not do that your marriage or relationship will suffer.

One thing I share with all the people who come through our training business is that if you want to go into business that is cool but you must be prepared to accept two things –

1. You must be prepared to start from scratch if your business does not work
that is you must be prepared to start with just the shirt on your back.

2. You must have 100% support of your partner and family

If you cannot accept these two things, then do not go into business because too many people who I see that start on this journey fail and end up miserable and have such a downward spiral which leads them to doing something silly, like take up drinking, drugs or try to commit suicide. Remember, 70% of all small businesses fail within the first 12 months. If you were a betting man would you back something that only had a 30% chance of winning, not likely, yet people still go into small business.

The bottom line is this, small business can be the most awesome ride of your life, but it can be also the most difficult and when you choose to go into small business, take your time and plan what you want to achieve. Remember the old saying if your Fail to Plan, you Plan to Fail.

Starting Up a Small Business Concerns

Volatility

In a previous article I dug a bit deeper into small business volatility but it is worth mentioning again especially in the context of getting a business started. Small business exists because large business has carved out a method to meeting the needs that doesn’t reach everyone in a market place. In other words small business is small business because large business has deemed the pursuit of such market places not worth the effort. Large businesses seek opportunities that exist in well-established mature markets. These would be markets that yield smaller margins but are also less volatile. Consequently this leaves the more dynamic and volatile markets for the small businesses. This is part of why small businesses don’t last long, they compete in an ever changing market place.

So, what does this mean for you? It means that the opportunities that will exist for you and the business you aspire to open will be opportunities that require quality and custom solutions quickly. This also means there will be a good deal of work involved in order to gain market share for you niche. Abandon any idea of providing a single product or service, you will need to diversify your products/service, customers, and possibly industries. To combat the ebb and flow of the small market place you will need diversify all aspects of your company.

Alignment

Ok, now that you understand a little about the realities of the small business market place the next thing to look into is how well your potential business aligns with who you are. In the beginning stages of a business the founder is the business and the business is the founder. To offer the most value the business should be the embodiment of you and you should be the embodiment of the business. The realization of a single opportunity should not be the only deciding metric for starting a business. As an example; A few years ago I had the opportunity to start a frozen yogurt shop in my town that would have been modeled after a profitable model that was doing well in other cities. I did my homework and found that for $40,000.00 I could have everything I needed to open the doors and start selling yogurt. I decided against it for two reasons, 1. I live in a four season’s area and I did not want to have a feast or famine demand and 2. I am not that crazy about yogurt. Now, the opportunity was there, and since then many of these shops have opened, but I didn’t want to invest 80 hours a week into a frozen yogurt business.

Market Positioning

So you have an idea that aligns with who you are, and you have come to understand the nature of the small business market place, how are you going to position your product or service? How are you going to meet the needs of the customer? The answer is somewhat laid out above, but because of the nature of the small business market place you will need to become a high quality, quick turnaround company. Small businesses have the advantage in small volume custom areas. Your competitive advantage will be your ability to cater to the specific needs of your customer. As a small business you have no business competing on price.

Margin

You are your business, and chances are you do not have much capital behind you. This means that achieving a positive cash flow situation as quickly as possible is key. Cash is king and without it you don’t have a business. The upside is small volume high quality work demands top dollar. That’s right, by being a small business you are competing in a large margin arena. The mark up on your products and services can and should be high. The market will let you know when you are too far out of range, but a healthy profit margin is to be expected with small businesses. Individuals that fail to understand this begin to lower their prices in hopes of gaining some sales but what they don’t realize is they are diluting the market and putting themselves out of business. So, don’t be afraid to charge for your work!
Growth Strategy

The last thing I will mention for those looking to start a small business is that a growth strategy is imperative. You need to have an idea of where you are going if you ever expect to make it as a business owner. By nature small businesses should only remain small for a while, if you company is not growing it is dying. Markets mature, customer needs mature, and guess what… your business should also be maturing. Knowing where your business is headed will allow you to take the appropriate measures today to set up for tomorrow’s market. A growth strategy can be vague. You don’t need to define every variable, but you should use your intuition to determine where you should position your company.

If you are planning on starting a small business understand it is a lot of hard work and there are no rules. There is no one telling you what to and not to do, you will be responsible for your success or your failure. You must be persistent and willing to invest more of yourself than the next guy in line. If it were easy everyone would do it, but because it is demanding there are only a few to compete with.