"Do we have blue circle?"
The signs hung all over the offices of the Baton Rouge Business Report, one of the fastest-growing and most successful business media outlets in the country. I consciously avoided asking what it was all about at first, but, after a few days I couldn’t help myself.
"What is the deal with the blue circle?" I asked Julio Melara, president of the Business Report. Julio’s entire face lightened into a smile.
"I’m glad you asked that question," he said. "Often when I am in a meeting with my sales team or other folks, I will ask, ‘Do we have blue circle?’"
He then asked me to picture a blue circle in my mind. "Draw it on a piece of paper," he commanded – still smiling in satisfaction of my playing along. Here’s what I drew:
"Did I answer correctly?" I asked, slightly nervous that I had done something wrong.
"That is perfect. Of course, that is a blue circle. But, look at the one that I had in mind," he said as he turned my piece of paper around and drew this:
"So, we could have had a conversation about the blue circle that could go on for hours, days, weeks or even years, and we would never be talking about the same thing," he says. "Do we have blue circle?’ has become a part of how we do business around here. It means, are you with me? Are we talking about the same thing? Because the biggest hurdle that we continue to face as we grow is communication."
I was struck at the simplicity and apparent effectiveness of this model of communication. I was also struck by my need to start at the basics with so many things about the Small Business Monthly. One definition that I have been struggling with lately is (embarrassingly) "small business."
This has been especially true since I have met with many bankers, lawyers and other service industries about their "small business programs." Some say 100 or fewer employees are a "small business." Others said 500 or fewer. While some thought that any firm under $1 million in revenue was a small business, others said $5 million in revenue still qualified a company as "small."
The government, of course, has its definition. According to the US Small Business Administration (SBA), a small business is "one that is independently owned and operated and which is not dominant in its field of operation." They also offer financial and employee limitations that vary depending upon industry.
These definitions work for companies applying for assistance from the SBA, however, this definition qualifies almost all business in St. Louis as "small."
After all, only 4% of businesses make over 1 million in revenue, and 95% of all firms have 20 or fewer employees. Given that an overwhelming majority of firms fit into what most would define as "small business," perhaps we should change the name to just "business." If being small is the norm, then the abnormal ones are truly the larger firms.
Are employees and revenue the only ways to define a business? Does being considered "small business" refer to something more than size in our minds?
The Nametag Guy, a.k.a. Scott Ginsberg, an author, speaker and entrepreneur thinks that "small business," rather than just size refers to "an attitude of individuality and a lifestyle of freedom." He goes on to say, "Small is the new big. ‘Size matters not,’ as Yoda once said. Think about it. Craigslist is the 56th most visited site in the world. They don't try to be big or look big. They just help people get what they want. So, comparatively, who would you rather be: the CEO of Innitech or Craig?"
Ginsberg suggests that seeing one’s company as a small business refers to an essence or an innovative spirit that is not limited to the size of a company.
Bo Burlingham, editor-at-large for Inc. magazine and author of "Small Giants," agrees that size is not necessarily a good way to distinguish what a business is or isn’t. He suggests that outside of "small" and "large," there is a third type of business.
"Some people refer to these companies as ‘gazelles,’" says Burlingham. "They are run by entrepreneurs who are very interested in growing, although not necessarily in terms of employees or revenues or geography. Some of these companies are the ones I call small giants: They could grow much faster and get much bigger but have chosen not to because they have other goals they consider more important. Others are, in fact, trying to grow as much as possible and get as big as possible. A few have already passed the threshold of bigness. Though they look like other large companies from the outside, they are still run by the entrepreneurs who founded them and still have a small business feel to them."
A small business feel. An essence that cannot be easily defined.
Instead of crowding this column with my ideas, let’s hear St. Louis’ definition of small business. So here is what I’m asking:
-What is a small business, and how do you define it as being different from a regular "business?"
- How does the multiplicity of meanings of "small business" affect the way that businesses are perceived?
- How does entrepreneurial or innovative spirit relate to small business?
- Can we ever hope for "blue circle" on our definition of small business?
Write to me at firstname.lastname@example.org and next month, I may publish the results.
After all of this more in-depth analysis, it was nice to get hear a simple and straightforward "small business" definition from Seth Godin, author of "Small is the New Big" and other bestselling business books: "I define it as a company in which the person who runs it acts like she owns the place, and in which all the people who work there understand that they have a stake that's got leverage in the final outcome."