Does Bigger Really Mean Better? / by Kia Jarmon

by Kia Jarmon for 12th & Broad

From time to time I have check-in conversations with colleagues and clients. We're chatty about the great moments of the quarter or year, how we slam-dunked a project, and goals we want to accomplish by some predetermined date. All is really exciting; we're fast-talking and listening for parallels in our goals with such intention. But then something happens. We go from rah-rah cheery surface talk to a deeper moment that reveals, "OMG I’m struggling with…” which goes on further until it gets to the lean in—different than Sheryl Sandberg meant—and hushed whisper of “Why can’t I be as big as (insert competitor)" or “I always see such and such business doing so well”. As if somehow your struggle is linked to another persons perceived success.

But this is all too common. We all go through it.

This moment is similar no matter the size, the industry, or the amount of years in business. It's one that most won't admit in mixed company but a scary reality of being a business owner or honestly just human.

Admittedly, I've been there, anxious, maybe even envious at times. And then I spent a year having intense talks with people at all ages, experience levels and business sizes to understand such grief and answer the question "Why was bigger really better than what I had?"

I was trying to find out did it mean more of something I didn’t currently have.

I recount one such conversation with a 20+ year entrepreneur who had built an international business with several years of major financial success and just as many hardships. Our conversation revealed that their competitor had quadruple the staff and made ten times more revenue than them annually but the expenses where almost the same as what was coming in the door; their profit margin was almost nil.

Insert a-ha moment. I immediately got the point. Bigger can be bigger opportunities without trying to be the biggest outfit in town. I needed to hear that.

The moral of the story isn't to be naive regarding what’s happening in your backyard.  Known your market, understand what makes the industry ebb and flow, and certainly make nice with those you may consider competitors. But consider what you could do without the distraction of someone else's bottom line.  

So what’s the bottom line? There are three points to take from my epiphany 1) it's hard to win the race ahead of you while focusing on the runners behind you, 2) everything that shines isn't gold and 3) "comparison is the thief of joy," according to me and Theodore Roosevelt.

And if that wasn’t enough…here are some ways to get bigger results while remaining small.

  • Define your niche. Although you may have similar capabilities to your competitors, you should have something that makes you stand out. As an example, my agency is a full service boutique agency but when we work with other agencies we focus on areas like social media—because some haven't fully dedicated a team to digital communication, or targeted, diverse communications to engage a range of communities like gen-y and boomers to faith based and various ethnic populations.
  • Partner with a 'larger' company in your industry. After you've determined you can provide a service where they aren't as strong, you will find that the partnership is welcomed. And you will find that it will continue for many years. Also, be a good steward of the relationship. If you find that a client may need more than you can provide, take them to your partnering agency and work on it jointly.
  • Become a resource for collaborative work environments. You would be surprised how many co-working spaces have businesses that need your services. Make a deal with the owner/operator and see if you can grab a bulk of business and provide a discount for the work because of the partnership.

Cheers to doing bigger business!