In 2013, I spent entire summer analyzing Google for a graduate class. I knew Google was successful and innovative, of course. But I didn’t know how smart and clever they really were until that summer. As an outsider, I was constantly blown away by the complexity of Google and what they tried (and mostly succeeded) to accomplish.
Among the many things I learned from Google that summer, there are a few accomplishments that are top of mind.
For example, Google accurately predicted the rise in mobile device usage and acquired Android and Motorola, so becoming mobile responsive had to be a priority. Google excels at diversification, even though 90% of its $66 billion dollar revenue comes from advertising. Finally, Google focuses on the user first and delivering incredible value, which is something all small businesses should model.
I’ve kept an eye on Google ever since, even though my tiny, non-tech business has nothing in common with the global corporation. Any business, regardless of size, can learn a few things that Google does better than anyone else.
Here’s three more things that you can learn from Google and incorporate into your business today.
1. Fun matters
For the seventh time in 10 years, Google was voted the number one place to work. But Google’s company culture isn’t built on trying to have fun, with outings like company picnics. Instead, Google created a company-wide culture where fun is incorporated into everyday life.
“The key is to set the boundaries of what is permissible as broadly as possible” said executive chairman and former CEO Eric Schmidt and former SVP of product Jonathan Rosenberg in their book, How Google Works.
As small business owners, we can also create a company culture where we find ways to incorporate fun into our workday.
Want to know more about the stock market? Instead of reading dry material, try learning from a game like Investfly’s Stock Market Game where players can actually win $100. Or try Chore Wars, where businesses can “recruit a party of adventurers from your household or office” and participants can create their own characters and participate in one-time games or ongoing programs.
There’re a million ways to create a fun work atmosphere. Just remember it doesn’t have to be zany office spaces, although that doesn’t hurt.
2. Don’t limit your possibilities
Google is a search engine company, or rather that’s why they were founded. However, they are so much more than that. I mentioned they were great at diversification, but they didn’t limit themselves to creating the best advertising platforms (although they have). Google kept creating new products, tools, and apps for consumers in a wide variety of areas.
Here’re a few examples of how diversified Google products are:
Google Keep: Google’s version of Evernote
Google Wallet: Similar to PayPal, but Gmail has a built-in system at the bottom of every email to send and request money
Google Chromebook: Economical laptop running Chrome OS with all of Google’s apps built in (like Google Docs, Gmail, YouTube, Chrome, etc.)
Your business is probably awesome at one or two things. And it’s easy to see why diversification is important if something goes wrong with your Plan A (the economy shifts, regulations change, it becomes obsolete, etc.). Just don’t put limits on how you diversify.
Create a new product line using an on-demand printing service like Viral Style.
Start writing authority-building digital products, even if you’re not a real writer.
Start teaching your secrets on a platform like Craftsy or Udemy.
Again, there are a million ways to diversify your small business, and there are many business models to choose from. But don’t be scared to step into a new industry or try something new, just because it’s different.
3. Harness the power of ‘free’
Google is the King of free stuff – no one does it better! You don’t pay a dime to use Gmail, Google Docs, Google Calendar, YouTube or even Android (it’s an open source platform).
To earn billions in advertising dollars, Google created a series of free tools that allow them to pinpoint the ads that are most relevant to you. Completely Big Brother, but a brilliant system.
Google controls 65% of internet searches, followed by Bing at 20%, and Yahoo with almost 13%. If we add in the number of global Android users, 1.4 billion users, and that 75% of mobile ad revenue comes from Apple devices, and you can get a picture of how important Google’s advertising funnels are. Free is what’s driving the vast majority of the Google’s complex systems. Free is what brings people to Google in the first place, and keeps them loyal, brand-loving customers.
None of us can operate a business on the free concept, yet we can all incorporate a free aspect into our business model. It’s going to vary, depending on industry, location, circumstances, product, service or economic situation. But remember, if you do it right, free can drive consumers to where you want them to be.
Google Lessons – Downsized
I used to think that we, as small business owners, had nothing in common with huge, global corporations. There are many things that will never apply to our businesses, but it’s a mistake to assume that we can’t learn important lessons from companies like Google because they are too big or in a different industry.
Companies like Google spend millions on research and development. Some of it will never apply to us, just don’t dismiss everything they are doing. There are lessons to learn from every innovative and successful company. Google is one of the best small business teachers on the planet – we just have to listen.
This article has been edited and condensed.
Liesha Petrovich is the creator of Microbusiness Essentials, a blog dedicated to helping the smallest businesses succeed. In her free time, she’s working on a Doctorate in Entrepreneurship. Grab a free copy of her new book Killing Rapunzel: Learning how to save yourself through determination, grit, and self-employment. Connect with @lieshapetrovich on Twitter.