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Business Strategy Perspectives - Lessons from the Little Guy

Updated on May 20, 2014

Natalie Kouzeleas, CEO Inspire

Traits of the Little Guy

  1. Passion, Energy & Determination
  2. Action
  3. Attention to Detail
  4. Cost Control

Lessons from the Little Guy

Italy is fuelled by the work of the Little Guy. Small and Medium companies pump the lifeblood into the country and continue against all odds to survive and in some cases thrive in a country whose economy, politics and bureaucracy work together to create complex web of pitfalls and barriers which seem to have been specifically set up to hold back innovation and free enterprise.

However, despite it all the Little Guy survives. And over the last few months as I have been working with more and more of these organizations I have discovered there are things they can teach us all. Things that we have forgotten, or perhaps never learnt, living and breathing in complex multi-nationals or global enterprises with our systems and processes, best practices and capability frameworks. Sure…………. this is the reason I get hired, because I know about systems and processes, best practices and capability frameworks but ……there are other things, deeper things which I have rediscovered through the Little Guy which have made me appreciate why they are the fundamental thread that make the fabric of our economy.

It should be said at this point my comments relate not to all Little Guys, not to all small & medium enterprises, but those first generation companies started and run by an Entrepreneur. In fact, a number of second and third generation family run companies have suffered badly in this period of recession in Italy because they have lost many of the qualities which makes the Little Guy successful.

Lesson 1 – Passion, Energy & Determination

You feel it as soon as you walk in the room, the presence and charisma of the man at the top. They live and breathe their business and through both the ups and the downs they remain steadfast in their self-belief. They know where they want to go and their vision is transmitted to their teams. People work at these companies not because they are paid particularly well or they are guaranteed a great career path or investment in their talent. No….it’s because they want to stay close to the sun, they are a believer and they will go above and beyond to try and meet and exceed the expectations of their leader.

This is a very powerful thing. Most of us are not lucky enough to experience it in our working lives because it is very rare in the corporate world – unless you worked at Apple with Jobs and a handful of other exceptional enterprises. Unfortuneatly because of the framework of the modern enterprise with networked societies, matrixes, collaborative decision-making - Passion, Energy and Determination can be suffocated before they have time to surface.

Lesson 2 – Action

When confronted with a problem or an insight the Little Guy acts. The speed of action is surprising and impressive and is something that unfortuneatly many leaders of large corporations have forgotten or are too fearful to do. To act, to change, to move in itself creates energy and turns into results. Making decisions fast, believing it’s worth taking the risk to change, testing things and changing again if it doesn’t work is how to grow at speed. It’s not necessarily about huge changes but little change and continuous improvement makes huge progress over time. I have been overwhelmed and extremely satisfied at how provided with the right insights the Little Guy will act, decide, do. More doing and less talking would make a big difference to many larger corporations.

Lesson 3 – Attention to Detail

The successful Little Guy knows everything about every aspect of his business. Even though the majority do not have a huge technology landscape to support them many have invested in bespoke dashboards and are able to tell you at any point in time how sales are going, which is the most effective channel, how much they are paying per lead, who is their best salesperson, which campaign is working and what their customers are saying. They are in touch with their business across every aspect – 360 degree. They spend time on the shop floor or the front office whenever they can and they listen to their staff, their customers and suppliers. One CEO I worked with recently had his dashboard set up on his ipad and monitored in real-time his sales numbers and his scheduling efficiency hour by hour, and if something was awry he would Act – see lesson 2.

Lesson 4 – Cost Control

The Little Guy’s enterprise functions on a shoe string. The surprising thing to me has been the discovery not that the CEO of the small Enterprise questions every penny spent – since it’s his own money this is hardly surprising. But that his entire staff have cost saving deeply interwoven in their DNA. They will think of anything they can to reduce expenditure. Everything from operating costs to marketing campaigns to sales incentives is questioned. The decision making goes a bit like this:

  1. Do we need it?
  2. Can we get it for free? Ie is there an open-source version, can we offer some collaborative barter, can we do something value-based.
  3. Is it going to bring significantly better results if we pay v use an option in point 2?
  4. What is the pay-back
  5. What’s the best deal we can negotiate.

If larger corporations could instill a little more of this thinking in the DNA of their teams the results could be significant.

Obviously the world of the Little Guy is very different from the multi-national or Global organization but remembering a few things that make the difference for the Little Guy can also make a difference for the majority of global organizations and their leaders today.

About Inspire

Inspire is an Italian-based Consulting firm with an international perspective. Our focus is on driving value and results for our clients fast. Our clients range from small to mid-sized enterprises who have an ambitious outlook and want to grow fast. We specialize in organizational strategy and delivering change. For more information go to

© 2014 Natalie Kouzeleas


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