PROFILES: How They Went From Small to Big

Just How did they grow their Business?

So just how does a self-employed business get bigger, especially when you have been at the same level for years, and can’t seem to break through? The question reminds one of a quote by J. Paul Getty, once the world’s richest man: “My formula for success is rise early, work late, and strike oil.”

No, you are not going to strike literal oil; those days are over. But figurative oil, why not? Think about Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin? Do you think they feel as if they struck oil? You bet. Richard Branson took The Virgin Group from a one-man band to a worldwide conglomerate, and you can bet he feels like he struck oil, too. (And by the way, Branson started out as a self-employed small business, opening a record store above a shoe shop and bartering rent.)

In fact, every big company started out as a small business, and lessons are there to be learned by freelancers and the self-employed alike. If others grew, so can you. How? There is no one single answer. Different companies use different methods.

3 Ways to Go From Small to Big

Find a great partner: Chester Carlson was a solopreneur who invented a unique business contraption at home but could not sell it – to anyone. A man named Joe Wilson eventually saw the machine and teamed up with Carlson. Wilson’s company eventually put more than $100 million into R&D, and then re-named the business – from Haloid to Xerox.

When you work alone, as many self-employed business folks do, or even if yours is a small company of, say, eight people or so, there is only so much you can do by yourself. Your institutional knowledge is limited to what it is you do, your reach is similarly limited to your normal channels, and of course your resources are limited. In those cases, growth, while a laudable goal, is often one that can also understandably be out of reach. So what do you do?

Find a partner, that’s what. That’s what Chester Carlson did. Partners can bring your business to a whole new level. They have contacts you do not and resources different than yours. They also will have ideas that are new to you and offer unique ways to implement those ideas. The key then is to find strategic partners who offer some synergy: They need what you do and you need what they do. Together, what you can accomplish can be more than what you can do alone.

Innovate: Bette Naismith was a terrible typist, but a good painter. That is why she would bring small tubes of paint to the bank where she worked to cover up her typos. Playing with various formulas, she eventually invented Liquid Paper at home, on her kitchen table.

Creating a new product or a way of doing things is a tried and true way to grow from small to big. Innovation gives companies what is known as the “first mover’s advantage,” and that in turn allows them to own a new market.

Be unique: If you want to take your freelance or independent contractor business to the next level, then one thing you should concentrate more energy on is your X Factor, that is, that one special thing sets you apart and makes you stand out from the crowd.

Think about the small, independent businesses that you like best. Don’t they so something special, unique, different, something out of the ordinary? That is their X factor. Figuring out what your X factor is, and then putting extra effort into it, can go a long way to taking you from small to big.

So the upshot is that there are lots of ways to go from small to big, companies do it all the time. The real trick is to pick a strategy that fits your business and your business plan, one with integrity and opportunity. Do that, and you are well on your way.