Lord knows, start-ups have plenty of disadvantages (never enough money, limited staff to do all that needs to be done and low visibility compared to established competitors, to name just a few). However, there’s no point in looking at a half-empty cup when there is, after all, still half a cup left. Start-ups have some important advantages over Goliath competitors, many of which involve the ability to be more flexible. Small companies love to talk about flexibility as an asset they have over larger competitors but seldom explain why it’s an asset. Here are some of the advantages of flexibility:
1. It’s easy for start-ups to change direction. Making a big change can be done quickly and far more efficiently than in a large company. Think of turning around a small motor boat compared to an ocean liner.
2. As small businesses, it’s easier for start-ups to respond to employees’ needs by allowing less rigid work rules. If someone wants to work at home one or two days a week or come in a couple of hours early and leave a couple of hours early, there aren’t layers of bureaucracy and paperwork to go through to make this possible.
3. The founder of a start-up doesn’t have to live by anyone else’s rules. Start-ups begins with no rules and no well-established business structure, and can make up their own rules and business structure.
4. Let’s say you have a revolutionary idea, and if your company is successful, you’ll change your industry forever. Chances are that someone in a big company somewhere has had the same idea, but big companies can’t be as flexible about making revolutionary changes. They have a lot more to lose than you do: market share, customer trust, brand recognition, public preconceptions about what they stand for. Meanwhile, you’re starting from scratch and can create something revolutionary without worrying about what you’ll lose in the process.
5. The communications and management infrastructure at start-ups are much more informal and allow more flexibility to individual employees to make themselves heard and have an influence on the overall company. There’s nothing more empowering to employees than the knowledge that what they do really counts, and that their ideas and input will be listened to by senior people (who may be sitting in the same room they are) and can have a big influence the success of the company.
6. The definition of success is up to the entrepreneur. It is not predefined as generating shareholder profit. Founders of start-ups can set their own goals. There is flexibility that comes from not having to worry about short-term shareholder benefits. Some civic-minded start-up founders place heavy emphasis on the goal of helping their communities. Some founders are determined to stay small enough to allow themselves the satisfaction of doing hands-on work with clients.