When you open your small boutique, chances are you aren’t planning on directly taking on the likes of Target or Wal-Mart. While you may realize you don’t have the means to take on a giant just yet, you shouldn’t ignore them, either. These and other big brands started out right where you are: opening a single location and working hard to make it better than anyone else’s.
Because of their failures that led them to success, there are numerous small business lessons you can learn from them. Study the giants in your industry, and avoid some of the same missteps they made. While not every lesson is directly applicable (for instance, freight was much more complicated when Wal-Mart opened in 1962), the nature of their mistakes is still highly relevant.
Perhaps no one represents the lessons you can learn from big businesses better than Apple.
Plan Small, but Dream Big
You probably have an end goal in mind for your business. Maybe you want to corner your entire local market, and grow no bigger; or, perhaps you want to grow your business into a globally competitive one. Regardless of what your target is, this “Big Hairy Audacious Goal” is one worth pursuing.
But it’s not what you should focus on every day.
Businesses are built on baby steps and fully honing those things you’re really good at. Overstretching yourself in order to grow more rapidly can easily lead to collapse. Perhaps no company knows this better than Apple. They started out in a garage, making innovative computer technology. Then, they overreached, trying to get into too many markets at once. As a result (combined with other major missteps), they struggled for years and years before finding their focus and becoming one of the biggest companies on the planet.
The key to overcoming their near-destruction? They turned away from many of the products they’d been working on developing and instead chose to focus on just one: the MacIntosh and, later, the iMac computer. It wasn’t until this product was perfected that they started developing the iPod, iPhone and other products. Even now, their selection of products is relatively narrow. That focus has launched them into becoming a multi-billion dollar company.
Offer Something Valuable — and Different
In the 1990s, IBM dominated the computer market, with the help of Microsoft’s software. Their slogan was simple, clean and impactful: “Think.” But Apple, being outside the mainstream, wanted potential customers to know that IBM wasn’t the only option. In 1997, they created what would become one of the best-known slogans of all-time:
It wasn’t just the slogan that exemplified what Apple was. While IBM was producing computers that were relatively difficult to put together and use, Apple was selling the iMac. It was a colorful, all-in-one computer that could simply be taken out of the box, plugged in and used. The iMac wasn’t just a useful tool. It was a beautiful piece of machinery that users were proud to own.
When Apple revamped their efforts and turned their full focus to the iMac, they created something that their audience wanted. While IBM would continue to dominate the business world, Apple all but cornered the home computer market. Their machine was valuable and different in both looks and usefulness. Unlike IBM machines of the time, you didn’t need a tech expert to set up an iMac for you. As an added bonus, the colorful Apple machines were a conversation piece.
This is one of the most valuable small business lessons. If you aren’t offering something unique to the market that your audience wants, it’ll be tough to keep the doors open. Sure, you may see a swell of business after your grand opening. But once the “new store smell” wears off, keeping customers will come down to what you provide your competition doesn’t. If you can’t differentiate yourself, don’t expect your customers to do it for you.
Focus on Your “Why”
In his book “Start With Why,” Simon Sinek lays out in plain terms how highly successful businesses operate: They know why they’re in business. If you don’t know why you’re in business, more than just to make money, you’re on the wrong track. Without a “why,” it’s easy to get lost and worn out by the day-to-day operations of your business.
Apple has lived by this principle almost since their inception. Since Day One, they have existed to challenge the status quo. That’s “why” the company was founded. From there, they figured out how they fulfill their core belief: By creating innovative, beautiful products people want to use. Finally, they established what they do: they sell computers.
It was only after establishing their core belief and culture that Apple became one of the most wildly successful big brands in history. And it’s this core belief and culture that keeps raving fans coming back for more.
So what’s your “why”? You should know why your organization exists, why you get out of bed in the morning and, perhaps most important, why anyone should care. As Sinek puts it, “People don’t buy what you do. They buy why you do it.” Whatever your “why” is, it should permeate every aspect of your business, down to the copywriting in your ads.
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