Small Businesses and the Problem of Thinking Big

by Ken Mueller on June 24, 2013 · 6 comments

Small Business and the Problem of Thinking Big

We are told to think big. Have dreams. Think outside the box, and even outside the realm of possibility.

It’s good to have dreams and think big, right? Especially if you own and operate a small business. Thinking big is the first step in being successful, or so we’re told.

But perhaps we need to be careful when we think big.

Oh, it’s alright to have dreams and a vision for great things in the future. It’s OK to have a business model predicated upon future growth. But not all big thinking is beneficial. Bigger isn’t always better.

Think about it:

  • Where did the Occupy Wall Street movement come from and why are so many people unhappy with big banks and big corporations?
  • Why is there such a backlash against big box stores and big national chains?
  • How do we feel about the customer service we get from big businesses?

In many American cities there has been a philosophical and cultural move away from malls and big stores to smaller, local businesses. “Buy Fresh, Buy Local” and “Think Local” can be seen on bumper stickers.

In the rush to think big, we often confuse it with acting big.

No matter how large you get, don’t lose your small spirit and feel. Don’t lose the small culture that attracted people to you and made your small business successful in the first place.

By all means, think big. Dream dreams, and move forward. But don’t lose site of your customers and what they want. Don’t lose that personal touch that comes with being small.

Think big, while also thinking small.


Ken - Excellent advice. We always hear the benefits of thinking big, and for the right reason. Without having a grand vision Amazon would not be where it is today. However, at the same time to take those baby steps that will get you to your grand vision. Without starting your journey with small steps, merely having a grand vision will not get you anywhere. 

One phrase summarizes the message - Think BIG, Act SMALL!!


Great post Ken.  This reminds me of a Facebook comment that was left on an Instagram photo that I shared.  The picture was a shot of downtown Lititz.  A friend who still lives in the town where I grew up said "Safe to say an area where there is not an overload of Wal-Marts and local businesses still are preferred.  

John_Trader1 1 Like

Great post Ken. I'm a supporter of the notion that people want to do business with people they like, and trust. Although there are many advantages to being big (such as scalability) thinking small certainly adds a level of personalization that is often swallowed up by size and scope. DirecTV is a great example of this. When they first started, and were growing, their service was second to none, they went out of their way to personalize offerings and I was really enjoying their products. Now? They act like they couldn't care less about me, all they do is try to get me to buy more and their service has had a precipitous decline in quality. Sad.

KenMueller moderator 1 Like

@John_Trader1 Agreed. I think big businesses can learn a lot from this. Just this weekend I had trouble printing out a coupon from a Facebook link for DiGiorno's pizza. I went to their Facebook wall and left them a message, and they've already responded. That's one way that a big business can retain that "small" feeling via social media.

KDillabough 2 Like

I will never choose to lose the "personal touch". I don't work with the big, front-page-news companies. I work with entrepreneurs who won't be on the cover of Time magazine, but whose lives, contributions, struggles and successes are equally important. There's no "glamour" working with them. It's a behind the scenes supportive role I play, and I'm delighted to "think big and think small", to help them do the same.

I often analogize to my Olympic coaching days, and my thoughts on coaching. I believe it's the top coaches that should be working with young athletes, just as I believe that early growth businesses need top expertise right from the start. Unfortunately many of the latter choose not to afford that expertise (note that I did not say they "can't" afford to...they choose not to afford to, at their own peril). Surrounding oneself with expertise from the outside, in athletics and business, helps prevent the de-training that's required once bad habits are entrenched, failures experienced and the proverbial "if I knew then what I know now" experiences inevitably happen. Maintaining the personal touch, close connection and true "love" of one's clients is key. Cheers! Kaarina

KenMueller moderator

@KDillabough I think you just summed it up well. It's a fine line that's required, but it is doable. Thanks for stopping by!

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