4 ways to turn a small business weakness into a strength
By George White, marketing practice director
Small business owners frequently find themselves at a disadvantage compared to their larger competition. It’s easy to blame this on money, or the lack thereof. True, resources matter, and having greater access to working capital and talent stacks the deck in favor of businesses with deep pockets. But if that was all that mattered, there would be very few thriving local businesses.
So if you’re feeling like a bit of an underdog when it comes to competing for your target market, check out these tips on how you can turn a weakness of your small business into a strength.
1. Make it personal
One of the reasons customers value small businesses is because they prefer to receive personal service. Unfortunately, many small businesses fail utterly on this front. For example, we’ve all been to a locally owned restaurant and received disappointing service. It’s crucial that every person who comes into contact with your small business receives VIP treatment. It’s not complicated – just take care of them the way you would expect to be treated. If you are a one-person operation, this is eminently simple. But if you have a staff of several employees, it’s vital to get them up to speed on this directive. Don’t just take it on faith that they are doing it right. Periodically recruit secret shoppers to email, call, or stop in your business and have them report back to you about their experience.
2. Keep it professional
On the other hand, it’s important to avoid getting too personal. You don’t want to create a creepy vibe and turn off customers. Even with the best of intentions, there are lots of ways small business owners fall into this trap. Consumers say that one of the biggest red flags is being asked for too much information too quickly. Another is sharing too much of your own information too soon. When a customer wants to look at video from your daughter’s dance recital or hear about where you spend your Sunday mornings, they’ll ask. Until then, keep things warm and friendly, but at arm’s length.
3. Justify your existence
In business circles, “differentiation” has become something of a buzzword. But it’s important understand what this idea really means. Just being different isn’t good enough. Instead, your small business needs to prove to customers why it deserves to exist. If you are simply providing a more limited selection of products or services at a slightly higher price than the big box version of your business that’s down the street, your company is not long for this world. Sorry.
The difference between you and the big guys is that you are small and nimble. So use that to your advantage. Be more innovative. Introduce new products and services before they trickle down to the chains and franchises. Offer solutions which are tailored to the unique needs of the people who live within a 10-mile radius of your business, not someone who lives in Nebraska.
4. Make a not to-do list
The simple “to-do list” – shelves full of books have been written about it, highly effective people have gotten rich off of it, and an iPhone app with a new twist on it seems to be born every minute.
Maximizing productivity is important for small businesses. You need to maintain a laser-like focus on the highest value initiatives at all times. The good news is, unlike a larger company, you don’t have to wait for a committee or consensus to decide what to do. So hopefully, that stuff is already on your to-do list.
But does it seem like your list just keeps getting longer as you add more “good ideas” to it? The problem is, there are too many good ideas. You don’t have the bandwidth or resources to do everything all at once, or even eventually. Instead, you need to invest more effort deciding what you’re not going to do, and putting that on your “not to-do list.”
Your not to-do list should be longer than your to-do list. When a new idea or opportunity crosses your path, evaluate it. If it’s not something you can reasonably accomplish in the short term without slowing down other initiatives, add it to the not to-do list. Put it out of your mind, and if someone brings it up again, just say, “we’re not going to do that right now.” Doesn’t that feel good? But be sure to review your not to-do list every six months or so, to see if anything needs to be moved to your to-do list.