Last Updated on March 31, 2024 by Lorna Barrow

image of 2 men discussing business flexibility

In a world which makes it so easy for us to be flexible, I am still amazed how elusive business flexibility can be for some small businesses.

Here’s an example of what I mean.

Recently, I bought a service which required the company to come to my house to provide it.

In a conversation with their technician when he arrived, I realized that for just $50.00 more, I could expand the service in a way that would really benefit me.

That’s when my nightmare began.

The young man could not make the decision.

The existing contract did not cover what I wanted and since he was not prepared to risk his job, he had to call his boss.

 No problem.

But in the age of endless methods of communicating, he could not reach his boss.

To make matters worse, there seemed to be 3 other layers of “management” between him and his boss and none of them could help!

Wuhloss man!  Are these people for real?!

As you can expect, I cancelled the entire contract and ask for a refund of my money immediately…if not sooner!

But I was really concerned for this business, and I couldn’t help myself wondering:

Have these people ever heard of business flexibility?

Do small business owners know how much money they are leaving on the table by being so inflexible?

What can I do to help?

Read on for the scoop…


What is business flexibility?

Business flexibility typically refers to the ability of a business to make changes quickly and efficiently in response to specific situations or needs.

These situations or needs can arise equally from customers needs or changes in the internal or external environment of the business.  

Essentially, it requires having systems and processes in place that can be easily adjusted or scaled as required.

This should be the essence of small business success. The very basis of its competitive advantage.

But how often do we get this?

 Sometimes I observe with amusement, disbelief or patient frustration, the way in which you small business owners run your businesses.

Flexible? Agile? Nimble? Forget those.


When you DON’T have flexibility…  

The truth is, when you don’t embrace business flexibility, you operate your business like a small bureaucracy.

I really mean that. It’s your biggest problem.

You use the exact business model of the large corporation that chewed you up and spat you out, with a sum of money called severance.  

I think you choose this model so that you can give the impression that your businesses are really larger than they are.

But to me, and the rest of the discerning world, it just isn’t working.

Yet you cling to this status quo like it’s a security blanket.

I know what I’m talking about.

Getting some clients to give up this inflexible mindset in exchange for more practical approaches to doing business is a piece of work in itself. 


Other examples of inflexible business approaches

  1. A business that has a structure with more “chiefs” than “Indians” and is so top heavy that it remains in place only in complete defiance of gravity.

2. Or a business has a structure made up of several layers of “one-person” management levels.

3. Then there are those companies which has a decision-making process that requires each decision to be voted on individually at the 3-man top level. The decisions are then cascaded down through the several layers of one-person levels, to the 6 frontline employees. About 3 weeks later.

4. Another approach is those business owners who seldom ask for ideas and when they are volunteered, they are not willingly welcomed.

5. In still another approach, some business owners demonstrate a strong commitment to internal procedures instead of focusing on serving their customers.

 All these are supported by a strong commitment bias even when everything shows that they are not working


When you DO have business flexibility

Here’s how you operate and what your business looks like when you’re flexible.

  1.  You approach each interaction with confidence whether it’s with an employee or a customer and you empower key team members to do the same.

2.  You reduce the time between deciding and implementing a decision and depending on the circumstances, these can happen together and in real-time.

3.  Instead of focusing heavily on internal operations, you make 3 -4 daily key decisions that will increase the opportunities to market your business and increase its level of success.

 4. You reduce the need for several levels of one-person management that makes decision-making a nightmare. 

 5.  You strengthen your connections with your team and with your customers and this generate more sales quickly.

 6.  You lower your operating cost and make more use of your productive time.

 7.  Ultimately, your mind is open to embracing various ways of doing business, including any other available help

When you embrace flexibility and adaptability as your business model, you can respond to change faster and easier.

 You can more readily understand and respond to the context in which your business operates. This means that in a crisis for example, you have the flexibility to quickly choose and implement your response.


Business flexibility as a competitive advantage

When small business owners ask me “why are you so fanatical about business flexibility?”

My answer is simple.

“It’s your biggest competitive advantage!”

Listen, I love to tell people that at ITDS:

We celebrate our size, especially the way it allows us the flexibility and nimbleness to serve our clients.

 To me that is the essence of a small business because you understand your core values and are not afraid to use them.

As a small business, size and flexibility must be your real competitive advantage.

First of all, it places you ahead of most small businesses in your niche, which are operating as small bureaucracies.

Then you can make a decision and implement it, long before your “big brother” can call a board meeting.

In addition, Business flexibility forces you to take a holistic, big picture view of your business.

For example, you must carefully select employees.

Then you must train them to confidently and constantly display the level of adaptability you need them to.

If you want another example, people are happier working for a business that allows them the flexibility to do their job from home if possible.  

Isn’t that a serious competitive advantage?

You bet it is!

You see, business owners fear flexibility and you really don’t have to.

Actually, you should embrace it and use it as a tool for doing business that increases your cash flow constantly. 


Your next business flexibility step…

I believe that by now, I have convinced you of at least one thing:

One of the critical success factors and distinguishing features of any small business should be its business flexibility or agility.

So I want you to take a good long look at your business and ask yourself:

Do I have an “SB” as in Small Business or do I have an “SB” as in Small Bureaucracy?

Either way, finding the answer should take up a whole lot of your vacant head space.

If you honestly admit that you have a small bureaucracy, congratulations!

You have taken the first step towards changing the way you do business and improving your bottom line. 

But if you still have doubts…

Go back to the sections in this post that discuss the difference between a business which is flexible and one which is not.

You’re smart…Which one will you choose?

Business Flexibility: Why It’s Your Best Competitive Advantage

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Lorna Barrow

Lorna Barrow is a Business Breakthrough Specialist, an unfiltered Transformational Speaker, a Writer, a Coach and a self-confessed Small Business Junkie. She recognises that small businesses are unique and when it comes to helping you and your business make that BIG breakthrough, she's all in for you!

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