Small business generates about 45% of US GDP, provides close to half of the jobs in the US Economy, and, in a typical year, accounts for more than 60% of the new job creation.
That all adds up to big economic impact. And the news is that small business impact is going to get bigger. In fact, small business will grow to dominate and take over the economy as the problems of managing big business compound.
Big Technology Comes To Small Business.
We have become habituated to the idea that big business deploys technology at scale to achieve reach, coverage and efficiency that small business can’t match. Giant telcos have vast, expensive networks; cable companies have their wired infrastructure; amazon has warehouses and airplanes and unlimited computing power. Today, all infrastructure is variable rather than fixed. It can be rented by the minute and on demand, so that small business can use big technology at the time and in the amounts and for the highly targeted purposes it is needed. Big technology can be downloaded from the internet, and economies of scale are no longer the barriers to entry or to efficient operation that they used to be. Flexibility, agility and timeliness are far more important economic attributes for a winning business, and small business has a good shot at not just competitiveness but at superiority on those dimensions.
Science Comes To Small Business.
We may traditionally think of small business as the product of hard work, super-specialization and local relationships rather than as a child of advanced science. Artificial intelligence and adaptive machine learning will change all that. Small businesses will be able to employ the cognitive assistance of software and robotics to personalize and tailor their services for individual consumers. Aestheticians will be able to offer and implement individually tuned facial treatments and cosmetic procedures. Landscapers can design and manage plantings and gardenscapes and irrigation systems customer by customer. Vehicle fleet owners will pick up and deliver at precise times door-to-door for their local and global clientele. Lawyers will have the searchable data from every relevant case, judgment and law text at their disposal with a robot paralegal who is smart and fast and productive: the best in the world at what they do. Personalized medicine can be practiced by the local doctor, and the local dentist will be able to implant the latest in dental construction and architecture into their patient’s mouth at the neighborhood clinic. Rapid prototyping and fast-turnaround micro-testing will be fully available to small businesses and keep them on the leading edge.
New Organizational Forms Favor Small Business.
The age of bureaucratic management is coming to a close. Bureaucracy has always been a problem for business. Big business needs it to exercise control over far flung organizational outposts, over budgets, over project management and resource allocation and HR policies. But bureaucracy slows response times down in an era when agile responsiveness is a requirement to maintain customer loyalty, and it alienates talented employees in an era where individual creativity is becoming the most important tool to manage in-market performance.
The replacement for bureaucratic management is small, agile, customer-obsessed networked teams with unrestricted autonomy for responding to customer requests and marketplace changes. There is no waiting for HQ approval. There’s no actual organizational model – every company is capable at arriving at its own form of organization that works best for its customers in its geography and its business. Therefore this organizational style is not mediated by business school-imposed standards or consultants’ print-outs. As a result, it’s hard for big business to adopt, which is one reason why small business will take the lead in organizational innovation.
Small Business Will Win With Humanity.
It’s remarkable how many people complain about their jobs in large corporation. Gallup’s global survey (2016 edition) on the subject of employee engagement (whether employees find their jobs meaningful and look forward to their work) indicates that only 13% of employees worldwide say they are engaged. The rest actively hate their jobs or merely put up with them. If they can’t engage with their jobs, how can they engage with customers? Gallup calls it an engagement crisis.
Entrepreneurial small businesses operate on empathy. They are tasked with understanding their customers’ needs and responsively designing services that meet those needs and are simpatico with customers’ values and are able to compete with every other offering that’s available. Small businesses depend on their humanity to succeed – their success in matching values with their customers in an extended and deep relationship depends on it. Digital tools can help in tracking the state of the relationship, but it is the subjective, emotional, and idiosyncratic elements in business exchanges that will be the mark of future winners. Big business will find that they can’t be successful on these dimensions.
People Prefer To Deal With Small Businesses.
We live in a time when people’s tolerance for unresponsive, insulated institutions is at a low point. This is true for political institutions like Congress and the Presidency. NPR reports that only 8% of Americans have a great deal of confidence in Congress, 19% in the Presidency, and 22% in the Supreme Court. The number for big business is 12%. If you let people down, and don’t act with humanity, you lose trust. Small business has a much greater incentive than a bureaucratic management team to be human, to engage, to respond and to earn customers’ trust.
In a 2017 Public Affairs Council poll, 41% of respondents expected small business owners to exhibit high honesty and ethical standards and only 5% expected them to have low standards in those departments. For employees of major companies, there was an expectation of high ethical standards among only 18% of respondents, and that number declined to 9% for big company CEO’s. (Only elected officials in Washington polled lower: 7% of respondents expected high honesty and ethical standards there!)
People prefer to deal with those they know, like and trust. Small business can win big on these three fronts. More and more customers will make the choice to buy from small business, especially now that technology, science, efficiency and organizational effectiveness are no longer reserved to big business.