“Small businesses” is an economically term which generally related to the business scope and extent. The taxing authorities categorize “small business” according to their finance turnover in a defined time duration, in most cases: a year. Another aspect of specifying a business as a “small” one is its field of activity: a single barber shop, or a single “Pizza” parlor, or a single stand in a marketplace, are “small businesses”. When one of those becomes “a chain of…” it’s another story.
The behavioral sciences, especially Sociology, regard “small business” as a small organization. From the sociology point of view a business is a type of social organization. The sociology discipline classifies organizations by their internal human relations and interaction. No matter how many people are involved, what’s count is the quality of the inter-relationships among them. If everybody knows everybody, face to face, by each name, and the instrumental communication is informal as the social communication, then it’s a “small organization”.
Such informal relationships can function when we are talking about 2 to 100 workers, managers and subordinates all together. Probably when it’s a 100 people organization we’ll find formal division of labor, duties definitions and documented regulations. On the other hand – a 4 personnel store: the informality is extreme and there is no room for documentation and definitions, everyone is doing everything and if the boss, the store owner, will keep distance – he’ll lose the great advantage of potential warm instrumental relationships with his three salespersons.
Between the 4 and 100 personnel the most common are the 30-40 personnel small businesses. Even if the business owner will try to establish formal regulations he wouldn’t succeed. In such a small organization people will behave according to the informal habits which dominate the everyday activities. There is no way that a new employee will sit down and read a documented guidance book. What will probably happen is that he’ll be told orally what to do by a senior foreman and will complete his integration by imitating others in his close working environment. If he’ll insist to read written instructions he wouldn’t find it because it doesn’t exist in such small businesses and if he will – it wouldn’t be updated. This is the great fault of small organizations and yet their great advantage: it makes them much more flexible and adaptable to market real time changes.
The sociologist Max Weber claimed that the ideal desirable theoretical model of the most efficient organization is the ‘bureaucratic” model. Weber argued that this type of model will be the only social organization that will overcome human faults and weaknesses. His organization will leave much longer than the individuals who are working for it. People will have to adapt themselves to the organizational needs and demands and not the other way round. He wanted to fulfill the old cliché saying “The graveyards are packed with people who thought they were irreplaceable”.
Just for the sake of argumentation, I’ll point only two of the criticism on Weber’s model:
One – Bureaucratic organizations suffer of stagnation. When a “big business” wants to react to changes in its businesslike environment its got to be someone whose job is to detect such changes and to call a meeting of the right forum which is nominated in advance to take care of such cases and according to the firm regulations to make decisions which will be accomplished by those who will be appointed to the task. Such a procedure is taking a lot of time while small business are reacting immediately and move forward leaving the big businesses behind.
Two – The biggest enemy of the bureaucratic organization is the informal organization within the formal one. A lot of money, time and energy are wasted trying to overcome the influence of the informal organization. In small businesses, which are informal by nature, there is no such problem.
As a metaphor we can compare big and small businesses to a steam ship and a sailing boat. In the big steam liner, even if the crew members know each other personally, they operate a daily routine under strict regulations carried out by formally ranked officers and other commissioned lower ranked staff. If the weather will change and threat the ship safety, no one will react without a strict command issued by the captain. In the small numbered crew of a 40 feet sailboat there are no ranks or strictly defined jobs. Everybody is doing everything which is needed when it is needed to be done. There is a Skipper but in case of a sudden hazard you can carry on each sailor that he’ll do what’s necessary without waiting to be told what to do. In small teams, who are operating in a stressed environment, a small boat in the big blue sea or a small business in the jungle of the wild markets, crew members know that if they wouldn’t operate shoulder to shoulder they will be hanged neck to neck. The friendly commitment to each other is working for the benefit of the organization.
A online print shop is a classic example of a small business. It is organized by the following departments:
Management and administration (3)
Sales and marketing (3)
Customer service (3)
Graphic artists studio (5)
Printing machines operators (3)
Production and finish (7)
Business development and Internet support (2)
Those 30 workers are crowded in 100 square meters shop including machines and furniture.
The print shop is operating on line and off line.
On line, through the Internet, they offer the classical advertising and promoting printed materials like: Business cards, magnets, fliers, stamps, account books, envelopes, letterheads, invitations, stickers, bookmarks, and so on.
Off line, when the customer arrives in person and orders his request face to face. This is when the products are “heavy” like: books, catalogs, folders, small paper made packing materials, and such.
The small number of employees, operating under the right managers leadership, creates consolidation, unification, integration, and forging “team spirit” based on interpersonal relationship which creates an identification, involvement and empathy with the business goals. The lack of distance between managers, foremen and other employees do not harm discipline and high standards of working moral and ethics. Discussions, which are taking place from time to time, in open forums, enable all workers criticize constructively or suggesting improvements. Workers can express themselves freely in periodical interviews and all channels of communication, including internal E-mailing, are open unlimited. The closeness relationships enable flexible positioning workers in different stations according to various burdens. The outcomes of 30 workers is synergistic by nature and much more than just aggregative.