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  • Writer's pictureMark Valdez

🏈 Business Blitz: 5 Ways SMBs Can Score Big

Love it or hate it, football is back! Nothing quite marks the passage of time like the start of football season. From Labor Day to New Years Eve we will be sprinting to the end zone like Rocket Ismail.

Sept 1989 cover of Sports Illustrated Magazine

Week 1 kicked-off with some riveting match-ups like watching 2x defending National Champion, Georgia, taking on UT Martin from the FBS in the ultimate heavyweight vs featherweight match-up. The Skyhawks courageously played their role as punching bag for 60 minutes which got us thinking about these David vs Goliath matchups and how operating an SMB can often feel similar.


While UT Martin put up a valiant effort against the Bulldogs, they were not meant to win this game. Similarly as an SMB, your goal is not to defeat a Fortune 500 company (at least not today). Don’t forget that every big company started as a small company and there are real advantages that can come from being small, nimble, and adaptable. Even if your goal is not to be the next Google, there is a pathway to sustained success if you recognize and leverage your advantages.


Talent

It’s not just that you can’t land the 5 star quarterback and 300 pound offensive linemen, they won’t even return your phone call. Even if they did accidentally answer the phone, you’d have a hard time convincing them UT Martin was a real school (no offense Skyhawk fans!) Yet, there are 21 players in the NFL who went from being undrafted to Hall of Famers including Kurt Warner and Warren Moon.

University of Northern Iowa grad, Kurt Warner
University of Northern Iowa grad, Kurt Warner

Great talent can come from many places and oftentimes it’s overlooked because there isn’t a fancy resume that comes with it. Great credentials don’t always equate to great production. Focus on finding people who resonate with your mission, have demonstrated work ethic and resourcefulness, and have an identifiable slope to their career trajectory. Your company provides these people the opportunity to learn, contribute, and level-up in ways they never could within a big corporation. Your ability to identify and develop this talent will allow you to out kick your coverage.


Play To Your Advantages

If your offensive line is giving up 50lbs per person on average, no good strategy includes trying to ram the ball down their throat. If you can’t take the competition head on, spread the field horizontally. Therein lies the invention of the West Coast Offense which Hall of Fame Coach, Bill Walsh, made famous in guiding the 49ers to 3 Super Bowl Championships. The offense requires speed and accuracy to spread out a defense making them susceptible to subsequent plays down the field. As a small company, speed and agility are often key advantages. What you can do in a week would cost the corporate bureaucrats 6 months of meetings, user studies, consultants and infighting to come to a resolution. Your ability to move nimbly and iterate quickly will allow you to adapt to market trends and be more responsive to customer needs.

Image of Steve Young and Joe Montana, the west coast offense


Change the Game

Conventional wisdom often defines the rules of engagement. Everyone knows that on third down & 5 you punt the ball. Try telling that to Kevin Kelley who coached Pulaski Academy to 9 high school state championships by bucking conventional wisdom and following the statistics. Kelley’s analysis concluded that time of possession was an undervalued statistic. He rarely has his team punt and almost always kicks onside after scores to attempt to recover the ball quickly. Convention rather than first principles led to the standard behavior. Challenging conventional wisdom is your opportunity to change the rules of engagement. Force your competitors out of their comfort zone to play your game, the game you are dictating.


For instance, you have an advantage leveraging your local presence and community ties. By actively engaging with the local community through events, sponsorships, and partnerships, an SMB can build a sense of trust and authenticity that larger corporations often struggle to achieve. This local connection allows SMBs to tap into local insights and preferences, tailoring their products or services to better meet the specific needs of the community. Furthermore, being a familiar face in the neighborhood can lead to increased brand loyalty and word-of-mouth marketing, giving the SMB a competitive edge in its local market. Forcing competitors to compete on your home turf becomes a heck of a lot harder.


Combine Forces

When Texas and Oklahoma decided to leave the Big 12 for the SEC in 2021 they set off a frenzy amongst the power 5 schools to realign themselves in order to counterbalance the SEC flexing on them. It became a race to strengthen, expand, and lock in TV contracts to bring in the $$$. After years of building your company, you have a distinct advantage as a known player in the ecosystem. In today’s environment, when owners are getting bombarded by every PE, search fund, and independent sponsor known to man, you have the ability to cut through the noise and meet on the same level as other business owners. Oftentimes you will find that there are compelling reasons to join forces such as leveraging scale economics, expanding to a larger geographic footprint, reducing customer concentration, and/or providing liquidity to retiring owners. Certainly this takes time and effort and oftentimes capital, but for an enterprising owner this is a real opportunity to leverage your knowledge, insight, and network connections. Just make sure you are not the last mover. You don’t want to end up like the Pac-12!

a meme image of teams celebrating the death of the pac12

Technology

Ah technology, our wondrous and mysterious friend. Technology is the great equalizer. What 20 years ago may have been out of reach is no longer the case. Historically speaking new innovation was only available to the few who could afford it, but the key component of progress is the diffusion of technology more broadly which further stimulates economic growth.

a graph showing the decline in cost of various technologies over time

Even more astounding, the latest breakthroughs in Artificial Intelligence such as Large Language Models (LLMs) like ChatGPT which cost hundreds of millions of dollars to create and operate are available to any user with an email address to sign up. Use of OpenAI’s flagship model, GPT-4, costs just $20/mo while one estimate suggests it costs OpenAI $700,000 PER DAY to operate the service (thank you venture capitalists!)


Another example we love is Shopify – the versatile and user-friendly e-commerce platform that enables businesses to create and manage online stores, making it easier for them to sell products and services to a global audience. With scalability as a core feature, businesses can expand as they grow, ensuring they don't outgrow their e-commerce solution. Extensive customization options enable SMBs to create unique and brand-specific storefronts, setting them apart from the competition. As an SMB you get a scalable, customizable, and modern e-commerce platform with a vast array of tools and integrations that empower SMBs to match or even surpass the functionality of larger competitors. All of that for $100/mo. What a time to be alive!


Today, SMBs have just as much access and capability when it comes to technology as the big companies combined with greater agility for implementation and adoption. By strategically integrating technology into their operations, small companies can gain a competitive edge, improve efficiency, enhance customer experiences, and successfully carve out their place in the market alongside larger competitors.


Conclusion

The start of the season marks a thrilling journey filled with unexpected twists and turns, much like the path of an SMB in the business world. As we draw parallels between the gridiron and the boardroom, it becomes evident that there's much to learn from both arenas. In the game of business, just as in football, the journey is fraught with challenges and victories, setbacks and comebacks. SMBs may not be sprinting to the end zone like Rocket Ismail, but they are advancing step by step towards their goals, driven by a unique combination of talent, adaptability, innovation, collaboration, and technology.


So, as this football season kicks off, let it serve as a reminder that in the SMB arena, there's an exciting game to be played, and with the right strategy and determination, even the underdogs can emerge as champions in their own right. Embrace your advantages, seize the opportunities, and keep moving forward on your path to success.

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