Remaining a small business is failure mindset

There is a phenomenon I’ve begun getting so accustomed to; but entrenched as it may, something must be done about it. I have not heard these words verbally, but there is every cause to believe the actions of many Ghanaian businesses scream one thing – it is enough to stay small! The year 2019 has started with brisk business activities, but the question is: how would such speed convert small businesses into medium-scale businesses and medium-scale businesses into giant companies the size of their multinational peers?

The challenge

I’ve actually lost count of the number of businesses that have remained the way they started for several years. In the recent past, CEOs of businesses had played the role of ushers in their start-up periods while they kept an eye on strategy. They beam smiles at the door of their one-branch businesses and offer customers the best of care, until they open one or two more branches. Customer care flies out the window and such CEOs vanish, juggling between meetings. All of a sudden they’re busy doing ‘top-level’ stuff, and many at times dissociate themselves from the very customers who helped them with that ‘little’ expansion.

Think about the corner grocery that sprang up under your very nose. The owner is so courteous at the beginning of the business, and even calls to greet when it’s obvious you’ll buy nothing at that moment. This owner even knows the brand of shirts you wear and the number of children you have. In a few months when the grocery shop has expanded and every shelf is filled, this same owner begins to assume some importance – to the extent that attending to prospective buyers becomes a herculean task. It’s worse when the customer is unknown or when ‘just’ a single item is being bought. What happened to expansion beyond the area to other suburbs, towns or even cities? The phenomena of contentment and complacency!

Today, the marketplace keeps expanding. In the past, it meant a customer travelling a long distance to purchase items. In recent times, the options are many. Online markets have taken over and all it takes is a warehouse where items can be securely stored. Customers stay in the comfort of their homes and order items online; and the most fascinating thing is items can always be delivered wherever a customer wants it delivered.

It was just a matter of time for this to be extended to staple foods. Going to the market to purchase food items can be a headache. It is no longer so, since businesses have sprung up to take that headache away. You can send your shopping list to companies whose activity is to go to the market and shop on your behalf – and deliver it, too!

It is therefore not enough to believe your business is doing so well you don’t need any expansion. You’ve even turned customers away on some occasions because your customised product which is catching on so well is out of stock and you are too ‘tired’ to attend to the overflow. It only takes another person to come up with a similar product with a few more additional benefits to wipe you out. There are lessons to be learnt, and I will proffer a few that I believe will help existing businesses and those venturing into start-ups.

Most customers don’t complain, they walk

Mahatma Gandhi once said: “A customer is the most important visitor on our premises. He is not dependent on us. We are dependent on him. He is not an interruption to our work. He is the purpose of it. He is not an outsider in our business. He is part of it. We are not doing him a favour by serving him. He is doing us a favour by giving us an opportunity to do so”. This goes beyond just customer care. It is the core pillar in ensuring your business takes deep roots to support the stem, branches and fruits.

Today, many are those who have solid business ideas out of which are born great products and services. The only obstacle is a market for such products. It is easy to say, “find a human need and supply it”. Government’s 1D1F policy is one typical example. People have ideas, but aside from financial challenges the next biggest obstacle they face is a market for their products. Of course, any bank which is clear on a viable market will be ready to support any project irrespective of the amount involved.

‘Small is big’ has a deeper meaning

It is not enough to have your business churn out products in large quantities. It is not even enough to be content with those customers who have filled every square-inch of your outlet. There is wisdom in ‘small is big’. A journey of a thousand miles begins with one step, they say. The future of every tree lies in a tiny seed. It is not wise to suppress the organisation’s growth because you saw some appreciable growth. If growth has reached a peak in your current location, get more outlets in other strategic locations. Let the ‘small’ you have today take you to higher heights and build a conglomerate.

Treat your employees well

I once heard the story of a giant company that had its humble beginnings with so-called less literates who sacrificed to raise the business from a small room into a local giant making strides in other countries – a multinational had been born. Those who helped from the beginning are nowhere to be found. Simple explanation – they did not fit in the growing organisation. It pays to remember those who sacrificed for the business.

It is a great asset to treat our employees well. They, together with your customers, are the true brand ambassadors for your company. Some ‘respectable’ companies may for years fail to honour statutory payments for their employees. An organisation might have a PR department, but the actual PR is done by its employees. Take care of your employees and they’ll reciprocate by going beyond their targets to achieve extraordinary feats for your business.

You can’t be too big to meet clients

You started your business on a bicycle and used to say hello to the neighbours, most of whom were your customers. You were available to talk to customers or clients when it all started. With a few more employees, you’ve become invisible. Probably you’ve managed to buy one or two cars, and that has made you a ‘real boss’. Clients you once chased to patronise your products and services can’t have business chats with you any longer because they bring ‘little’ business.

You are much content with business from some few top guys, and you’ve suddenly become a guru in the Pareto principle. It is not too late to come back to basics. Those clients with ‘little’ money are still relevant when it comes to your cashflow, and who knows what kind of business they will bring tomorrow.


The year, 2019, presents a massive business uplift across the world, and Ghana will not be left out. Your business can only thrive if you remember to keep growth top of the agenda. There is nothing great about being content with your level of growth. Take the lessons above seriously and push for both qualitative and quantitative growth. Above all, ensure business ethics become a part of your daily activities. Happy business year! 

Johnson Opoku-Boateng is the Chief Executive & Lead Consultant, QA CONSULT (Consultants and Trainers in Quality Assurance, Health & Safety, Environmental Management systems, Manufacturing Excellence and Food Safety). He is also a consumer safety advocate and helps businesses with regulatory affairs. He can be reached on email:

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