As a marketing consultant I get to spot a few business trends as well, like this one: many South African entrepreneurs move too slow!

It’s a simple truth: the slower your business goes, the greater the chance that whatever revenue lift it has can be lost in an instant. It’s easier for the competition to catch up; tougher to be innovative and harder to exploit niche opportunities. Slow means death for a small business.

I am typing this sitting in an airplane to Cape Town and I am acutely aware of the importance of speed in keeping us up here. But why do so many small businesses act so slow? It takes months to build a website. Communication between staff happen over days. Customer feedback come at a trickle. And my favourite: staff are hunkered down each in their own office.

Instead of operating like a high octane start-up, too many of the companies I encounter act like corporates. Why?

The reason in my opinion is that many South African entrepreneurs are corporate types now starting their own thing. They bring with them an established big-business mentality that often means being overly formal and overly cautious. The result is small companies moving at corporate speeds. A recipe for failure!

There’s this concept called 10X – pronounced “ten ex” – a business philosophy popularized by Google. Essentially it says that one should aim for a ten-times improvement in order to truly make a meaningful impact in a market. It puts a number to the idea of a “stretch target” and forces teams to fundamentally rethink how they do things. You don’t get to 10X by simply improving on the status quo. You need to blow it out the water!

I believe this same 10X number applies to the speed at which a small company should act compared to a big one. The small guy needs to be ten times faster than the big guy. It’s that simple.

But how do you radically speed things up? Every business is different, but here are some ideas:

Embrace technology
Be obsessive about technology. Use the latest software, trial the newest “gimmick” – do whatever you can to be at the forefront, not the rear-end, of what’s coming next. If you are still using Microsoft Office 2010, isn’t it time to migrate to Office 365 with it’s powerful team collaboration tools?

Break down walls
Let me make this personal – and relevant to Marketing: your marketing person should not sit in an office. They should be the first to use an open plan environment stationed right among the sales team. Too many small companies still believe in giving everyone their own office. It slows down communication!

Drop the formalities
Here’s an example of a typical “corporatised” email I often get: “Dear Bernard, trust you are doing well. With regards to….”. By this point I want to throw up. Really. You are not writing me a letter from your cabin on the Queen Elizabeth 2 traversing the Atlantic. Emails are not letters. Just go for the bulls-eye. We live in an era of instant messaging. Can you imagine sending me a WhatsApp saying “Dear Bernard…” – email is no different. Get to the point – fast!

Meet & measure
Replace that 3 hour monthly meeting that results in lots of boredom and no action with a weekly catch-up that is 1 hour long and talks to clear measurables. In fact, I would say this is the most direct indicator of business speed: how often are your team meeting, and how short you keep these. More often + shorter = faster business

Stop running your small company like a big one. You’re going to drop from the sky, or get buried soon. Speed up!