It can be difficult for a small business to succeed in today’s commercial landscape. Between new enterprises popping up seemingly overnight and others closing their doors for good, profitability isn’t guaranteed. Despite the odds, it is possible to carve out your own existence and compete in a world that is dominated by big business — it just requires a lot of work. Here are nine ways to make your small business competitive.
Show Your Creative Side
Despite the growing interest in entrepreneurism, many new businesses are built by simply rehashing or redesigning existing products. While there is nothing inherently wrong with this process, many of today’s consumers see great value in a product that is creative and innovative.
The Embrace Infant Warmer, developed by the nonprofit Embrace Global, was originally offered in 2010 at a price of $25. The product, which includes a removable heating element and a sleeping bag that is large enough to fully cover a small baby, is able to provide artificial heat without the use of power. Such an innovation works via the heating device, which can be recharged simply by placing it in boiling water.
This out-of-the-box thinking solves a problem — babies freezing in countries where they have few resources — in a unique way. Apply that thinking to your business.
Provide Superior Customer Service
Customer service is crucial to the success of any business. It’s even more important when you’re trying to launch a brand new company, as a few bad reviews could spell the end of your company before it even gets off the ground. As such, always respond to customer inquiries in a prompt and courteous manner.
Establishing a dedicated customer service team is a great idea, but it’s not always a viable option for a small business. You may have no other choice but to get your hands dirty and answer some phone calls or respond to emails on your own. Although it may be time consuming, those who are truly dedicated to their business will find the entire process to be incredibly rewarding in the end.
Take Advantage of Technology
Startup business owners are also taking advantage of technology when trying to compete with the larger names in the industry. The United States Small Business Administration, or SBA, has even formed the Small Business Technology Coalition to:
- Facilitate access to the latest technology
- Streamline the process of it adoption
- Provide services in online education and e-learning
Utilizing the latest technological breakthroughs can work wonders for a small business. Not only can this give you an edge over any competition that is unwilling or unable to adapt, but it shows your potential customers that you are willing to embrace recent innovations and technology.
Build Your Own Community
Instead of tapping into a pre-existing community, some entrepreneurs find it helpful to build their own communities around the products or services they provide. By getting to know your customers on an individual level, you’re able to remind them there is a real person behind the business. This alone might be enough to attract a loyal and dedicated base of customers who can help your company gain the steam it needs to succeed.
Today’s internet-centric culture provides entrepreneurs with plenty of avenues to pursue when attempting to build a community. Social media sites, including Facebook and LinkedIn, are excellent resources for launching your brand and generating initial interest in your company. Email advertising campaigns, digital coupons and your own website can all be used to give your company even more exposure within your chosen field.
ChaCha, for example, developed its entire startup business model around the idea of an online community. Existing as an open forum for asking and answering questions, ChaCha has experienced tremendous growth and success in a very short amount of time.
Minimize Overhead Wherever Possible
Many small business owners have saved significant amounts of money by reducing their overhead costs. Approximately 54 percent of U.S.-based small businesses operate out of the home, which immediately eliminates the need for external office or warehouse space.
You can reduce overhead expenses in other ways, too. With over 30 percent of small businesses utilizing credit to finance their business, some owners are able to put off financing a portion of their operating costs until a later date.
Cultivate Long-Term Industry Connections
Your network will likely be quite small when first starting out in the business world. Although this alone can be enough to scare away some budding entrepreneurs, this is actually a great time to begin forging those industry connections that may last for the rest of your life.
The fact that you don’t have an established reputation can be difficult for some to overlook, but that can also work in your favor if you find a partner who is willing to take a risk.
Find Your Niche
It’s also important to find your own niche within your chosen industry or area of expertise. The team with 37signals, currently known as Basecamp, demonstrated how effective this tactic can be when it started releasing easy-to-use software to aide in business management.
After growing tired of the current market offerings, which were far too complicated, inefficient and archaic for the average computer user, it decided to do something about it. While it was once a small startup, the company has since rebranded itself into a highly successful business with more than 100,000 users.
The scenario with Basecamp isn’t the normal journey of every single startup, but it does demonstrate the value of locating your niche and maximizing your reach within. Moreover, it goes to show what a few highly dedicated and proactive individuals can achieve when they put their minds together.
Cater to Your Target Audience
Make sure your new products and services are specifically targeting your chosen demographic. If you find the needs or habits of your target audience have evolved over the course of time, then so should your product.
The founder of The Dating Cafe event in San Diego, Mary Berney, worked with a professional consultant to ensure her service gained exposure in the right channels. By sticking with her original demographics, which included singles aged 40 and older, Berney developed her initial brand while providing a very specific and targeted service to the community.
Maintain Brand Continuity
It can be difficult for a large corporate brand to maintain a consistent identity throughout all of its products, services and partnerships. This is one area where the small business owner actually has an advantage over the biggest competitors. Simply put, it’s easier to achieve brand continuity when you’re working with limited inventory, product lines and service offerings.
There are a number of tricks to keep in mind when trying to preserve your brand’s image across multiple channels, regions or markets. Firstly, it’s important to make a strong impression with every step you take. Sudden and drastic changes to product packaging, your brand’s logo or even your company’s name can all ruin any sense of continuity you’ve developed thus far, so it’s in your best interest to avoid such pitfalls.
You’ll also want to pay close attention to your ideas that withstand the test of time. While it’s okay to cherish those that solicit an instant response, take care you don’t overlook those strategies that have already been proven in the field. Not only does this drive home a sense of familiarity throughout your products and services, but it also gives you a dependable image to fall back on if any rebranding strategies should go awry.
Keeping Your Forward Momentum
While the challenge can be daunting, entrepreneurs are still able to compete and, in some cases, thrive amongst their big-business counterparts. As it turns out, the size or history of your company isn’t nearly as important to consumers as your products and services. The proactive entrepreneur can capitalize on this through keen self-promotion, market awareness and a little bit of dedication.
About the author:
Lexie Lu is a freelance designer and writer. She enjoys researching the latest design trends and always has a cup of coffee nearby. She manages Design Roast and can be followed on Twitter @lexieludesigner.