10 August 2011

Anarchy in the UK - Impact for Small Business Owners

I absolutely know that there are deeper problems involved in these riots and some problems need to be handled with a structural solution. However I feel the deepest sympathy for those small business owners who see their stores trashed, destroyed or even robbed empty. These small stores which we all love to visit during our travels to the UK aren't multinationals with large bags of money. These stores are owned by hard working self employed people who followed their dream and opened a small little store of their own. In best case they even provide work for a few more people.

This kind of violence and destruction of other people's property is something that I just can't agree with. A lot of these businessowners will have to close their stores and horrible times will start for them and their families. Even if their business survives, it will cost them multiple years of hard work to cover the loss and finish the paperfight with their insurance companies. It's already known that lots of things are probably not even covered by their insurances (theft of stock, intentional fire, ...).

I do know that a lot of these rioters see this as their only way to get attention, but by using criminal acts they loose respect. I hope most of the victimised store owners will be able to survive and re-open their store to continue their dream. (Photo: Reuters)

1 August 2011

Running a Business in a Brave New World

Two years ago, in my second book ‘Friends with Benefits I described the growing need to network and collaborate because the world and the economy have changed drastically in the last 30 or 40 years. The economy is clearly moving toward a world of micro businesses, working together in partnerships and projects.

Earlier this month I read Penny’s blog on Ecademy asking the question whether most startups are self-employed businesspeople or ‘real’ startups. I didn’t comment to this blog because I had a problem understanding the question. This article will be my comment ;-)

Being self-employed is in no relation at all to the shape or size of your company. If you’re a one-(wo)man-business you are self-employed. If you are Mark Zuckerberg and you’ve built a +2000 people company from scratch, you’re also self-employed. It’s simple : You either work for a company and get a paycheck at the end of the month OR you run your own business.

I have more respect for a manager who has built a small company with 5 people and does a great job, compared to a 500 people company with a manager on the payroll who’s just earning his monthly paycheck and gets a big bonus when he gets laid off.

Half a century ago lots of businesses blew up to large sized mega-companies. In each large town we had factories and offices of the world’s largest players (Coca-Cola, Ford Motor Company, Procter & Gamble, …). The hardest labor in those factories was mostly done by men while their wives often ran a tiny microbusiness at home, earning a second income while taking care of the kids. Today those tiny cafĂ©’s, grocery stores, candy stores and shoe stores have almost disappeared from our street view. I still remember them from my childhood days. But times are changing, aren’t they?

A record amount of companies have gone bankrupt over the last decades. Lots of companies have grown into a bubble that bursted and left many unemployed. Most new businesses which launched during the last decade didn’t grow into large companies. Most business owners deliberately want their company to stay a microbusiness. Less risk, less investments.

As also described in 2007 by Don Tapscott and Andy D. Williams in Wikinomics, in a networked society it will become easier for businesspeople and small companies to work together on projects, each focusing on their strongest skills.

I call this concept “Company 2.0” and I have been using it since early 1999. Back in those days we gathered a large group of freelance IT professionals and sold the empty slots in their agenda to large Internet providers. This group of freelancers became the installation and support field-team for several large telco companies in Belgium. By joining forces and operating under one strong brandname we could make them the perfect offer for a national support coverage.

A couple of years ago the big rush in broadband connections came to an end and I had to rethink the concept of this IT company. I refocused to a local market, serving small businesses in just two provinces. Because I’m a very strong believer in a networked economy I decided to build another team of professionals. Each member of the team is self-employed, flexible, expert in their specific skills and highly motivated. Today this IT company has a team of 6 people, all of them freelancers, shareholders or entrepreneurs. All of them strong believers in collaborating and growing together.

Together with my wife Tineke I’m now running three micro-companies. In each of these companies we surround ourselves with the people and skills we need.  For some specific projects this might not be enough, in that case we tap into our network and select the right people for the job.
Even as a micro business we are able to perform and deliver like a medium sized company.

So it’s actually possible to run a company like a project, bringing together the skills you need to perform the business activities. Without large investments, without the risk of having to pay expensive employees through a slow period and always offering top level skills of professionals you would never be able to afford if you would have to hire them as an employee.

At the 4th #TwunchQ networking event hosted by Minister Vincent Van Quickenborne, I asked the guestspeaker and Top Economist Geert Noels if he had any good Economy 2.0 tips for small business owners. The best tip he could give us was the statement that small businesses don’t necessarily need to grow. If you have a fantastic flowershop or a specialized cheese store and people drive 20 miles to buy products in your store, you ARE doing great and you won’t be any happier if you open 3 additional stores. In a new economy you can be the best of the best in your local neighborhood and by collaborating with others you can handle larger projects without the need to grow.
This is Company 2.0 or Running a Business in a Brave New World.