Growing from being a Likkle Man performing a service or selling a product in the Caribbean means more than just expanding the top or revenue line of the business.
The pathway for growth must include some basics – there has to be a market, and there has to be some basic means of supplying it.
Beyond these basics, there must exist a company that is able to provide what the market needs. This is where the Likkle Man typically runs into problems, and has no clue how to get himself out of it.
A business can grow by just being in the right place at the right time – in other words, from luck. A friend of mine just happened to be selling roller-blades in Austin Texas, when no-one knew what they were. Then, all of a sudden one Christmas, everyone had to have one under the tree and she sold enough roller-blades to make a tidy profit.
However, most companies are not lucky. Their growth comes from careful cultivation of a market, and the organic growth of their capabilities to meet that market.
In one sense, my friend from Austin was “lucky.” However, she also told me that she spent several months giving away free classes in roller-blading at a time when no-one was interested in the sport. In other words, she systematically created the demand for the product by giving people an experience of it, at a time when no-one would pay for the classes.
She gradually built up an organization that could take advantage of the sudden demand that kicked off what became national fad.
And that is what the Likkle Man must do – build up an organization that will enable his company to create demand and take advantage of it. This is where the Jamaican entrepreneur is weak.
Based on my experience working in the region and beyond I would say that we Jamaicans have no problems dreaming big, and envisioning what a business idea can become. The challenge comes when the dreams must be translated into an organization that must deliver the product or service reliably.
The typical entrepreneur’s approach is to do it all themselves, and then hopefully find someone else who is willing to learn to do it themselves to pass it on to (often an heir). However, the problem with this approach, unknown to many entrepreneurs is that this approach keeps the company at about the same small size.
While there is nothing wrong with being a Likkle Man forever, a lack of growth does less than it could for owners, employees, customers and countries. Most company owners are not interested in remaining small.
However, it is fair to say that they do not know what it takes to grow and develop their organizations to be anything other than small.
The good news is that this is one of the skills of entrepreneurship that can be taught. The work done by Michael Gerber, author of The eMyth books, is a method that I continue to use years after reading his original book, and has the simplest and best prescription on how to develop an organization over time.
Even a Likkle Man who has no desire to grow can use these skills.
When we Caribbean people ask someone if they know a Likkle Man, what we are asking for is only a lower price, not a lower standard of product or service. A Likkle Man such as a shoemaker who operates out of a converted container (like the one I used 3 weeks ago) can use Geber’s techniques to consistently maintain extremely high standards that cause customers to keep coming back, and referring others.
In our region, there is nothing like a high standard to attract attention from customers. This is unfortunate, because so very few businesses are able to produce anything at a high standard.
On the other hand, it makes for lots of low-picking fruit. When the market is used to low standards, a higher standard comes as a welcome surprise, and even a shock. In many of my blogs, I have written about the presence of higher and lower standards indirectly.
The ongoing quest for higher standards of product and service delivery are critical to the entrepreneur’s goals of revenue expansion, market growth and greater profits. This quest is also important to countries, such as Jamaica, that have high unemployment and years of stagnant GDP.
This is where all Caribbean need to be very, very careful to empower the Likkle Man, but demand that he deliver at an ever-increasingly high standard. Perhaps we have failed ourselves by not demanding more.