It is an unfortunate fact that small businesses fail at a higher rate than large businesses. While we’ve come to accept this, it somewhat flies in the face of logic. After all, small businesses are run by owners who can achieve entrepreneurial returns rather than managerial bonuses, so incentive is high. Conventional wisdom is that small businesses have fewer, and closer relationships to customers (think Ace Hardware franchisees vs. Home Depot.) And lacking layers of overhead and embedded management they should be more nimble.
Yet, they fail. From as high as 9 out of 10 for restaurants to 4 out of 10 in more asset intensive business-to-business ventures. That is far higher than large companies.
Why? Despite conventional wisdom most small businesses are run by leaders committed to a single, narrow success formula. Most are wedded to their core ideology, based on personal history, and unwilling to adapt until the business completely fails. Most reject new technologies and other emerging innovations as long as possible, trying to conserve cash and wait for “more proof” change will pay off. Additionally, most spend little time investing time, or money, in innovation at all as they pour everything into defending and extending their historical business approach.
Take for example the major trend to digital marketing. Everyone knows that digital is the only growing ad market, while print is fast dying:
Chart republished with permission of Jay Yarow, Business Insider 3/19/2013
Yet AdWeek reported a new Boston Consulting Group study reveals that a mere 3% of small business ad dollars are in digital!
Digital marketing is one of the few places where ads can be purchased for as little as $100. Digital ads are targeted at users based upon their searches and pages viewed, thus delivered directly to likely buyers. And digital ads consistently demonstrate the highest rate of return. That’s why it’s growing at over 20%/year!
Yet, small businesses continue to put most of their money into local newspapers and direct mail circulars. The least targeted of all advertising, and increasingly the least read! While print ad spending has declined over 80% the last few years, to 1950 levels (adjusted for inflation,) smarter businesses have abandoned the media. At large companies in 2012 38% of advertising is on digital, second only to TV’s 42% – and rapidly moving into first place!
A second major trend is the move to mobile and app usage. In the last 2 years mobile users have grown and shown a distinct preference for apps over mobile web sites. App use is growing while mobile web sites have stalled:
Chart republished with permission of Alex Cocotas, Business Insider 3/20/13
Even though there are over 1million apps available for iPhone and Android users, the vast majority of small businesses have no apps aligned with their business and customers. Most small businesses, late to the game in digital marketing, are content to try and add mobile capability to their already existing web site – hoping that it will be sufficient for future growth. Meanwhile, customers are going directly for apps in accelerating numbers every month!
Chart republished with permission of Alex Cocotas, Business Insider 1/8/13
Rather than act like market leaders, using customer intimacy and nimbleness to jump ahead of lumbering giants, small business leaders complain they are unsure of app value – and keep spending money on historical artifacts (like their web site) rather than invest in higher return innovation opportunities. Many small businesses are spending $20k+/year on printed brochures, coupons and newspaper or magazine PR when a like amount spent on an app could connect them much more tightly with customers, add higher value and expand their base more quickly and more profitably!
The trend to digital marketing – including the explosive growth in mobile app use – is proven. And due to very low relative up-front cost, as well as low variable cost, both trends are a wonderful boon for small businesses ready to adopt, adapt and grow. But, unfortunately, the vast majoritiy of small business leaders are behaving oppositely! They remain wedded to outdated marketing and customer relationship processes that are too expensive, with lower yield!
The opportunity is greater now than during most times for smaller competitors to be disruptive. They can seize new innovations faster, and leverage them before larger competitors. But as long as they cling to old practices and processes, and beliefs about historical markets, they will continue to fail, smashed under the heal of slower moving, bureaucratic large companies who have larger resources when they do finally take action.
(Adam hartung is the managing director at Spark Partners.)
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