The Two Most Important Things a Small Business Must Do

It’s (always) all about the people


#1:          The small business must know everything there is to know about its customers.

#2:          And then it must ensure its people know why they’re doing what they’re doing so that they can deliver great service – the sort of service that ensures it customers keep coming back.


Everything else follows; sales, marketing, finance, communications.

And everything else is encompassed within these two things: leadership, time management, core values, culture, measurement, operations, expense control, systems development – you name it.

But first, a question: Why are you in business?

If the answer is “To make money”, get out now! OK, so every business needs to make money – even if it’s just for its survival – but if money is its primary reason for existence, it could be in trouble. Especially if its competitor is a business that does have a higher purpose. People flock to businesses demonstrating that higher purpose. Simon Sinek’s inspirational TED Talk “It Starts with Why” is the best explanation I know. Its various versions have over a million views.


Let’s look at #2, and then #1 after that. Why?

Tony Hsieh developed Zappos, an online shoe retailer that was sold to Amazon within 10 years of starting up for $1.2billion. He knows a bit about customer service. He says “Businesses often forget about the culture, and ultimately, they suffer for it because you can't deliver good service from unhappy employees.” Assuming we agree that the Zappos example is a good place to start, that is the same reason we’ll start with people! (Again, see Hsieh’s many YouTube videos on the subject.)

How do we ensure our people are happy? We often make the mistake of believing that our people are here just to pick up their pay cheque at the end of the week. If that’s true, you have the wrong people – so get rid of them! (And, while you’re doing it, recall who hired them in the first place.)

There are also many compelling discussions available on the subject of motivation; perhaps none better than Dan Pink’s animated video “Drive”. In short, if people are trusted, engaged, have their opinions valued and given freedom and autonomy, they will be better employees and happier people. Everyone’s a winner in this scenario.



Back to #1 – It’s all about the customer

  • What products and/ or services do they purchase?
  • How much/ many do they purchase?
  • How much are they willing to pay?
  • What represents “value” to them?
  • Why do they buy?
  • Why do they buy from whom they buy?
  •  What they (think they) need?


If a business goes out of its way – as part of its normal course of business – to ensure it captures this information, it goes a long way down the path of gaining customers who are as loyal as the best employees.


With this information, the business is able to be sensitive to changing customer demands, thus saving time and money in the process. Done the right way, the customer too, feels valued as they are (sensitively) queried about what is important to them.


The people within the business – happy and with a feeling of self-worth – and the people who are the economic base of the business – customers who sing its praises – make up those two aspects that must always be the primary focus.


#1           People you employ

#2           People you serve.

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What John Matthew believes about small business

That the owner has risked many things that others take for granted;

That there is no guaranteed income or reward for the considerable effort that is required;

That often, the family home is on the line to support the business and its constituents;

That there is a dignity and self-respect that is earned;

That entire communities would be better places if there was an increased appreciation and respect for small business.

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