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Business review for small businesses

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Why read this? : There’s a lot of value in doing a business review. Learn why it’s hard to find time, but what you get from it when you do. We share an example easy structure to use, and principles that improve how you do them. If you’re a small business, read this to improve the way you do you business reviews. 

We’ve worked with all sizes of business – small, medium and large. For us, there’s no “best” size of business. Each size has its own pros and cons. 

Larger businesses give you more reach and bigger impact. But smaller businesses move faster and decision-making is easier.

What’s going to work best for you comes down to context. And context – the circumstances you, and your business, finds itself in – is usually what drives the need for doing a business review.

Man's hand holding a camera lens in front of a lake with mountains and blue skies in the background

Large business context

Large businesses offer higher salaries, more structure in areas like training and development and a wider range of roles. But we know many people find working in large organisations frustrating.

They’re frustrated with the complexity and lack of pace. Frustrated with the many layers of corporate BS you find in large businesses.

And while larger businesses may feel more ‘safe’  in terms of  job security, when redundancies happen, they happen at scale.

Man in a red T-shirt looking frustrated and angry

Successful businesses don’t always last. And when they fail, they fail big. Who’d have thought popular (now ex-) Masterchef judge George Calombaris would be laying off 400 staff via Instagram this week for example?

In smaller businesses, you’ve the benefit of being right at the coal face when it comes to getting things done. There’s very much less corporate BS. And you don’t have to go through multiple layers of creative approvals before you can do anything.  

You’re more likely to see the results of your work come to life. And spend much less time preparing Powerpoint presentations and writing reports no-one’s going to read.

But layoffs still happen.

You’ve always got one eye on cash flow and invoices. You don’t have the same ‘security net’ that larger organisations provide. All that freedom, but also more risk. 

Small business context

This post started when we came across this Reddit thread earlier in the week.

The OP mentions he used to feel better when he received positive feedback from his manager in previous jobs. Now he’s going down the entrepreneurial route, he’s finding the lack of feedback and positive encouragement mentally challenging. 

In a big business, the structured feedback and (usually) positive intent of a manager is usually a good thing. It helps you feel engaged, fulfilled and like you’re making a difference. 

But in smaller businesses, you have to seek that affirmation elsewhere. It’s a topical subject for us as we’ve just done our first quarterly business review. This has been an opportunity to reflect on our progress so far.

We underestimated the value of the business review for smaller businesses. We’re now very glad we took the time to do this work.

The importance of reflection

In our review we used a mixture of frameworks and formats typically used with larger organisations. But applied those to our small and still new business.

We don’t believe this type of structured business review happens very often in small businesses. 

We’ve been lucky to be in contact with many small business owners and entrepreneurs since we started our new venture.

What we recognise is the constant pressure to get things done.

man in a blue T-shirt looking at the ceiling

To be active. There’s always something else that needs to be done.

And you can quickly find as a small business owner, you’re busy with things that aren’t actually that important. That don’t contribute to your goal. If you’ve actually defined a goal. Or are off-brand. If you’ve actually defined your brand identity.

Three-brains business review

It felt indulgent to take the time to reflect back on our first 3 months of operation. But it helped us recognise how far we’d come in a short time.

It also helped us identify a few areas of the business plan where we hadn’t clearly defined and articulated what we needed to do.

That meant we’ve spent some time doing things that won’t contribute to the goal. It’s always far easier to give others advice than to do it yourself. 

Screengrab from Three-Brains website - headline says "Our story" - grow your skills to outgrow the competition

Business review for small business example structure

For anyone thinking of doing their own small business review, here’s the structure we used :-

  1. Goals – Have you defined the financial, brand and business goals and how well are your meeting them?
  2. External audit – What’s going on in your category and with your competitors? How are you identifying and then segmenting and targeting your customers.
  3. Brand architecture – Have you clearly defined your brand? For example, tangible assets like your logo and colour palette and intangible assets like your brand essence and values?
  4. Do these assets all help build your desired brand identity?
  5. Activity plan – Review actions you’ve done like your communications and your customer experience.
  6. Summary – We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, the business model canvas is a great way to write a concise plan. Reviewing our own canvases for our consulting and T-shirt businesses helped us identify new opportunities for the next quarter and focus our thinking.

We wrote a short summary that covered each of these areas. Then we went back through each answer and thought how to improve in each area. How we could have better ideas and be a more creative company.

One of the best ways to do that is to look outside your business. Look at businesses who do the things you want to do well. For us, one of those companies is Google. Their ex-head of HR Lazlo Bock has written a book called Work Rules* which shares how they shaped the culture of work and innovation in that business. 

Here’s a couple of lessons from that book we used in our business review. 

Be humble and conscientious

Bock shares stories about how Google develops its people. Some things that worked really well. But also things that didn’t. We really like that, because it’s important to learn from your mistakes too. 

One story that stuck out for us were the 2 behaviours Google look for when they recruit people. These were being humble and being conscientious.  

People who show these behaviours have the greatest chance of success at Google. We think they work well for small businesses too. 

The word Google spelled out with blue, red and yellow M&Ms with a M&M bag and a laptop also in the image

Be humble

In many bigger businesses, you meet people who are pretty damn far from humble. The inflated job title (like calling themselves strategists), the corner office and the ‘rhythm’ of being in meetings all the time can fuel some people’s egos.

Take those people out of that environment though, and they struggle to work without all those trappings. Whereas the more humble fit in anywhere.

In a small business, when you’re in close contact with your customers, humility matters a lot. The arrogant small business owner doesn’t get far. 

Man's hand holding a business card that says A.Douchebag - Strategist

Be conscientious

Working in a smaller business, and being across everything, you’ve no choice but to be attentive. To make sure things get done. Whether that’s advertising or customer service, or checking your website Terms and Conditions and sending out invoice reminders, you have to be conscientious.

Or it just doesn’t get done. 

We’ve spent a bit of time on small business forums recently and know this can be a real challenge. Any time we see a question where someone’s struggling with something we know how to do, we try to help with clear and simple answers on how to get it done. 

It’s a positive karma thing we know will come back to us in good fortune in the future. Think of others and other are more likely to think of you. 

Take time out to do a business review

Where are we going with this?

After our review, it struck us that setting time aside at least once a quarter is a good chance to reflect on how our business is going.

We want to highlight the importance of the business review for small businesses. We want to reiterate the value of building in reflection time to your schedule.

Pause every so often and congratulate yourself and your team on the progress you’ve made.

A woman with a finger over her mouth making the shhhh signal

Acknowledge the mistakes and the gaps. Put plans in place to fix them. But don’t beat yourself up about it. 

And when you’re done, get ready to swing back into action with renewed purpose and focus. Your actions keeps your brand and business rolling.

Like writing regular blog posts, and talking about the value of doing a business review.

Conclusion - the value of the business review

And finally, like the comments in the Reddit post that prompted this post, take the time to help others. It’ll make both them and you feel better.

When you work in marketing, creative and e-commerce areas it can be easy to get lost in jargon and technical detail. But realistically, what makes the difference is how you connect with others.

Give out praise.

Make positive and constructive comments when someone asks you for help or feedback. And do it in a humble and conscientious way. It really works.

Google it and see. 

Check out our coaching and consultancy services to learn how we work with our customers to grow their business. Contact us directly if you have a specific challenge you’re trying to fix.

* As an Amazon Affiliate, we earn from qualifying purchases. 

Close up of a hand with thumb up

Photo credits 

Lens : Photo by Paul Skorupskas on Unsplash

Frustrated Man : Photo by Usman Yousaf on Unsplash

Man looking at ceiling (adapted) : Photo by Anton Danilov on Unsplash

Business card (adapted) : Photo by Anomaly on Unsplash

Quiet – Shhh! : Photo by Kristina Flour on Unsplash

Google M&Ms : Photo by lalo Hernandez on Unsplash

Thumbs up (adapted) : Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

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