What do you do once you realize the power of small? (tiny correction… eBay has more than 8,000 employees! That’s a lot of mouths to feed).
It’s one thing to say, "yep, of course, small is the new big." It’s quite another to actually do anything about it.
For the last six years, I’ve had exactly one employee. Me. This has changed my worklife in ways that I hadn’t predicted. The biggest changes are:
1. the kind of project that’s "interesting" is now very different. It doesn’t have to be strategic or scalable or profitable enough to feed an entire division. It just has to be interesting or fun or good for my audience.
2. the idea of risk is different as well. I can write an ebook and launch it in some crazy way and see what happens. I can build a dot com enterprise with a questionable business model and just see what happens. Because my costs are a whisker compared to a large organization, there’s just no comparison in the way I can approach something (compared to, say, a publisher).
Does this mean that little companies just do little things? Of course not.
Example: My friend Michael Cader (Publishers Lunch) has bootstrapped his tiny business into the single largest, most influential voice in the entire book publishing industry. When he needs help, he outsources it, probably to someone way too good and way too impatient to work for him or his competition. With a staff small enough to fit into a BMW, Cader has a business with a bigger circulation than the huge and fabled Publishers Weekly magazine, owned by a conglomerate.
Is this only for writers and such? What about the solo builder I met who competes with giants by aggressively outsourcing his design and labor?
What about the architect down the street who tripled his income by leaving the huge firm and only taking on the high leverage assignments he actually enjoys?
Or the lawyer who left a giant firm, works half as much and enjoys it for the first time?
A dear friend of ours left her housewares sales firm and is now inventing things, getting them built in factories she doesn’t own and selling to retailers who are dying for innovative stuff that feels risky. She doesn’t take any risk at all… except her time, which is cheap now because she’s on her own.
One of the implications of the Long Tail is that you don’t know what’s going to work. That it’s easy to launch stuff, hard to figure out where it’s going to land. If you don’t have to bet the farm on every launch, you’re way more likely to launch more, and more randomly, which vastly increases your odds.
So, what do you do if you buy this? Quit.
Don’t grow unless it gives you joy.
Dare your employees to become freelancers instead.
Do it on a weekend until it doesn’t scare you quite so much.
It’s no longer about access to cash. Now it’s about choosing the right model and being remarkable.