Are you interested in starting a business? Do you worry you’re “too small” or that larger, more established companies will crush you?
Those are largely unfounded fears. If you have the right idea, great execution and staying power, you can compete at every level—even alongside well-entrenched Goliaths.
Here are 15 suggestions for establishing your company on an equal or better footing.
Be nicer. It blows me away how often big companies fail to treat their customers respectfully. If you’re a small business owner, just being nice can be a huge differentiator.
Welcome new customers better. A lot of startups do a much better job of “onboarding” their customers and making them feel special. Stacey Randall of Randall Research takes this stage seriously. “First, I work really hard to create a great client experience,” she says. “It starts with the ‘Welcome to the Journey’ card you receive before our first session and continues throughout our time together. The reality is you create an environment in which people want to refer you when you create a WOW experience. At the cornerstone of my client experience is me always remembering why I do what I do…because I care about my clients and I want them to be successful. It starts with doing great work, creating trust and projecting a genuine desire to see the other person succeed. You become someone they want to share with others.”
Recently, I signed up to use the Facebook promotional software Heyo, and I got a personal handwritten note and some cool stickers from founder and CEO Nathan Latka along with several personal emails from his colleague Wesley Brandi.
Respond to requests faster. When you’re small, it’s an opportunity to respond faster to customers and prospects. When I cofounded a web design firm in 1999, my partner and I did this. Even back then, we had a phone service that was 10 times better than the system we had used at a multi-million dollar agency where we both worked before. When we got calls, the system would forward them to our mobile phones anytime, and people were surprised to get a “live human” even after hours. Of course, today there are plenty of cheap systems to do this type of thing—like Grasshopper.
Be more nimble (in general). Cut out the red tape that hampers larger companies. Fewer (or no) bottlenecks equals happier customers.
Work smarter. Working “harder” is not a guarantee for business success. It’s better to continually figure out ways to work smarter. Champion efficiency at all times. Read or re-read The E-Myth Revisited by Michael Gerber. If you are working in your business and not on your business, that is a sure sign you’re not working smartly.
Eliminate re-work. Doing work two, three and four times wastes time and cuts down on profitability. “Work for work’s sake” isn’t necessarily working smart. Ask yourself, is what you’re doing just “busy-work” (like surfing the Web or checking email every 10 minutes)—or is it contributing to the bottom line? See #5 again.
Cut out middlemen. Eliminate the barriers to you and your colleagues. Obviously, this gets tougher as you scale up…but it’s doable if you truly care about customer service. Cut something out of your workload if you have to in order to stay close to your customers.
Use better technology. From project management to CRM systems, VoIP, appointment-setting applications and payment processing software, small businesses now have a wealth of options, many of which are as good as or better than the multi-million dollar systems used by big enterprises. Inexpensive, cloud-based software also cuts out one of the more insidious middlemen—IT staffers.
Present yourself well. This goes for your physical and virtual appearances. There are lots of decades-old companies that have terrible websites, employees showing up in shabby clothing and selling or servicing out of dingy spaces. Be immaculate in your presentation.
Be proactive vs. reactive. Reach out to your customers regularly, not just when you make a sale. Again, technology enables this at incredibly low prices. There is no excuse for not staying top-of-mind and anticipating your customers’ needs. A few systems that are great for this include Nimble and Contactually.
Give more value. What can you give customers as an added touch that will make them feel even better about purchasing your product or service? I still remember when Amazon used to include bookmarks in their packaging. I don’t recall seeing those lately…then again, most of the stuff I buy from Amazon likely comes from a third party now.
Get creative. Forget the tried and true ways of promoting yourself. Be as creative as possible. Part of an alumni group? Focus on spreading the word to those in your school “family.” Use targeted Facebook ads instead of expensive billboards and traditional print ads. Do more with less.
Use social media to your advantage. Find out where your customers are and master the channels that reach them. Go beyond the “basics” and use a variety of platforms to promote your company and expertise. Examples include publishing stories to Medium, through LinkedIn’s advanced publishing options, or with guest blog posts. Find and reach out to influencers in your industry (BuzzSumo is great for finding them.)
Use PR to your advantage. Public relations is still a powerful, cost effective way to spread your message. Getting mentioned in news stories provides credibility, unlike many forms of paid advertising and promotion. Use HARO (Help A Reporter Out) to stay on top of requests relevant to your industry and expertise.
Pay your vendors faster. This can be a huge advantage for small businesses. A lot of giant companies penalize their vendors with Draconian payment terms. If you, however, pay people who supply to you quickly (in 30 days or less), you’ll be surprised what kind of hoops they will jump through for you. Be sure to remind them how valuable they are to you when you make your payments…the word-of-mouth referrals they will send back to you will go a long way.
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What tips do you have for small businesses to compete against larger firms? Please leave a comment below.
Photo credit: Robert Scoble
Post Sponsor: Grasshopper 800 & Local Numbers From $12
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