What does value really mean for small business owners?

Jürg Widmer Probst

What does value really mean for small business owners?

Jurg Widmer - Small business

Often, when we think of the word ‘value’ in relation to small businesses and entrepreneurship, we think of it in a purely monetary sense. Think of that small tech start up whose ‘value’ mushrooms as investors and venture capitalists begin a bidding war to compete with each other to get a piece of the action, or simply that understandable obsession with the finances that you need to have as someone who is trying to grow their own business. The money, it goes without saying, is a big factor in considering how we run our businesses.

But of course, it isn’t the whole story – and when we think about ‘value’ in terms of running a small business it can be well worth considering the other ways in which we can use the term. Here are a few thoughts.

How is your time best spent?

As small business owners and entrepreneurs, we have a huge amount of demands on us. If we are a sole trader – or even if we just have a small team – then it is more than likely that we will be juggling a number of different roles every day. It could mean that you alone are your company’s HR team, your finance team, your administrative support team, tech support, customer service or your business development departments. Then beyond all of that, there is the small matter of actually doing the paying work for your customers themselves. So how do we prioritise what jobs we need to do, and which can wait? Clearly this is an area in which having some sense of what ‘value’ really means to you is vital.

The starting point for us has to be to identify which of your long list of daily activities actually adds value for your customers and clients. This value could come in a variety of forms – perhaps the quality of the product or service you are providing, or a change in an internal process that means you are able to respond to customer needs more quickly. Or, it could be financial – whether it is an efficiency in your production process, or a new supplier partnership that allows you to give your customers more for less. Whatever form it takes, identifying what value really means to your customers and clients is a crucial first step in working out what is the most valuable use of your time.

Working in a different way

Of course, the word ‘value’ also has another meaning – that of a firmly held belief that guides the underlying ways you run your company. In business terms, values are almost an operating principle, an underlying set of guidelines that define the way that things are done. But why are these important for a business to have? Well, because they matter to your customers and clients – and what is important to them has to be important to you too, if you want to thrive.

Certain values, such as openness, or treating people fairly, or not doing business with people who are actively harming others, aren’t just about doing the right thing internally. They are also a real selling point – by adopting and following these kinds of values you are making a positive statement both to your existing employees and current customers, as well as prospective ones. By putting the right values at the heart of what you do, you become the kind of company that people will choose to do business with, all other things being equal.

What matters to you?

Arriving at what these company values are really comes down to you. As your own boss, or as the leader of a small company, you are the only person who will define what you stand for. The process of getting to this point – and identifying what these things are – can be a long one, and there is of course nothing wrong with values evolving over time. But the absolutely crucial factor here has to be that, whatever values you put at the centre of your business, they need to resonate with you personally. Make them authentic and meaningful, and not just something you are doing because everyone else is.

Get a grip on what your personal and business values are and you will find that you are also much better able to understand those of your customers too. And once that happens – and you really know what matters to them most – you will be able to have a practical sense of what you need to do to also add ‘value’ for them through your products and services.

Jürg Widmer 


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