If there’s one type of business-related reading I like as much as sitting down with a good interview featuring someone who has made an impression upon the industry, it’s got to be the case study. Where else can you mine the wisdom learned from the mistakes and successes of those directly involved in building or changing a business? And the best thing is that case studies don’t usually involve talking with the same type of people we tend to see in interviews. Case studies can be focused on any business — all the way from the mom-and-pop grocery store at the next street corner to a multinational conglomerate with offices in 25 countries. What they have in common is concrete business advice, with steps taken and the direct results of those steps, in the form of a “story.” They’re like watching a little reality show featuring specific businesses. Sometimes they are about a problem that has arisen in a business already in operation, and the case study follows the analysis of the problem, the implementation of a solution, and the results of that solution. Other times, the case study concerns the founding and initial life of a new small business, often with little mini-stories of some of the crisis that were faced along the way. Either way, it’s usually interesting, revealing, and educational.
Where a case study can disappoint is if it turns into a thinly veiled excuse for an advertorial (e.g., Company X increased ROI by 3,000 percent by taking 5 minutes each day to run a computer program that reports on inventory that — surprise, surprise — you can buy right now for 50% off ). But, as long as you keep an eye out for outrageous claims and unbelievable stats — as you should with any claim — case studies can be educational, instructive, and full of tips you may be able to apply to your own circumstances.
The reason I’m focusing on case studies right now is that Google has just started a series of postings on the Official Google Blog about small businesses that have used one or more Google products in the founding and growth of their online business. Of course, this is a not-so-subtle way for Google to champion their products as essential parts of any entrepreneur’s toolkit, so one must keep this in mind when reading the case studies. Still, they offer a glimpse into how some individuals have been able to start and grow a business online with limited resources. Challenges are faced and dealt with. Success, in turn, has its own challenges.
The first in the series, “It Takes One To Show One: Getting A Business Off The Ground With AdWords,” reports on PlatesPlus4Kids, which produces themed cups, plates, and lunch boxes for children. The founder was a Mr. Mom who had quit his job on Wall Street to take care of their child while his wife retained her job as an engineer. The Google product that helped him succeed was Google AdWords, and the mini case study shows how he learned about various factors that helped him grow the business and appeal to his customer base, especially as it expanded over time.
I encourage you to read the series, as it promises to provide some experiences from ordinary people who took a risk on an idea they had, cataloging their successes and their failures. The challenges they met along the way and how they tackled them can be especially useful, since many small businesses face the same basic challenges over time, just in a different form specific to their type of product or service. What they all have in common is inspiration, and reading stories of how people used human ingenuity, logic, technology, with sometimes limited resources, to succeed can inspire you to continue forging ahead when the future looks dim and full of overwhelming problems.