If you’re a small business, it can be intimidating to compete against bigger companies.
They have larger budgets, more resources, and world-class teams ready to dominate the market.
But it might surprise you to learn that smaller businesses have some unique advantages as well. And if you’re a smaller business facing off against a larger competitor, there are a few ways you can establish your place in the market because of, not despite your size.
Here are the top 17 ways you can compete against larger businesses.
1. Upgrade your communications technology
If you’re still using outdated landline phones, you can see a big boost with a simple change—upgrade to a Voice over Internet Protocol (VoIP) system. Research suggests that VoIP helps businesses reduce the startup cost of communications by up to 90%.
Plus, a VoIP system offers significant advantages, usually at a lower price. You’ll be able to offer your team and customers the kind of cutting-edge features your bigger competitors have, like call routing and CRM integrations, all at a fraction of the price. Additionally, you can get a virtual phone system and appear local to your customers even when you are calling from other continents.
2. Leverage your biggest customers
One benefit of having a smaller business is that you probably know your customers better than your bigger competitors. And chances are, you have a few big spenders that account for a significant percentage of your business.
A shortcut to growing your business, then, is to increase the sales from those bigger spenders. Offer upsells, volume pricing, or additional services to increase your cash flow and profitability. Increasing sales from your existing clientele are almost always faster than finding new customers.
3. Niche down
As a smaller organization, you don’t need to worry about appealing to everyone. You can support yourself on a small or even tiny market now and expand that market as you grow. Your bigger competitors, on the other hand, need a much larger market to stay profitable. You can leverage that fact to establish a strong presence in an area a larger company won’t be able to win over.
Look for ways to target a market your competitors have missed. Consider your demographic area, interests, values, or other characteristics that set you apart. The more targeted your marketing is, the easier it will be to find new customers and keep growing.
4. Share your expert advice
You’re an expert at what you do. So why don’t you share that expertise? Choose a content platform, like a blog, social media, or YouTube channel, to give your advice. Engage with your audience, organize an AMA session, and answer questions. Deliver as much value as you can according to the experience you’ve gained.
Recent research shows that three of every four business leaders use thought leadership to connect with customers or clients.
Chances are, most people who listen to what you have to say won’t buy from you. But they’ll help create the authority that shares your message with other future customers.
5. Show up in the community
Small businesses are the foundation of most communities. If that’s the case where your business is located—and if you have a local team, get involved in the region. Participate in or start volunteer projects, show up to community events, and get to know local leaders and public servants.
Showing you’re an active member of the community not only helps those in your local area, but it can also show you’re a committed member and help you differentiate yourself from larger brands.
6. Become the best at something
One of the best ways to differentiate yourself is to decide what you’ll be the best at. As a smaller business with a specific niche, it’s far easier to be at the top of your field than the larger players.
And it doesn’t have to be your product if you know you can’t compete against larger competitors. Offer the fastest delivery, best customer support, most custom options, or some other area where you can be the clear winner.
7. Do the opposite of the competition
If you’re up against a big-name competitor, the best strategy can be to brand yourself as its opposite. This is the strategy you’ll see in many established industries: Coca-Cola vs. Pepsi, Apple vs. Android, and more.
Spot the weak point of your competitor’s marketing strategy, and position yourself in the other corner. You’ll instantly win over customers frustrated with the market leader and can help determine the tone the leader must use in marketing themselves.
8. Interact with customers on social media
Engagement is one of the most important metrics for today’s customers. We’re not just looking for another corporate identity but rather a personalized brand that treats us individually.
As a smaller company, that gives you a serious advantage over the competition. You can invest time into building relationships with customers that the bigger companies might not have time for. And you can build a group of engaged fans that choose you over the competition. If you don’t already have a fan base, start small. Look for the groups that seem especially interested in what makes you unique, and look for ways to find more customers like them.
9. Experiment with new media opportunities
You already know to engage on social media, but you can also explore new channels that bigger companies are afraid to explore. How many big companies are building their brands on TikTok, Discord, or in the metaverse? As a small company you can take risks bigger brands are afraid of and find new audiences.
Look for the newest, most likely candidates to become popular. Or, look for smaller apps where you know your target audience hangs out. Deliver incredible content, engage with fans, and build a following there.
10. Ask for (and implement) customer feedback
Customers always have ideas for making your brand better, and listening to them and implementing their feedback is a surefire way to show you’re serious about their opinions.
Make a habit of regularly asking customers for ways to improve your company. Start in-depth conversations, and send more surface-level questionnaires regularly. You can also use form builders to create branded feedback forms to get valuable opinions from your customers. Understand what they’re looking for, choose suggestions to focus on, and implement them as quickly as possible.
11. Deliver an out-of-this-world customer experience
Customer service is perhaps the biggest and best opportunity smaller businesses have to compete against larger competitors. Recent research suggests that two in three customers will abandon a brand due to a poor experience, meaning improvements in the customer experience delivers a huge return on investment.
Focus on ways to make your experience not just as good or better than your competitors, but truly noteworthy and special. What can you do to wow customers in a way they won’t get anywhere else?
12. Offer creative worker bonuses
It’s easy to think your larger competitors have cornered the talent market, but that’s not always true. While big companies might have a budget to lure industry leaders, you can appeal to an equally talented pool with your offerings.
For starters, look for creative ways to make your business more attractive in the labor market. Spruce up your workplace, or let employees work remotely. Switch to flexible PTO instead of rigid vacation days. Implement a casual dress code, cater lunch every other week, or let everyone go early on Fridays. There are an infinite number of free or low-cost ways to transform your business into an interesting place to work.
If you’re strapped for cash, there are creative ways to offer better compensation that don’t require money upfront. For example, you can offer stock options or profit sharing to employees. Or you could create generous bonuses tied to performance.
13. Partner with other businesses
Other businesses are your friend in growth. Look for companies that serve the same or similar target customers, but without competing with what you sell. A good example might be a company that sells a complementary product or happens to target the same market coincidentally.
Reach out and see if they’d be interested in establishing a brand partnership. These typically help both companies. You can bundle your services together, benefitting from each other’s audience and offering customers a great deal. Or you can create special offers for your partner’s existing customers, like a free extended trial or introductory product.
14. Be “everywhere” for your audience
Big brands are stretched thin. Often, their target market is so broad the company can’t have a brand presence across every subsegment.
But that’s where it pays to be a small provider with a narrow niche. It’s much easier to be “everywhere” for that group. Look for the social media platforms, trade publications, events, and news sources your group pays attention to. Then find ways to show up across as many of them as you can, whether that’s with earned coverage (like original research) or through paid media (like ads or sponsorships).
15. Offer something unique
Startups have an opportunity big businesses don’t—they can take risks. Large competitors have established customer bases and are often so scared of losing what they have that they neglect to innovate. Don’t be a victim of the same mind set.
Look at your business offering in a completely new light. What outrageous, crazy deal could you make? What offer would immediately set you apart from the competition? Try it in a small way, and keep expanding and improving if it works.
16. Create a customer loyalty program
Sometimes the easiest way to find more sales isn’t through new customers, but by encouraging your existing customers to come back more often. And research shows that loyalty programs outperform other types of marketing to get return customers.
As a small business, there’s a good chance you know your most loyal customers, so look to them for ideas on creating a loyalty program. And it doesn’t have to be a discount. You can offer extra service, faster delivery, personalization, or some other benefit that keeps buyers coming back.
17. Share your values
What makes you passionate about your business? Chances are, you have a set of values that you practice that makes your business meaningful. Most likely, your bigger competitors don’t follow precisely those same principles. You can set yourself apart from competitors by emphasizing what matters to you and creating a strong reason why you’re different.
By clearly defining your values, you can attract new customers to your brand and discover new partnerships you might not have thought of before.
Being the industry underdog can be tough, but there are some special benefits to having a smaller business. You’re better able to take risks and attempt new ventures that bigger competitors are afraid of. And you have a closer relationship with your customers and partners.
If you focus on your strengths as a small business, you can establish yourself in the market and grow faster than you’d expect. And who knows—you might shortly be the bigger competitor yourself.
Author Bio: Meenakshi (Meenz) Nautiyal
Meenakshi Nautiyal aka Meenz is a Growth Marketer and an SEO consultant for Nextiva. She has a successful track record of 10+ years scaling organic traffic and inbound leads for various SaaS B2B startups.