Small Is The New Big

Do you like hot dogs? Yeah, me too.

And even though they’re not healthy (I’m not even sure they count as food), I admit to indulging in one every now and then.

My favorite spot? Snappy Dogs, an occasionally mobile (it sits on the back of a trailer) hot dog stand located in the rear of a supermarket parking lot about half a mile from my office.

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Here’s what they are not:

  • Open very much. They’re closed in the winter (December – March). They’re closed on Sundays. They’re closed in bad weather. Even on the days when they’re open, they’re closed 20 out of 24 hours.
  • Five star. Want stuff on your dog? There’s relish, onions, chutney, mayo and Dr. Pepper BBQ sauce (whatever that is) in the buckets at the end of the counter. Feel free to help yourself.
    Want to sit while you eat? Be my guest – choose from either one of the two picnic tables or sit on the hood of your car.
  • Overflowing with choice. They sell 8 varieties of hot dog. Period.

Sounds pretty limiting.

I mean, what about the people who don’t like hot dogs? Or who want a nice place to sit? Or who want more flexibility in terms of what time they show up or what they eat?

Doesn’t this hyper-narrow focus prevent them from being successful?

I don’t think so. In fact, I think it’s exactly the opposite:

Their willingness to flagrantly cater to a particular market with a particular offering is the primary reason they’ve done well and why on any given day (except Sunday) you’ll find business people, students, moms with kids, contractors, cops and other assorted town residents waiting in line for a Snappy Dog.

Which brings me to you, my afraid-to-reveal-that-you-work-by-yourself solo professional friend. Instead of highlighting the fact that you are a one-man or one-woman band, you hide it:

  • You have colleagues listed on your web site who don’t really work there, so that your company appears bigger.
  • You disguise (or obfuscate, for those studying for their SATs) the fact that your office is in your house.
  • You talk and write in terms of “we” even though the only time there are two people in your office is when you happen to walk past the mirror.

But that’s necessary, isn’t it? After all, aren’t there companies who don’t want to work with solos?

Absolutely. Just as there are people who don’t want to eat a hot dog while sitting on the hood of a car.

But here’s the problem with that line of thinking:

First, you don’t need much to succeed. How many clients can you possibly serve in a year … 20, 30, maybe 100 at the outside? Whatever your particular number, it’s a teeny tiny fraction of the potential market for your services. You can afford to have many people ignore you (provided just a select few don’t).

When you narrow your focus, you rise to the top (hot dog lovers in my town have but one option); when you stay broad, you fall back into the anonymous pack.

Second, you’re giving up a key competitive advantage. It’s true that when you hire a solo you run the risk of something happening to them and the entire project falling apart. That’s one reason why many companies choose to stay away from people like us.

On the other hand, when you hire a solo, you’re guaranteed that the person you hired is also the person doing the work. Many companies prefer that certainty.

Which is better? Neither – it depends on how your prospective client views the world.

But either way, pretending to be something you’re not – even if it gets you hired initially – is problematic.

The people who prefer working with “a company” will ultimately be disappointed (don’t you think they’ll figure it out?); whereas the people who prefer to work with whomever they hire may very well walk right by (because you “look” big) and go off and hire someone else.

Here’s the bottom line. When it comes to company size, big isn’t better, it’s just different. And so is small.

And so if you’re wondering how you should come across, the answer is easy: Take a look around. Then make sure that what you say, what you write and every bit of information you put out there reflects the unique and wonderful reality of what it’s like to work with you. Picnic tables optional.

Discussion Questions:
1. Do you think Dr. Pepper ever went to medical school? Explain.
2. When was the last time you sat on the hood of a car?
3. Do you find it easy or hard to be authentic in the way you market your business?

31 thoughts on “Small Is The New Big

  1. Charles

    1. Of course; Pepperdine University.
    2. High school
    3. Very easy. It is much harder to pretend. And I get enough pretend time with 3 kids, ages 5 and under.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Loved your number one answer, Charles! 10,000 points to you.
      And I agree on the effort it takes to pretend. So glad that not pretending works so well!

      1. David

        RIDDLE (With a genuflection to Charles): Where does Dr. Pepperdine?

        Why, at Snappy Dog, of course, where he can get “sauced.”

  2. Jeremy Bromberg

    Major props to Charles for Pepperdine! Nice answer!

    Authentic in how I market? Unfortunately, I don’t know any other way, so I and my clients are stuck with me as I am. Therefore: easy.

    Oh hood sitting? Recently, within weeks. But not eating a Snappy Dog. Holding a dog with Dr. Pepper BBQ sauce and no bun is kinda messy.

  3. Tracey

    I agree. I have worked with an attorney and a RE Agent that are solo shops and I like that when I call I know I will get them and I won’t have to tell my story to three different people on the way to getting to the person I am calling. Now if only I could get to my doctor without having to tell my story three times…

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      I agree, Tracey, I lean towards the solos as well for most things. Although I certainly know people who feel differently. Sort of reminds me of day care back in the day when our kids were little – we liked the home-based places but some people preferred the larger day care centers.

  4. Alexandre L'Eveille

    Hard to beat answer #1 from Charles….

    1. No, Dr. Pepper is a self-annointed, sugar-water salesman. The doctoring he’s done is with his credentials.

    2. Never—I’m too short.

    3. Yes, it’s easy. I used to be concerned about not appearing to be a big company, but I do have big naming and branding ideas and, really, that’s what my clients want! I can pull in people from my network of experts when I need specials skills I don’t have. Clients like that they aren’t paying for overhead that doesn’t benefit them. Plus, it helps me deal with the canine employees when they ask for more benefits…”We are NOT a big company!”

  5. Don

    One of my pet peeves is when solos call their business “Such and Such and Associates” or something like that when it’s really just a solo guy or gal. I advised a friend who’s a realtor about this and was calling his business “Tom Jones and Associates” and had sprinkled a bunch of “we’s” in his brochure copy. It’s not fooling anybody. I’ve never had someone not hire me because I’m a solo. Clients have asked me about it, and I tell them about my contingencies “if I get hit by a bus.”

    On a totally unrelated note, I created a gravatar recently but my gravatar pic doesn’t show up here. Any idea why not?

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Hi Don! I agree, the associates thing is pretty common and, as you point out, I’m not sure it buys us anything. And the idea of explicitly sharing a contingency arrangement with clients is one I had not thought of (a good idea).

      On the gravitar, there could be a slight delay, but typically not much. The other possibility is that the email address you used to set up the gravitar is not the same as the one you used just now to post your comment.

      (And for those who aren’t even sure what a gravitar is or how to set one up, check this link out:

  6. Beth Gallob

    I’ve been a solo practitioner twice with a 7 year gap in between. Last time, my site was designed to look like I had an organization. This time, I’ve made it very clear that it’s just me (and my dogs). Hence the name Alpha Dog Communication, and I’m the pack leader (most of the time). So far my clients are people I have worked with before. They are paying for my specific expertise. Because that’s what I’m selling. Before, I guess I had to hide a bit. Now, it’s just me being me. Thanks, Michael!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      That’s a great story, Beth. The world has definitely shifted. My first job out of business school was working for at a two-person consulting firm. We went to great lengths to hide our smallness – an office address in a high end building, 24-hour answering service that picked up the phone with our company name, etc. Glad those days are over!

  7. Brandon Rigney

    1. For the Yankee uninitiated, the “Dr” in Dr Pepper has no period,
    so in Texas, where the drink was invented, there was never any
    pretense of there being a medical person involved.
    2. Alas, hoods and fenders on cars vanished long ago, and the fun
    of riding on either or on the “running board” is gone.
    3. I admit to the cowardice of adding “….and Associates” to my
    moniker. (You young folks under 50 years old may have to
    look that up).

    1. David

      You may be correct, Brandon, that the Dr is unpunctuated, but it is certainly, even in TX, pronounced “Doctor.” Nonetheless, we are at liberty to consider any number of non-medical persons with doctoral degrees, such as
      Juris Doctors, Doctors of Fine Arts or Ph.D’s, earned or honorary. And, when not being served with Snappy Dogs, Dr Pepper is a fine accompaniment to “The Colonel’s” Kentucky Fried Chicken.

  8. Jean Gogolin

    I can vouch for the wondefulness of Snappy Dogs. My son and his family live in Hopkinton and they introduced me to them. Now I look everywhere for Pearl Hot Dogs. Which wasn’t your point, but I thought I’d contribute to the discussion.

    Yep, being a one-person shop is terrific and adding “and associates” is silly.

  9. Bruce Weinberg

    When I was a kid growing up, I shoveled the driveway — in the winter, when it snowed, Michael — of the owner of Pearl hot dogs (I can’t recall if their last name was actually Pearl). He paid generously, always offered hot chocolate, and usually sent me home with a bundle of his large hot dogs. Those were the best hot dogs/franks that I’ve ever had to this day.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      A nice bit of local trivia! And now, as a college professor all these years later, you “shovel” knowledge to your students!

  10. Pud Kearns

    I’m from Texas and Dr Pepper Barbecue Sauce is pretty common (as is Coca-Cola).

    Just in case you want to make your own…
    1 can (12 ounces) Dr Pepper
    1 cup crushed tomatoes
    1/4 cup packed brown sugar
    2 tablespoons spicy brown mustard
    1 tablespoon orange juice
    1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
    1 garlic clove, minced
    Salt and pepper to taste

    In a small saucepan, combine all ingredients; bring to a boil. Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, 30-35 minutes or until slightly thickened, stirring occasionally. Refrigerate leftovers.

    Great column, Michael. Wish I was close enough to try a Snappy Dog. But I sure have learned a lot about being a solo professional in your class this year. Thanks!

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      OK Pud, now I will have to try this out for myself. I wish you were close enough too!

      And glad you’re enjoying the class – but it ain’t over yet with two months still to go! (Here’s more about the class for those who may want to join our next session in October:

  11. Karen Elwis

    1. Condiment High
    2. A long time ago, when I was a child, my dad used to allow my brother and me to sit on the front of his farm Land Rover as he drove (slowly) around the fields, checking his sheep and cattle. Health and Safety would no doubt have thrown the book at him if they’d seen us, but it was such fun and, luckily, we both survived 🙂
    3. As a solo professional, I used to worry a lot about being perceived as somehow “inferior”. However, recently, I’ve come to realise that many companies actually prefer knowing who precisely who is going to be doing their copywriting. It means they can share their story with me directly, rather than it being passed by me on to another writer (with the possibility of a ‘Chinese Whispers’ distortion of the details happening along the way!). Moreover, as another contributor mentioned above, clients like the fact that they know they’ll get to discuss their project with the same person each time. So now, rather than being ashamed of being a sole trader, I’ve started to become proud of the advantages that it offers 🙂

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      I’m glad the “blatantly solo” approach is working so well for you, Karen! Me too. I consider it a huge advantage.

  12. Steve Davis

    I had a client meeting in Hopkinton today and was driving back to my office when what do I see? A little red trailer, tucked away in the back corner of a supermarket parking lot. Yup, I found myself in front of Snappy Dogs just before their 3pm closing. It was the best late lunch I’ve had in a while. Ate a “Big Dog” with spicy slaw, and enjoyed every bite.

    Just like Pud said above, I have really gotten a lot out of your Marketing One Year course. My new narrower niche is proving to be very helpful.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      Glad you were able to sample it for yourself Steve! A great summer experience.

      And I’m glad you’ve found the marketing one year class useful too. You guys have been a great group this year (and the next session starts in October, so for everyone else, you too can join the fun [he said, somewhat promotionally]!).

  13. Graeme Roberts

    Thank you for this excellent post. I have been back and forth on the issue of trying to make businesses look bigger (and supposedly more professional) than they are. I am alone in my new business. I had written my first-draft website with a weird mixture of I and we. My old friend (and yours), Craig Watkins, gave me feedback on the site. “Change it all to I,” he said. “Michael Katz just gave the same advice, and he is right!”

    That was good enough for me! We are so grateful.

    1. Michael Katz Post author

      That’s terrific to hear, Graeme. I’m glad it provided some clarity. (Note: I took my son to Snappy Dogs this very day!)


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