Small Business Tips: 5 Things You Can Learn from Google & Facebook

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5 Things You Can Learn from Google & Facebook

Two of the biggest businesses around have recently hit—or are about to hit—major milestones. Google celebrated its 15th birthday last year, and Facebook turns 10 next month. But it’s important to note that Facebook and Google haven’t always been the juggernauts they are today. Let’s talk about what you can learn from them and how you can apply these lessons to your own small business.

1. Be patient. Back in 1998 when Google officially hit the scene, people were doing searches using engines like Hotbot and AltaVista. But Google didn’t worry that someone else was already the “leader” or that too much competition existed. It believed in its vision and its product. Over 15 years, it patiently and diligently worked at building itself up into the second spot (right behind Apple) on the “top brand” in Interbrand’s yearly Best Global Brands for 2013. (And lest we forget, Apple has been around 20 years longer than Google, so the fact that Google is #2 is an impressive feat.)

How this applies to your small business: There’s no such thing as an overnight success. While there are some businesses that take off in relatively short periods of time (Pinterest comes to mind), it’s important to note that building a strong, winning enterprise requires time and patience. You should definitely have short-term goals for your business and celebrate the “wins” along the way. But make sure you have a solid long-term vision for your company as well. That way when you fail to meet one of those short-term goals (and that will happen), you can turn to your larger vision and keep things in perspective.

2. Evolve. If the Google we used in 1998 and the Facebook that existed in 2004 were what we used today, well…we probably wouldn’t be writing about either company. In 2004, Facebook was only available to college students. And with Google, we wouldn’t have Gmail, Google+, AdWords, or Chrome (among many other things). Perhaps fifty years ago, businesses could evolve at a slower pace, but that certainly isn’t the case now in the 24/7, instant gratification world in which we live. Up until 2011, Google always had something cooking in its Google Labs. And yes, some of those things ended up being flops (Google Buzz and Google Wave, anyone?). But that didn’t—and doesn’t—stop it from developing and releasing new features and tools (hello, Google Glass). Facebook, likewise, constantly pushes itself and its product, making sure it evolves to meet people’s needs not only today, but also tomorrow by anticipating what comes next.

How this applies to your small business: Be willing to invest in improvements, in upgrades, and in doing studies and research into the Next Big Thing for your business and your industry. This should be part of your budget. Monitor your competitors. Don’t ever underestimate new kids on the block (do you think MySpace would like to rethink what it was doing back in the mid-2000s? We think so).

3. Fail. This might seem counter-intuitive, but failure is a sign of innovation. If your business never fails, that’s probably because it’s not doing things any differently or taking enough risks. We mentioned above some of Google’s “failed” products. But that doesn’t stop them. The same is true with Facebook. This article outlines the “hits and misses” since Facebook’s IPO, but those “misses” haven’t stopped Facebook either.

How this applies to your small business: Yes, you could argue that both Google and Facebook can afford to have some “misses” and failures. This is true. We’re not suggesting your goal should be failure, but just know that as you try different things, from marketing programs to new product/service offerings, some will be successful and others will flop. But that’s OK. Keep going. Tape this quote from the late novelist Samuel Beckett somewhere in your office: “Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try Again. Fail again. Fail better.”

4. Hire the best and brightest. Google founders Larry Page and Sergey Brin are geniuses, but they’ve never let their ego get in the way of going out and hiring people just as capable as they are—and perhaps even more so. They surround themselves with the brightest talent. And by “brightest,” we don’t just mean book smarts. We’re talking about people are who equal parts intelligent, creative, and motivated. Ditto with Mark Zuckerberg and Facebook. He, too, has made sure Facebook is a place that attracts some of the most talented people out there. This article, which outlines lessons from Facebook on team building, notes, “The right people are not those who have the right competency; they are those who have the right attitude.”

How this applies to your small business: Yes, this might seem like common sense, but attracting the best and brightest to your company doesn’t just happen. You need to recruit them. Some tips: make sure your job postings are clear and thorough, but also make sure your job postings highlight the type of work environment you’re offering and the fact you’re looking for people at the top of their game. Treat every position in your company like this, from the receptionist to top-level management.

5. Create a culture of success. It’s not enough to simply “have” the best and brightest talent around. You need a way to motivate them and encourage them to be as successful as they can be. There are many ways to accomplish this, of course. Companies like Google and Facebook tend to offer their employees plenty of perks, like gourmet meals, game rooms, and exercise facilities. In this article, you can learn more about building a Google culture.

How this applies to your small business: Nurture your talent. Build them up. Provide regular training and reviews. Consider investing in a mentoring program, which will show your people that you’re making an investment in them. Ask your employees what they want. Perhaps it’s flex time, casual Fridays, or a paid volunteer day. Just know that there are things small businesses can do to create a culture of success. How you define your corporate culture will depend on your values, goals, and ideals, but make sure you define it. Make sure it’s clear. Make sure you get input from people. And just as your company needs space to evolve, make sure you allow your culture to evolve with your employees’ needs.

Can you think of other important lessons we can glean from Facebook and Google and apply to our own small businesses? Share in the comments.

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