sfllaw via Flickr

Culture is a big deal in business. It’s always been, but I think that for the small business, it doesn’t always receive the same intentional thought that a larger, thriving business must give it.

The funny thing is that in a small business, or particularly in a business of one, the business is all culture. Small business owners don’t simply go to work, they are work. A fun, vibrant, glowing culture can be for the small business one of its most attractive assets.

The funny thing is though, you first have to understand what it is before you can start to think about how to have it.

I wondered out loud, as you can do so easily these days, on a fairly new social network called Quora. (I’ll write something on this service soon, but today just wanted you to see this one aspect of it.) Quora is a site where you can ask questions of the community and hope to get thoughtful (more than 140 characters) answers.

The question I posed was this: What does culture look and feel like in a one person business? (Link to the question on Quora)

The answers speak so thoroughly to what culture means and how to make it present that I’ve decided to publish a few of the answers to spark more conversation around this topic.

Michael Martine, Remarkablogger

The short answer is that it looks and feels like you.

The longer answer: In this case I don’t think there’s much of a difference between culture, marketing and branding. You can have your own internal culture which would be a reflection of your personality, which quite possibly no one else will ever see. Otherwise, your interactions with others will give them a sense of your one-person culture.

It seems to me that what we’ve learned about personal branding, authenticity, and personality through activities such as blogging, social media, and of course live get-togethers can help us understand and create our own personal culture.

There’s the aspects of ourselves we’re conscious of, and there are aspects of which we’re unconscious. Both create our personal cultures. Culture isn’t always under our control.


Glenn Hansen, Communication Strategist and Content …

It’s a great question, and funny to think that the topic of “culture” might be considered only in groups and not for individuals. I’ve studied the “corporate culture” concept, in practice and in theory. And a one-person business can have culture just like – or even more so than – a large corporate body. Sometimes I work alone, and sometimes in groups with clients or project partners. The way I interact, the promise I make to clients, the values I bring to a task, the presentation I make in groups large or small all reflect the culture of which I created the business. Culture does not necessarily change with the size of a group. But I like the question.


Mark Brimm, Digital Marketing consultant, Preside…

I just posted something along these lines earlier today before I saw this, but I’ll retell here:

I started out as a solopreneur and found that the only way to grow had to start mentally with how I perceived my own capacity to grow and become the company I needed to become. For me, the answer seemed to be to do business with others as I would expect others to do business with me. As it turns out, most entrepreneur clients and company clients appreciate the candor and recognize someone that they feel some connection with when they see into a company philosophy of character. So, in answer to the question, I think it looks and feels like, potentially, what any client would be expecting from a big company, but without the overhead and long turnaround. If you can just keep those factors in place, now you’ve got a great company culture later on, as well.


Jon DiPietro, Engineer by education, computer geek …

To borrow a popular quote, “Our culture is what we do when we think the customer isn’t looking.”

I don’t plan to be a solopreneur forever, so I try to maintain processes, policies and behaviors that are scalable but reflect my ethics and values. It’s difficult but I think we are much better off by establishing some sort of “culture” that can a) help us remain consistent and b) prevent us from slacking by developing unprofessional habits

So, what does culture look and feel like in your business? What intentional role does culture play?

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John Jantsch

John Jantsch is a marketing consultant, speaker and author of Duct Tape Marketing, Duct Tape Selling, The Commitment Engine and The Referral Engine and the founder of the Duct Tape Marketing Consultant Network.
  • There are divers cultures in this would and as an marketing we must know how to reach all of them…remember there is no one way to market to the consumer.

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  • I don’t think it’s possible to have a “culture of one.” The word “culture” presupposes a group of people. (Sorry, my comment is informed by previous coursework in anthropology 🙂

    • I can see where you’re coming from but even a business of one has a collaboration universe – they may sit in their office alone, but the way they interact with customers, vendors, prospects, even competitors is still the formation of a culture.

  • John, my initial inclination when I read the question that you posted on Quora a few days ago was the same as Jodi’s—that it’s impossible to have culture with just one person. But as I continued to think on your question through the day, I started to see your reasoning. It seems to me that the best way to explain it is that there is an internal culture and an external culture to most businesses. In fact, pulling from past experiences I know that to be true. And often they are quite different.

    For example, one company that I worked for was a brand and technology leader in a niche consumer products market. Their outward presence was very polished and extremely consistent. Internally, however, their processes were a disaster. The internal culture was one of stress, strife and inefficiency. Yet, the outward appearance was that they had it all together and for quite some time, could do no wrong. I decided to leave that company during an upswing—a time when we had more press, more buzz, etc. than we knew what to do with. This brought a lot of questions from friends looking in from the outside (many of whom, as customers, participated in the external culture). Why would I leave such a successful company during such a peak in market share, profitability and (implied) compensation? Very simply, I wasn’t happy with the internal culture.

    What do you think?

    • I think that’s a very good way to look at it. Sometimes it’s hard to separate things in a small business, like marketing vs. sales, but these functions still exist. True with culture. Much of the culture in a small business comes from the manners taught by the parents of the business owner!

  • Even though someone maybe a one person business they are constantly effecting those around them. This is creating culture. The word will spread about how this person does business. They will also have many relationships even though they are in business for themselves. These relationships define the culture of this one person business.

    • I really think that’s true – it’s easy to think about culture as something that comes from HR policies, when in fact it also comes from keeping your promise to a client.

  • The core of the business generally has its own personal culture shaped by the experiences and personality of the owner but the GREAT thing about interacting with your target consumer is that the business culture will grow and evolve, which can continue to inspire and motivate the business owner.