It can be incredibly daunting when starting your own business to go up against big brands that are already well-established. It's easy to feel like it’s a constant battle to compete with much larger companies that have a very sophisticated marketing strategy and high reputation. However, there are many small business strategies you can put in place to try and position yourself as being the best of the best regardless of business size.
We chatted with some experts in the business world to see what they think small businesses can do to compete with bigger brands for greater market share and customer base.
10 Small Business Strategies for Competing with Big Brands
1. Niche Down and Become Super-Specific
One of the best small business strategies to adopt from the beginning is establishing a niche. This can be a particular product, service or target audience, but getting as specific as possible will only help you find your customers much more easily.
“Big businesses usually offer many products/services, so as a small business trying to carve out your space in a similar market, you have to do the opposite,” recommends Solomon Thimothy, Co-Founder and CEO of Clickx.
Find that specific product or niche market that you can tap into and become an expert or specialist in. The more specific your niche is, the easier it will be for you to build a reputation and grow your business. “This is the most unlikely strategy for a larger, well-established competitor, but it will do wonders for you. It will allow you to grow your customer base much faster,” says Thimothy.
2. Do Plenty of Market Research
According to data collected by Oberlo, 42 percent of small businesses fail because of a lack of market demand, making it one of the most common reasons for failure. You can help your business avoid this by doing plenty of market research from the get-go.
You should be looking into your niche market, the current demand, projected trends and target audience to understand if your product or service is needed and desired in the first place.
However, you should never stop doing market research. Even once your business is off the ground, it will help inform future decisions and any adaptations needed over time. The market in any industry is forever evolving and it pays to stay on top of it as best you can.
3. Get Personal with Your Customer Base
One of the benefits of being a small business is the opportunity to get personal with your customers. This is something that large brands and companies can’t do as well as a small business, so you need to emphasize community and connection with your customers or audience.
A recent QuickBooks commissioned survey found that 90 percent of people agree that it’s important to support local businesses. Furthermore, they found that the top two benefits that people felt they got from buying from small businesses were: better service and more personal connection. This highlights the benefit of connecting with your customers on a personal level, whether that be in store or through social media.
Despite being a small business, you shouldn’t ignore your long-term plans to grow. In fact, Robert Warner, Head of Marketing at Virtual Valley, believes that small business owners should “set [their] focus on the future and plan for growth.” There’s no shame in dreaming big and setting high goals, even if that means wanting to compete with larger brands and companies.
Warner believes that you should plan from the beginning for growth because it will only help you later down the track. For example, “Make investments in high-quality equipment or services (from the beginning) instead of wasting time and money on tools that need to be changed frequently.” Trying to think about long-term goals will only help you make better decisions in the short term.
5. Be Willing and Open to Adapting
One of the advantages of being a small business is being able to adapt quickly and effectively. With a greater personal connection to customers and by generally operating in smaller batches of products, you have the ability to customize and adapt as you go.
This means you can more easily listen to feedback and new trends and adapt as needed. This flexibility is a great advantage over larger companies that are more bureaucratic and would have to go through many more processes to make changes to products or services.
6. Focus on Short-Form Video Content for Social Media
Social media marketing for small businesses is booming. A poll conducted by Sprout Social amongst business executives found that more than half of them anticipate that their social marketing budgets will increase by over 50 percent by 2024. But, as a small business, it’s important to know how to direct your social media marketing to the most cost-effective channel.
According to Christina Martinez, CEO at Traject, “Short-form video content (Instagram Reels, TikTok videos) is a must when expanding digital marketing strategies.” This has emerged as one of the easiest ways to expand your reach on social media in the last couple of years and it’s helped countless small businesses grow almost overnight.
For example, Designs By Felicias is a small business started by Felicia on Etsy as a side hustle. However, it wasn’t until she suddenly went viral on TikTok that things changed dramatically, according to Later. One of her videos has over 7 million views and her business now has over 100,000 followers, enabling her to reach more people like never before.
7. Collect First-Party Reviews When Possible
Feedback is always a welcome tool for business owners. You can use it to see where improvements can be made and adapt accordingly. However, with online reviews becoming a huge part of consumers’ decision-making, collecting feedback is as important as ever for small businesses.
Major brands and companies can rely more heavily on brand reputation and big marketing budgets, with online reviews meaning much less to them. However, for small businesses trying to capture the attention of new customers, it becomes vital to have positive reviews. Try to encourage honest customer feedback on various platforms, including Google, social media and industry-specific sites such as TripAdvisor or similar.
8. Offer a Loyalty Program or Incentives
A key way small businesses can connect with customers is through a loyalty program or similar incentives. Rewarding your customers is a great way to encourage them to come back again and again.
While it is now one of the most recognized brands in the world, Starbucks was a small business back when it was founded in 1971, with just one store in Seattle. One of its key growth strategies has been rewarding its customers. Their well-known loyalty program offers a variety of benefits, such as free add-ons, refills and birthday treats, as well as bonus rewards through a points system. It’s estimated to have increased sales by 7 percent in 2019 alone, according to Beans Marketing.
9. Build an Email List of Customers
While marketing for small businesses focuses mostly on social media, you shouldn’t ignore other powerful tools like email marketing. In fact, according to data collected by OptinMonster, email marketing has a higher conversion rate than social media. This means that while social media can be essential to growing your brand and reaching new consumers, email marketing should still be part of your strategy for converting your audience into paying customers.
This creates a more personal avenue for communication, where you can direct information for sales or promotions, brand or company updates and new products or services to people who have opted in to receive your emails. There are a variety of free and paid email marketing tools, including MailChimp, ConvertKit and MailerLite.
10. Believe in Yourself
Last but not least, you must have the belief that you can grow a successful business. “It is critical to remember that if you do not believe in yourself, no one will,” said Warner. You need a lot of self-motivation, determination and passion to start a business, and while it can be a lot of hard work, self-belief is often what drives you to keep going. Those who believe in their big dreams are more than likely to succeed and be motivated to compete with larger companies.
Compete with Big Brands Using These Small Business Strategies
It’s not impossible to compete with big brands as a small business. While you might feel like it’s an uphill battle, there are many advantages of being a small business that you can use to challenge larger companies, such as having a more personal connection to your customers, being able to adapt more quickly to new trends and having a very specific niche.
Other small business strategies you can emphasize include focusing on video content for social media, boosting email marketing and offering a loyalty program. All of these things will help you grow your small business and become a trusted product or service in your industry.
Incfile is here to help you launch and grow your small business at every stage of the process. Check out our business resources and tools!
Jenna Scatena is a writer and content strategist with a love for stories that have never been told before. More than a decade of working with prominent magazines and brands informs her approach to impactful storytelling. Her stories have reached more than 30 million readers, won multiple awards and been anthologized in books. Jenna's work has appeared in Conde Nast Traveler, Vogue, Marie Claire, The San Francisco, BBC and The Atlantic. She's the founder of the editorial consultancy, Lede Studio.