Just about the worst mistake any small company can make is to model themselves on large companies. Because, let's be honest, large companies are currently proving that they are often disastrously badly run.
Reading my friend Richard Oliver's blog led me to a wonderful final article by management critic Simon Caulkin - he's been axed by the Guardian newspaper. In it, he dubs the last 20 years of corporatisation, "The Blunder Years". His point is that -
Wherever they looked, readers found a glaring discrepancy between "official" and "unofficial" versions, between talk and walk.
The talk was empowerment, shared destiny, pulling together: the walk was increasing work intensity, tight performance management, risk offloaded on to the individual. The talk was flat organisations: the reality, centralisation and a yawning divide between other ranks, required to minimise their demands for the greater good, and a remote officer class whose rewards had to soar to motivate them to do their job. Employees were the most valuable asset - until costs had to be cut. Repeated mis-selling and other scandals demonstrated it certainly wasn't the customer who was king.
And yet, and yet, somehow this inept, inauthentic and inhumane style of management has become incorporated in our business world as the norm. So in spite of its obvious flaws, some small companies ape it - complete with ghastly, insincere corporate speak and a complete insouciance about treating customers as idiots.
The recent incident over Etsy messing up seller's Google titles is a good instance of a small company communicating (or not) in a "mock-corp" manner.It's easy for me to cite Etsy because we sell there, so I tend to keep in touch with what's going on, but to be fair they're only one example of many small organisations that sometimes slip into behaving as though they took their management training from a poorly-run and disengaged corporate. It's everywhere.
Surely one big advantage that small companies have is that they don't need to behave like this. At a small company you can dare to be honest with your customers. You can talk to them in your usual tone of voice rather than a artificial one. You can communicate in a timely fashion (even though with a small number of people - or in our case two - to answer emails you may not get to it as fast as you'd like) - and you can stay in touch with everyone working with you and your customers and suppliers.
A small company is personal - so make sure that your communication and your behaviour clearly comes from a genuine person, not a corporatebot.
Our move to a new studio has been a revelation to me. I realise that one reason I felt that things were going too slowly in the old place was that we literally didn't have room to think. We were surrounded by boxes in the end - full of samples, textile and books - with no way of unpacking them as the cupboards were all full. Our printing studio meanwhile had become a dark little cave, lined with our slide-out boxes of drawstrings.
Suddenly, we have space, and light and even flowers. And I find I am working faster and yet I'm more relaxed.
Consider your physical space. I know that may sound obvious, but well, it took me about two years to realise that we really needed a move. If your working environment is not supporting you well, then if you can take some time out to improve it - or even to move - it's probably worth doing. It can not only give you a boost in productivity, but it can make working life a whole lot nicer and that will show up in what you do.
Oh - and one final thought. If you work in a cubicle, in some anonymous office where you can't even open the windows - as I did for six months at one point - really, really consider a move. As a colleague of mine once said, if you have to keep your eyes shut because you don't want to look at the decor, it's kind of hard to do design!