Who decided that small business has to think small? It's become fashionable to believe that a small business - especially on that serves a very specific client base - is somehow "stuck" at the boutique phase. One store, a very narrow scope of inventory or services, and no thought to long term growth. The reason, of course, is that too many owners find the cliché that fits them and then build to the cliché, not their dream, vision, purpose, and mission.

Wait. Build to the cliché?

Yes. Somewhere along the way, somebody convinced them that all business occurs in the vacuum of a Venn Diagram and all they can - or should - ever do is to play in that tiny bit of overlapping space between passion, income, and quality.

These small business owners have built to the cliché - the starving artist, the overworked accountant, the small-town web designer - and by choosing to sing that tune instead of the one they hear in their heart, they put governors on their ability to grow their business.

Hogwash!

As an entrepreneur, why are you the only one playing in your business? What is keeping you from being bigger? Systems? Not at all unlikely. People? Another indicator of systems not being in place. A business model to follow? Those are all around you, but likely not in the actual business that you are in.

Now, when it comes to clichés, none is more potent than that of the Harley-Davidson aficionado. Black leather, loud pipes, "beanie" helmet and wraparound sunglasses. Starting all the way back with Marlon Brando in "The Wild One" Americans have had a love-hate relationship with what riders might be and what they really are.

If there was ever a cliché, then the "bad biker" is one that should represent the tiniest fraction of a percent of the buying public.

And yet Harley Davidson continues to open more dealerships and worldwide, ridership of their motorcycles (and their sales) continues to grow. With, I might add, no corresponding rise in the crime rates of various countries throughout the world. (If we believe the cliché, there should be, wouldn't you think?)

Why is that? Well, a lot of reasons, but a big part is that Harley did two things a long time ago - they become passionate about quality (remember that Venn diagram idea?) and they made their sandbox a lot bigger by doing so much more than simply building motorcycles. Shirts, jackets, and all the miscellaneous gear that a biker - or a biker lookalike - needs to embrace what they are or want to be could be had at a dealership and if you didn't ride, they figured out a system to help you learn, on their bikes, right there in the dealership.

It became a very integrated series of business decisions that paid off handsomely for Harley in the last 30 years.

In short, they expanded in a market that was contracting rapidly and had never been that big in the first place.

You're not supposed to be able to do that, are you?

Why not? Expanding your business is about finding opportunities that resonate with your clients, not just finding something else you like to do. I'd be willing to bet that if you asked 100 McDonalds franchisees ten years ago if they should expand into the coffee market with the McCafe menu lineup (and the upfront costs of the equipment) that many would have said McDonalds is a hamburger stand and specialized coffee drinks are not what we do.

And yet, it has become a huge money-maker for the chain even as food sales have slowed down and the margins on those sales have declined.

The key to small business growth is not found in the vacuum of ownership and "what's in it for me" but in giving a customer - not necessarily your original client - something they want and creating the systems to do that at the same time you continue to grow your primary customer base.

Published on: May 10, 2017