What I Learned From Working 8 Years At A Small Business

What I Learned From Working 8 Years At A Small Business

I have been working at a small packaging design company for nearly 8 years. What are the most important things that I learned working at a small business? My job was graphic design, but if needed I would also help out with other things. 

When I started my job the company had only around 4 employees, including me, when I left there were around 25. So I have seen the company at its very beginning and seen it grow. And in this post I want to share some insights that I think are most important for its growth, and might help you as well.

Have a good structured system

It might sound obvious to you, but having a system that works is very important. The company that I worked for had somewhat of a good working system. Although it could have been much better, it worked very well. Companies always develop systems, sometimes they come naturally, sometimes you need to create a system right from the start. 

Important to note is that systems are never 100% perfect or complete, and can be improved all the time. 

To give you a quick idea of a system:

1) ↦ Sales > Customer places order. Either by phone or online.

2)  ↳ Order processing > Order gets processed and a employee will collect the items.

3)  ↳ Packaging > Order gets packed and gets shipped.

In between, colleagues would do all kinds of customer service, like answer the phone and emails, ordering new inventory, and so on. Above is a simplified version of the daily system. And can be used as a base. It can still be updated a lot. Especially when your business starts to grow, you cannot forget that your system needs to grow with it.

Other things you might need to add are; Marketing, employees daily tasks and responsibilities, order checking, customer service, management, web design and more. When I was working there, other tasks were all done by the same colleagues and only when they had time for it. They mainly focused on sending all orders out for the day.

Have a good team 

You need to have a good team of people that work together, and make sure that everybody knows their responsibilities well. Make sure that you clearly explain to your employees what their roles are. Their role might change, and it is up to you to give your employees the best suited responsibilities.

Having a good team that is competent and works well together is in my opinion one of the main reasons the business did grow. Did we need management? Yes, but we worked very well without it too.

This company really struggled with having a good team, but once found it really showed how important it was. The reason though it was so hard to find people, was in my opinion the bad management. People just didn't want to work there. If you want to have a good team, be a good manager.


Every business needs good management

A company needs to have good management, and although this company had some sort of management, it clearly wasn't very good. We had one boss who tried to manage it all, but by trying to manage it all she just ended up yelling at people and commanding people around without a clear plan. Instead of motivating people to work we got bombarded with scare tactics and dictatorship. She was forcing her success, and although it worked for her, it was at the costs of our mental health.

In my opinion a good manager knows the system they are using and understands when it has to be improved. A manager is part of the system, but should manage it at the same time. A manager understands that a system is important and that it needs management. It's a system, like a motor, that keeps the business running.

Focus on B2B

The company that I worked for focused mainly on B2B. Small stores that needed packaging materials (clothing store, hair salons, jewelers, shoe store, etc). These stores needed a variety of packaging, ex.: bags, wrapping paper, stickers, ribbons and so on. They needed it on a weekly or monthly basis. Which means you don’t need to get new customers all the time because these customers will come back. 

The nice thing about this strategy is that, even if one customer would not order anymore, you still have hundreds of other customers. And besides, new customers were coming every week. If you focus on only 1 or 2 big customers, and they decide to change suppliers, you have a huge problem. That is the nice thing about being a supplier for smaller store, and that is why this kind of business model works.

Is there competition?

Although there were more similar companies that sold packaging materials, the market wasn’t saturated at all. And in my opinion the competition wasn’t that big. Not if you compare it with stores like hair salons, online stores, clothing stores etc. Where you have to compete with hundreds if not thousands of others.

Not having a huge competition, or at least being able to focus on a demand that the competition was not supplying yet, helped this company grow a lot. We were like a candy store, bright colors, simple designs, but with focus on quality. Apparently that did very well. 

Build a loyal customer base

Like I said before, most customers would come on a regular basis, which means you don't have to worry about getting new customers all the time. This was one of the reasons for its success. We did not have to put much effort into marketing and promotion. Which will save a lot of money in the long term. Instead the company was slowly growing its customer base.

These loyal customers would tell others and after a while a snowball effect took place. I must say that the growth wasn't really fast, especially in the beginning. But it was solid and consistent. And the last few years I worked there I think it was going quicker. And the snowball effect was really kicking off.

Focus on sales

We did not really have a marketing team or plan, and we did not invest anything into marketing. But we had one and later two very skilled salesmen that would go from door to door building a customer base. They were the people that had to do the sales pitch and show that we were the right match for them. These salesmen would stay in touch with customers and answer their questions.

So if you want to grow your customer base, and make sure your new customers get a good impression of your business. I think having a good sales team is important. But you should have people that really care about their customers, don't make it a sport to get as many customers no matter how. The goal is to build a long term relationship with your customers.

Have high quality service.

I think that for modern businesses good service is very very important. And I not just mean showing good manners and being polite, I mean really trying to help your customers. Too often I see people just being polite, but the truth is, customers want you to care for them. They expect you to be polite, but they appreciate it if you show them that you really try to help them. If you do this, your customers will become loyal and come back.

I always did my best to help customers as well as I could, and people seemed to really appreciate that. And I think because this business had a very high level of service, it succeeded in making their customers loyal. So, make sure your employees are not just polite, but also teach them to really try and help your customers. For me that was something natural to do, because I like to help people, one reason why I started this blog as well.

About the author:
Hello, my name is Ron Hoekstra, founder of The Liberty OnDemand. I hope you like my content, if you want to know more about me, please read here or subscribe to my newsletter where I will keep you up to date with new posts and other useful content.