It’s the Fourth of July today as
I write this, and I’ve been thinking about what that means for a blogger whose
job it is to come up with information – and hopefully, inspiration – to help
small manufacturing companies who are trying to compete in an increasingly
tough global economy, now made tougher by $150-a-barrel oil. The answer
actually came to me last night around 2:00 a.m.
We call this holiday the Fourth
of July. But we also call it Independence Day. And what is running a small
business about if not independence?
Unfortunately, not many business
owners have a strong sense of freedom these days. Far too many feel trapped,
either as a cog in the wheels of a huge supply chain, or an unwilling subject
(marketing guru Doug Hall would say “slave”) to the big box retailers
who dominate product distribution.
It’s time to declare
Not overnight. It took the
colonists quite a few years to come to the point where they disavowed their
allegiance to the King of England. And if you want a measure of independence
for your business, it will take you time as well. And you’ll have to put a lot
of work into the planning.
If you need motivation, you might
take a look at our own country’s Declaration of Independence. There are dozens
of places to view it online. If you do, you’ll immediately notice that, beyond
Thomas Jefferson’s golden words of the second paragraph, “We hold these
truths to be self-evident,” there is a very
long list of grievances. I suggest you make your own list of grievances, and
keep it in your top drawer for reference when you need encouragement to
If you sell through big box
retailers, for example, you might write, “You took my discount for early
payment but paid net sixty.” Or, “You made me comply with hundreds of
pages of regulations just to sell you one SKU.” (These ideas come courtesy
of Kathleen Fasanella, a garment industry consultant at fashion-incubator.com.)
When you’re finished, vow to set
aside some time every week to think about ways you can gain more freedom. Start
by focusing on your capabilities
rather than the products you now make. If you can see new options, like
marketing to the biotech industry instead of aerospace (both require high
precision), think about who you would need on your team to sell to the new
market. Could you do it over the Internet? Would you need new sales reps?
If making the changes needed to
achieve independence seems overwhelming, get help. One terrific source is the
Manufacturing Extension Partnership, which has branches in every state. For the
MEP nearest you, go to https://maroon.nist.gov/pub/eurekamap.mep.
As we know from the history books, independence isn’t
easily won. But most would agree it’s worth the battle.