Small is beautiful

by Rafael Mael

All across Canada, a bizarre thing is happening.

Big companies are pretending they are small, while small businesses are pretending they are big. Neither are doing a very convincing job. And ironically, it’s not even necessary.

Here’s the story.

The Tiny Giant

Big businesses have many advantages in the marketplace, but an endearing place in public sentiment is not one of them. Over the past decades, it has become decidedly unpopular to be a giant conglomerate. Rightly or wrongly, “big business” has become synonymous with heartless, polluting entities that care only about maximizing profits.

As a response, many unquestionably large companies have adopted a “warm and friendly” persona, as if they were a small close-knit group of friends working late nights around the dining room table.

That’s why you’ll see marketing copy from big companies with phrases like “we see ourselves as a family.” With some of these companies nearing 100,000 employees, those are pretty big families.

For a wonderful example of this in action, take a look at the “from families, for families” section as General Mills tells the story about Cheerios going gluten free.

The Humongous Dwarf

Sadly, though, many other Canadian businesses are lured into playing the opposite game. That means the 98.2% of businesses in Canada – the small businesses -- often feel like they need to make themselves appear bigger than they really are.

Somehow, there is a fear that small is bad. If my customers knew we’re just a two-person store, they’d never trust me.

This leads to a farce where small businesses use pretentious language to disguise the real size of its operations. Some of the signs are excessive reliance on “we” and “us” verbiage, a reluctance to show who actually owns and runs the store, and overly ambitious language when describing the scope of the company.

But here’s the kicker: none of this is necessary!

Getting Real

Your customers choose to patronize your store knowing full well that you’re small. In fact, that’s what draws them to your door.

They know where the big-box stores are located. They know how to spell When they walk into your shop, they’re not coming despite the fact that you’re small. They’re attracted to you because you’re small!

Some stores are doing it right:

Soul Paper, an amazing stationery store in Saskatoon, tells it like it is: Soul Paper was founded by Susan Gallagher and Alexsandor Pozsonyi, a husband and wife team…

Even better, Bird on a Wire Creations, which brings together local artists and buyers, shows their narrow focus in a simple video by the owner, Kate Nagel:

The Takeaway

Your customers want to know who you are, and sharing the size and scope of your store deepens that connection. Don’t be afraid to show your face and the faces of the people who work alongside you. Whether the store is a group of employees or just you and your dog, keep it real.

Small is beautiful. Be open about your small size and your big aspirations. Your customers will appreciate it.


Rafael Mael is a marketing strategist, business adviser and an electrifying professional speaker. He’s the founder of Maelstrom Marketing, focused on helping independent business owners boost sales and streamline operations.

Rafael will be a speaker at the Alberta Gift Fair. Don’t miss his presentations, Making Your Message Irresistible and Fire Up Your Store’s Marketing Now!