Big Lessons From Tiny Businesses

It’s easy to assume that the biggest businesses have the best lessons to share. They make the most money, therefore, they must be analyzed, studied and copied. Think Google, Apple, Microsoft, and Amazons. These grew from very small businesses to the most successful corporations on the planet. We should learn from them.

Yet, it’s a mistake to forget that even the smallest businesses have big lessons to share. Just because my business is smaller than most doesn’t mean that we haven’t learned our fair share of tough lessons. Many times, through our own sweat, blood, and tears.

Small businesses include mom and pop establishments, the self-employed and even side hustles. They are the businesses that keep our economy flowing and are the heart and soul of any small town.

Of course, we have amazing business lessons to share!

Always Have a Backup Plan

I worked 80 hours a week when we first opened our business. We practically lived there. There was no marketing stone we left unturned and we tried to network with anyone that would listen. But then we started making money. And it got really easy to work less and less and less….

I am certainly not advocating working your fingers to the bone. Instead, always remember that it’s easy to become complacent once you reach a certain level of success. The Great Recession was a wake-up call for many businesses like mine who weren’t prepared for such a drastic hit to the economy. Thankfully, we had several profit streams in place that kept money flowing and our doors open. Along with some drastic tightening of our belts, we were able to survive. Many businesses much larger than mine did not.

Regardless of business size, relying on just one profit stream is always a risk. In 105 Side Business Ideas You Can Start Today, Nicole Yingling shares a huge list of possible new profit streams. Find something that fits into your niche or industry. The idea isn’t to reinvent the wheel but always be on the lookout for ways to grow your existing business.

Bootstrap First

I remember buying a new printer and not even looking at the price tag. That was when I knew we had arrived! I was so excited that I didn’t have to worry about our budget. I could simply hand over my shiny new corporate card and get whatever I wanted.

That worked for a long time but eventually, I was slammed back to reality. In order to stay in business, I had to streamline and cut back on nonessentials and renegotiate everything else. This was a hard lesson but exactly what I needed. Even though times are much better now, I’m never going back to my wasteful ways.

And it’s not always about buying stuff. Bootstrapping should be a guiding principle in every area of your business. In First Class Branding On An Economy Budget, I explained:

“You can meet your business goals even when you’re not flying first class. Doing so just takes some planning, not to mention the ability to be flexible and innovative. The idea is always to look polished, regardless of your budget.”

Think bootstrapping first for all areas of your business. Only spend what you need to spend and save the rest to survive the next recession.

Live for Innovation

It’s easy to stop innovating when you reach a certain level of success. You can lose the drive once you become a stable business. You get comfortable and feel you don’t have to try that hard anymore. Instead of striving for innovation and market disruption, you switch your focus to growth. While that’s not a bad thing for a while, it’s never good to lose your innovative spirit.

In Innovation Has Many Enemies, Ray Stasieczko shares:

“In order not to be the victims of obsolescence, today’s businesses and their leaders must be able to innovate and transition at much greater speeds.”

I live in a very small town and own a local business. I’d be a millionaire if I had a nickel for every time someone told me: “That’s a great idea, but it can’t be done here”. But those big leaps of innovation and our ability to change is what saved my business.

Never lose your willingness to try new things. Remember, someone has to be the first to try. Let that one be you.

Small But Mighty

There are huge differences between big and small businesses, but we are all businesses. Maybe I don’t need a supply chain manager, but I do need resilience and creativity. Maybe I don’t need a social media manager, but I certainly need to know how to spend my meager marketing budget wisely.

The next time you’re facing a business dilemma, don’t assume that corporate giants will have all the answers. My business may be small, but we’ve survived over twenty years. And that’s a very long time in the business world.

Who better to learn from than us?


Liesha Petrovich
Liesha Petrovich
LIESHA is a freelancer by day and Kyokushin Black Belt by night. A late-blooming academic, she's happiest teaching business at UoPeople. Liesha is the author of Killing Rapunzel: Learning How to Save Yourself Through Determination, Grit, and Self-Employment (her mother hates the title - but it's a metaphor mom!). She talks business at Microbusiness Essentials and everything else at Liesha

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