Tag Archives: enterprise

10 Mistakes Big Businesses Make with Small Business Owners

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For several decades now I’ve been back and forth between working on and building my own business, helping others build theirs, helping people manage small business, and, occasionally, helping larger businesses understand and presumably sell to smaller businesses.

So I watch and listen. And I see how big businesses try to reach the solopreneur, home office, and small businesses. And the mistakes they make. So here’s my list of 10 mistakes big businesses make with small business.

  1. We’re not a market segment. Sorry, that would be nice, but no. Go back to your fundamentals and consider what makes a market segment useful for your marketing. Some factors in common, right? Same gender, same economic level, same town, same activities, same something. And what business owners have in common is only that we own a business; which probably means we’re more likely to be different than the same. Treating us as a group is like trying to organize anarchists. We’re solopreneurs, entrepreneurs, accidental or pushed entrepreneurs, and millions of us don’t even think of themselves as entrepreneurs; they’re just self employed.
  2. We’re short on time and patience. We have a business to run. We don’t have time to research and study, much less to listen to you. Get to the point fast.
  3. We care about quick and easy. Convenience really matters. See point #2.
  4. We’re unpredictable about reading, media, and political preferences. Somebody told me once, in pontificating mode, that “to reach small business you have to advertise in the Wall Street Journal.” That’s not what I see. I think only a few of us read about business. Our politics is as diverse (and polarized) as the rest of the country.
  5. We hate red tape except when we love it. Give us a chance and we’ll complain like hell about government red tape and restrictions. There are large lobbying groups that supposedly represent us that constantly whine about red tape and regulations (I think they actually represent various political interests mostly, and use small business as a platform). But give us a chance to jump onto red tape to prevent competition, and we will. And give us easy ways to deal with red tape (like payroll services, for example) and we’ll love you.
  6. We don’t sweat tax rates, but we really care what’s deductible. The whole tax rate thing is politics, lobbyists, and whining. Tax rates affect profits only, and profits are what’s left over after the deductions. So well love deductible expenses. If you want to unite us, put in more red tape on deductions, like they did with meal expenses a few years ago. Or crack down on travel expenses and conferences and cars. We’ll hate you.
  7. We’re unpredictable about technology. Some of us love computers, smart phones, tablets, and office equipment. Some of us haven’t discovered social media and barely email. We’re about as diverse on that point as any random group of adults.
  8. We don’t divide by generations. You can’t effectively divide us into millennials vs. generation x vs. baby boomers. I’m a baby boomer and I know some millennials who think more like I do about business than some baby boomers.
  9. We like variable costs way better than fixed. Charge us more later after we’ve made the sale and have the money and we’ll pay it. Charge us fixed costs up front, whether we sell or not, and we’ll hate it.
  10. We’re online. Point #7 notwithstanding, business owners want more revenue and that’s mostly online. Some of us love it, some of us hate it, but business owners who aren’t online are endangered species.

Do you want to go to the research and check out my data, to see if it’s valid. Don’t bother. I’m a business owner. I don’t need to show you no stink’n data.

The Growth is Always Greener in Your Neighbor’s Lawn

Have you noticed this? Businesses that sell to small business want to sell to enterprises. Businesses that sell to enterprises want small business. I’ve seen it for 30 years now. 

bigstockphoto.com grass greener

On the one hand, it’s good business. Expand. Go from where you are to where there’s more market waiting. 

On the other hand, damn, I think there’s a DNA problem for most of us. I, for example, have always been comfortable with small business and startups. Companies I’ve started focused on small business and startups. And much as I’ve tried, repeatedly, I never really figured out how to sell to the big business, alias enterprise. 

I think these are different worlds. And they are borders that are hard to cross. I like the way Michael Driscoll puts it in this VentureBeat item: Startups are from Mars, enterprises are from Venus

(Image: bigstockphoto.com)

Q&A revisited: Really, How Do I Sell My Idea to a Big Company. Part 2.

Irony: This post from about a year ago explains why you can’t sell an idea to a large company, and recommends not even trying. And dozens of reader comments ask how to do exactly what the post itself says they shouldn’t even try. And I get more comments all the time, plus emails on my ask me form, asking how to sell the idea to the big company.

Pot of Gold shutterstock.com

So I give up: Please promise me you’ve read this post before you go on. Know what you’re up against. Don’t be naive. Selling an idea to a big company is a one-in-a-million shot. You are probably wasting your time. But if you insist, here are my suggestions.

Step 1: Develop idea ownership

  1. Drill down on whether or not your idea is patentable. Patents are for inventions, not ideas. You either consult an attorney or do the research yourself. It’s a tough subject because it’s not what you think it should be, it’s what the real world and the beaurocrats do. And having a patent isn’t enough; it has to be a good patent, that protects against work-arounds, and will hold up in court. And a patent is something you can own. And sell or license. 
  2. If you can phrase your idea as a creative work then you can protect it with copywrite. That’s for books, songs, recorded performances, software products, films, television shows, paintings, and so forth. That’s protection, and ownership, but it doesn’t mean you can prevent people from copying you. If it’s good, they will. 
  3. The other way to own an idea is to build a company over it. We call this general are one of trade secrets. It’s like the classic secret sauce. You bottle it, sell it, and hope imitators can’t reproduce it. So you can approach that target big company as a business already selling something, instead of just an individual with an idea to sell. Yes, that takes work; but your odds of success are much better. 
  4. It won’t hurt to periodically write your idea down on paper, describe it as best you can, and mail it to yourself by certified mail. Do that whenever the idea changes. If you do, then at some future date, if you’re in a dispute, you can open that registered and sealed mail in front of a judge to prove what your idea was when. But don’t trust this protection very much: having an idea first doesn’t mean you own it. 

Step 2: Get an attorney you trust

You need an attorney. (Note: I’m not an attorney; I can’t give you legal advice; I’m sharing my non-attorney experience as a business owner). Although non-disclosure (NDA) and confidentiality agreements are slim protection against big companies, it’s still better to have them than not to have the protection they offer. And an attorney you trust. 

Step 3: Approaching the big company

I have to admit, I can’t tell you how to do this; I’ve never heard of anybody doing it successfully.

In theory, companies have some system for managing these contacts. Visit their website, call their main phone lines, investigate and explore. I do know that companies vary widely in how they deal with suggestions. Some have web forms. Some have employees. Some have a wall that’s hard to penetrate. And maybe there’s some that sift through ideas with interest and respect.

Often, finding the right person to talk to within a big company is like a reverse telephone tree. You start calling phone numbers available. With each call you make, you ask who’s the right person to talk to. With each new person who puts you off, you ask for another suggestion. 

Step 4: The great beyond

If you find yourself actually dealing with that big company, pitching your idea, wow, I’m impressed; and you’ve already done the impossible. I hope you have a good attorney. I hope you succeed. My advice is be extremely skeptical and extremely cautious.