Small Fish Hunting Whales

This is an excerpt from Whale Hunting Women: How Women Do Big Deals by Barbara Weaver Smith

Every day people ask us, how big does my company have to be to hunt whales? Or, do The Whale Hunters have anything to offer a really small company? Those are good questions.

Let’s start with how small is “small?” The Small Business Act says a small business concern is “one that is independently owned and operated and which is not dominant in its field of operation.” In some industries SBA counts a “small business” as one with fewer than 1500 employees or less than $40 million in annual revenues. Sounds pretty big to me. Among The Whale Hunters current clients, a “small” company may be as large as $100 million although most are smaller. But the owners who ask that question are much, much smaller. Is whale hunting for you?

Many companies start out as whale hunters. Think about how your company got started.

You started out by selling to whales-federal and state governments, school systems, or general contractors who are required to have small business and minority business suppliers. Whale hunting was your sales strategy from day one.

You were an employee who resigned or retired from a job in a whale company. Turned entrepreneur, you provide services to the whale as a contractor instead of an employee. You are doing business with a whale, but only one whale-and that’s got you worried

You bought a franchise, affiliating with a whale company, and hoping to grow your piece or pieces of it. You’re dealing with the whale as your co-owner.

You invented a new product or process or other technology and you financed your R&D funds by competing for grants from governments, foundations, and economic development agencies.

All of those start-up modes are built on whale hunting, so there’s no reason to think that size is an issue if other conditions are right.

Even our smallest clients are doing business with whales, including Wal*Mart ($372 billion annual revenue), Dell ($57 billion), and Eli Lilly ($18 billion). We have a very small client, a software developer, that parlayed public technology funding into significant business with Cisco, a $35 billion whale. Even the biggest “small companies” are dwarfed by whales.

So the answer to the size question is this: any-sized company can hunt whales as a strategy for growth. And yes, The Whale Hunters can help. But you have to follow some important principles in order to be successful.

Implement Process

Whale Hunting is 90% process and only 10% magic. The size of your company matters less than your commitment to building disciplined, replicable processes. Entrepreneurs are notoriously long on passion and energy but short on follow-up and follow-through. If you are not the process person, be certain that you build a process-oriented team. Implementation and management of a rigorous sales and delivery process is your first order of business, not something to be shelved until you have more time.

Barbara Weaver Smith, president and CEO of The Whale Hunters, is an author, consultant, speaker, and coach. Barbara’s mission is to support women to achieve exceptional growth in their companies and organizations by doing bigger deals with bigger customers and partners. Visit her website at and her blog at
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