Going the extra mile in your small business: Can just enough ever be good enough?

By Henry Brown

For some years now, the message of small business has been centered on keeping things lean, lowering overheads and making a profit by keeping the expense column light. Let’s not rewrite history here; that approach makes a lot of sense in a world where fortunes can turn on a dime. But there is now, for perhaps the first time, reason to question whether leanness is the way forward. A lot of businesses that have relied on getting things done with the minimum of manpower and by keeping just inside their deadlines stand to suffer in the very near future.

Simply put, when you’re leaving things to the last minute and working with all of your man- or woman-power to ensure that you can do a job with the smallest outlay possible, you create a lot of hostages to fortune. Primarily, you’re relying on something like a pandemic not happening; because if just one person shows symptoms and has to self-isolate, then a job that was going to be tight with a twelve-person workforce becomes very questionable with eleven.

If the Covid-19 crisis is going to have one lesson for the business world, it seems realistic to assume that said lesson will be “just enough isn’t good enough.” In short, you need to expect the unexpected, or at least be able to react when something unexpected happens. This means being prepared for a bit of forward investment.

Always employ more than enough staff 

In the early days, a lot of businesses are one-person bands by necessity. Your idea is definitely bankable, but it hasn’t yet banked anything and you can’t afford to pay out a salary. As your business grows, however, it really needs to grow. As soon as you can afford to employ people, you need to start doing so. If you think you could get by with a team of three people, employ four. There will always be enough work for you all to do; but more importantly you’ll be ready for the inevitable occasion when one of you falls ill or unexpectedly quits and you need to get by at least temporarily with a team of three.

Blue-sky thinking is a key part of running a business, but it’s only applicable for as long as the sky is blue. The businesses that stay afloat through and beyond this crisis and others will be the ones that are realistic enough to understand that gray-sky thinking is also essential.

Invest in assets rather than hiring by the job

It’s always going to be tempting to look at business profit as money you have made, which can sit in an account and make more money for you. At the end of the day, that’s what a lot of your profit will be, but if you want to have a secure business you will need to consider feathering the nest – putting profit back into the business to buy assets that will make your work easier and save you money further down the line.

Even in a small business, this is something you can practice, from something as simple as investing in laptops so everyone can work on the move (or in quarantine!), to bigger purchases. If you’re in construction, for example, it makes more sense to find cranes for sale than to rent one every time you need one; in the worst case scenario where you are short on funding to complete a job, it will always represent something you don’t have to spend money on and could even be an asset you can borrow against if you need short-term funding.

Don’t be tempted to save too much money on materials

While there is every reason to make sure you get the best deal every time you buy supplies for your business, this is not to be confused with buying the cheapest available items. Remember that your work will be judged by how long it lasts and how good it looks as time goes on; and this will affect the chances of future sales. That’s why it makes sense to get the best deal on quality products that you can be sure will stand the test of time. If something is the cheapest in the market, there is probably a good reason for that and picking it will do you a disservice in the long run.

Cutting corners and making do, in any area of your business, is never a good idea, but can be more understandable if you’re just looking to turn a quick buck and get out. If you gain a reputation for using cheap materials and shoddy handiwork, you will likely never shed that reputation. So always bear in mind the word-of-mouth reviews you will get a month, a year, and five years into the future when you are considering how to do a job.

Consider going the extra mile for customer service

Last, but not least, customer service is something that will always be very highly prized by those who might be interested in using your business. Bear this in mind every time you step on to a job, and ask if there is any way you could make this job extra-special for the customer you’re working with. Throwing in an extra flourish is a good idea – if you’re a caterer you could add extra entrees, for example – and will encourage customers to use your service again.

The idea behind these little add-ons is that they shouldn’t cost you a great deal to include, but will showcase your commitment to pleasing a customer in a way that not all businesses think about. That can go a long way to marking you out as a business that doesn’t do just enough, but strives to provide more than enough each and every time.

Not every business will be able to go the extra mile all the time, and it is essential that you don’t go over the top in a way that threatens your bottom line. However, if you are smart in how you invest in and upgrade your company, you will stand out as the kind of business that is a byword for quality.


Henry Brown is an online marketing executive. When he isn’t talking shop, he’s roaming the streets of London, uncovering the extra-ordinary in the ordinary.

Leave a Reply

The Self-Employment Survival Guide can help you succeed. Learn all about it here.

Self-Employment Survival Guide book cover