Gone are the days when small businesses couldn’t compete with bigger companies. Technological advances have helped to even out the playing field, but there are inherent advantages to being the little guy. Here are five ways your small business can compete with larger companies, and sometimes come out ahead.
1. Be nimble
Sure, bigger companies have a larger staff and more resources. But that can also add layers of bureaucracy to their infrastructure. The more vice-presidents and managers you have, the longer it usually takes to create, develop, approve and implement change. As a smaller firm, you have fewer internal hurdles to clear when implementing changes. You can also respond to customer queries or complaints faster because there are fewer people in your company who have to meet, discuss and approve how to reply to such client feedback. According to a study by QMS, smaller companies are actually more efficient, productive and cost-effective than large ones.
One tool your SMB can employ to make its collaboration and innovation process even more efficient is social Intranet. It takes the old-school corporate Intranet model (let’s all just list our company events, birthdays and human resource forms on one internal site) and updates it using today's social networking approach, so employees can truly contribute creative ideas and content (including video, Web links and photos) from anywhere in real time.
2. Get personal
What sets many SMBs apart from large companies is their ability to build personal relationships with customers and suppliers. If you know many of those players by name and have an ongoing relationship with them, nurture it. You can do it in little ways: mention them in your company's blog, write a client case involving them and post it on your Web site, ask them to take part in a roundtable on improving customer service and products at your firm. You can even publicly acknowledge their personal or corporate milestones (anniversaries, contract wins, awards, etc.) on social media. There's evidence that when it comes to forging business and sales with other SMBs, personal contacts still make a difference.
3. Be social
Social media and blogs have given small businesses the opportunity to market themselves to a massive audience of potential clients, and it seems to be working. Last year's Social Media Marketing Industry Report found that SMBs benefit more than bigger firms from using social media when it comes to making sales, generating leads and partnerships, increasing site traffic, subscriptions and overall marketplace exposure, and cutting marketing costs. It’s not always easy to manage a social media strategy when you’re a SMB but there are technology tools to use and organizational steps to take so it's a little easier these days.
4. Tell your own story
Break out of the traditional marketing and publicity box of simply issuing a press release that shills your latest product and recounts why it’s so amazing. Those formulaic quotes don’t sound real, and thousands of other companies are doing the same thing every day. But only you can tell the unique story of your business: how you started and grew your business as well as all the personal bumps you encountered along the way. A 2010 study by the University of Chicago found that products marketed using “brand biographies” highlighting passionate entrepreneurs overcoming the odds were chosen 71 per cent of the time over products that weren’t promoted that way. Just think of all the category killers whose branding is strengthened by their leaders’ back stories. There’s a reason The Social Network drew in millions of moviegoers with the story of Mark Zuckerberg. It’s the same reason they’re making a biopic about Apple’s Steve Jobs as we speak. People love to hear personal stories.
5. Use tech
Okay, we’ve already mentioned a few ways your SMB can harness technology to compete with the big guys. And there are many online tools out there that can help small businesses run more efficiently and effectively. But since it’s impossible to ignore the big players, why not take advantage of the fact that most of them are now launching their own services targeted to SMBs? Corporate giants like IBM, Rogers Communications, Dell Inc. and Research In Motion Ltd. are all vying for your SMB budget dollars with products and services that, ironically, might just help you compete with companies as big as them. Whether it’s cloud storage or Web marketing, they’ve all got something designed (and priced) just for companies your size.
Christine Wong is a staff writer at ITBusiness.ca, which serves Canada’s small business community with technology news, insight and advice. She specializes in covering SMBs, tech startups and seed financing. Besides working in various editorial positions at Report on Business TV, the Ottawa Business Journal and the Ottawa Sun, she also operated her own home-based writing and video freelance business.