Small can be great
3 min read

Small can be great

Instead of pretending to be big, your small software agency should be honest and proud of its size. You have strengths that larger agencies don't have, and in my experience if you play to those strengths, then small can achieve great things.

"A small law firm, accounting firm, or ad agency is succeeding because they’re good, not because they’re big." ― Seth Godin

That personal touch 🤝

No one knows a business better than the owner. You know your niche, experience, and the unique path you crossed to get to this point. This gives you an irreplaceable insight when it comes selling the gifts of your businesses - and I know firsthand that projects my agency won were directly from me being there in the room. One business owner talking directly to another business owner about the problem they have, and me letting them know that our experience and niche focus will be able to solve it for them.

In my agency I would personally put the proposal together, I would deliver the pitch to the client, I would architect and oversee the technical delivery, I was there every step of the way. Whilst I didn't have to write every line of code or be the one to respond to every single email - clients still knew that I was always there to guide and steer towards success, and it wasn't only my agency they could count on, but also me personally. My clients often remarked how much they valued this personal touch from me - and this in turn created long lasting relationships.

Increased efficiency 🏎

An unsuccessful project delivery is rarely caused by a technology problem, it's usually a communication problem - and small teams can communicate far simpler than a larger teams.

Jeff Bezos famously said that "If a team cannot be fed by two pizzas, then that team is too large". This two-pizza-rule specifically speaks to the inefficiencies of communication in a larger group - as teams get bigger the more points of communication that are needed - and this increases exponentially. A small team can get every team member on the same page via a quick 15 minute  stand-up, but this cannot scale to 50 team members. At that size more processes need to be introduced to make sure the right people are in the right meetings, and that they then relay the right information to the right subordinates, and so on.

Whilst your small software agency cannot deliver ten projects in parallel, it can deliver one to two high-quality projects with far less overhead than a business ten times larger - and with less meetings, rituals, and layers of management - it can be delivered in a smaller amount of time.

"With a small team, you need people who are going to do work, not delegate work. Everyone’s got to be producing." ― Jason Fried, ReWork

A study in 2005 by QSM shows that smaller teams of less than 5 people can achieve extraordinarily results as compared with larger teams of 20 or more people. The study compared a database for 4000 similar projects (of around 100k lines of source code), and found on average the smaller team delivered the project just one calendar week longer than the (significantly) larger team. Not only that, but using a smaller team to deliver the same result, the client saved on average $1.84 million dollars compared to the larger (amazingly inefficient) teams.

Being nimble 🐰

Change is inevitable - and oftentimes completely out of your hands. What is in your hands however is the ability to efficiently and effectively respond to change. The slower moving elephant may struggle to fend off a surprise attack from a cheetah, but the more agile rabbit may have better chance at quickly veering of course, and adapting to the unexpected change.

"There is the opportunity to do more and better if you're smaller and more nimble." ― Marc Andreessen, Entrepreneur and investor

Just because you're a small doesn't necessarily mean you are nimble, in fact you could have a very rigid small business that cannot adapt to change at all. The advantage small businesses have is that it's easier to learn to be nimble, to practise moving fast when new opportunities arise. When an unexpected event can be quickly handled by a small group of people around a coffee table (or even better, over a shared pizza) - this is nimble. When it takes a series of bi-weekly meetings, this is not nimble.

There are of course some challenges about being small, but it's important to embrace and celebrate that small can be great. Not just "great for a small company" - but great.

If you have any thoughts, feedback, or questions, I would love to hear from you. Please hit me up on Twitter @chrisrickard

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