Big businesses are big for a reason — they’re getting something right, usually when it counts the most. Moreover, they’ve already found their footing after making it through the early days of uncertainty and instability. That successful leadership journey alone counts as an invaluable lesson for smaller business owners.
You can learn a lot by studying exactly what big businesses have done right, even if their circumstances might seem irrelevant. Experience is the best teacher, and learning from the experiences of those who’ve already succeeded is priceless. When you consider how certain choices impacted their success, you can scale those strategies to fit your own business.
Following the lead of a larger company can feel like trying to fill too-big shoes: You can’t imitate everything: Your budget is smaller, your market reach is less extensive, and you have less room for error. Perhaps that’s all the more reason to retrofit winning strategies onto your growing company.
Companies of any size can follow these strategies, even if they aren’t as established as the companies proving their worth:
1. Start by upskilling your employees.
If you had a huge budget, you could pile enough incentives into your job offers to theoretically win the talent war. In reality, you probably can’t cover college tuition like Starbucks or implement gamified employee training like Walmart.
You can, however, utilize the different resources available to small businesses for training and upskilling employees. Learn with Facebook and LinkedIn Learning offer several free online courses in digital marketing, programming, and design. Skillshare also provides free and low-cost training courses on a wide range of business topics. If nothing else, you can recommend a TED Talk to spur your team members’ soft skill development.
Highly skilled and well-trained employees are the backbone of any business. Encourage yours to broaden their horizons for free, and help them put those skills to work for your business. Incentivize your employees’ professional development by giving them more responsibility when they successfully complete courses. Whenever possible, raise their pay commensurately.
2. Commit to operating responsibly.
Employee training and career development improve your employer brand and, by extension, your public brand perception. Similarly, social and environmental responsibility are worth your investment.
While big companies earn a lot of media attention when they promote their CSR initiatives, being responsible isn’t solely the domain of corporations. Recently, Trader Joe’s earned national attention for pledging to cut a million pounds of single-use plastic from its stores. You might not have a million pounds of plastic to eliminate, but even switching to reusable packaging could boost your image.
If that’s not possible, implement other sustainability efforts that don’t cost a fortune. For example, switch to energy-efficient lighting in the workplace. Encourage employees to carpool or allow them to work from home, and make recycling a companywide policy.
3. Broadcast the company culture you’ve built.
Small businesses take pride in their close-knit culture — especially when leaders reinforce employee development and socially responsible initiatives. As you build your team, it’s important to consciously promote your culture. The right-fit candidates will have trouble envisioning themselves at your organization if they have no idea what your company values are. How do your team members work every day? Do your employees bond after work?
“When big companies onboard team members, the new hires know exactly what culture they’re getting into,” notes Shay Berman, president of marketing agency Digital Resource. “It’s easier for new hires to absorb a culture when it is all around them and has many team members reinforcing it. But this fluency can be achieved no matter the company’s size.”
You might not have the funds to invest in a cross-media PR campaign that promotes your company’s culture, but you can still make it obvious on your website and social platforms. Even Google knows the value in simple blog posts that highlight the employee experience. Your culture should always be a part of the conversation during interviews as well.
Pay attention to their successes and failures, and you won’t have to reinvent the wheel just to come up with a winning strategy of your own.