Can a small business succeed as well as a large firm, despite having a smaller staff, fewer resources and a miniscule marketing budget? Absolutely—with the right strategy. In the novel The Power of One, Bryce Courtenay gives an example of a welterweight boxer using his head rather than his gloves to identify strategies for winning against a heavyweight fighter. I use this analogy to help identify ”breaks” in business and marketing.
Some of these opportunities may not be immediately evident. They might require a time investment and an adjustment in expectations to reap the benefits. But with patience and perseverance, they almost always pay off.
Over the last several years, I have participated in a number of programs that have proven to be stepping stones to bigger and better marketing and business windfalls.
My gold standard for such programs is a year-long mentor protégé program that I participated in a number of years ago through the Women’s Business Enterprise National Council (WBENC), a business certification organization. I was teamed up with Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts (BCBS/MA) and met with four women at least once a month. (The mentor protégé program also includes men; it just happened to be all women in this case.) I identified specific immediate and long-term goals, such as improving cash flow, increasing revenue, improving teaming arrangements and developing a business plan, and my mentors critiqued and supported my efforts to meet those goals.
The BCBS/MA team also arranged for their human resources department to review my company’s benefits plan, which included health care coverage, personal time, a flexible schedule, and fringe benefits such as free parking, free coffee and tea, and spring water. Their assessment was that our plan was quite generous, which was a real eye opener since I had assumed our benefits were on the low end.
The cost to participate in this program was about $300, and I had to fill out an application on what I thought I would get out of it. I also had to write an essay on the topic, “What Keeps Me Up at Night.” Additionally, since the meetings were expected to take place in person, I had to drive four hours each way to and from Boston every month for eight of the 12 months of the program (we held teleconference meetings during the winter months). However, the time and money I invested in this program was well spent. I emerged with a stronger business plan, improved leadership skills, and a better understanding of the value of the benefits and perks we offer, which has allowed me to attract better employees.
Through this program, I was encouraged to seek out the assistance of our local business development center, Eastern Maine Development Corp. (EMDC). Although attending the EMDC meetings didn’t always seem beneficial, the program helped me develop relationships over time that have led to new opportunities. For example, our firm was awarded marketing dollars through an EMDC program a few years ago, which allowed us to work with professionals to have a new logo created. That process led to a long-term relationship with a skilled marketing agency.
More recently, I participated in Maine’s Top Gun Entrepreneurship Acceleration program, a 15-week program designed to support promising, innovation-based businesses through a combination of curriculum, mentoring and community. At first, I was disappointed in this program; the mentoring aspect was nothing like what I had experienced through WBENC. However, the networking opportunities were fantastic, so I shifted my focus and changed my expectations. I was eventually paired with three interns with varying levels of skill who assisted me on specific projects for several months. The program helped the interns gain valuable experience in a real-world business and helped our firm tap into additional resources for research and marketing projects.
One other program that has worked well for our company is the Knowledge Transfer Alliance (KTA) at the University of Maine, my alma mater. Through teaming arrangements with MBA post-graduate and undergraduate students, our firm has been able to integrate our timesheet database within QuickBooks accounting software and get an in-depth understanding of our competitive position in the market.
You don’t need deep pockets to find big opportunities. Look around and see what resources local universities, economic development groups and business organizations have to offer. There is always something positive to be gained from these relationships. It might not be what you first expect, but with the right perspective, you will be able to find the “breaks” that will lead to success.