Your Small Business: 3 Ways To Take Advantage Of Being Small

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One of the many worries of starting your own business is getting stomped on by large hulking competitors in your market space. Large companies have more money, more manpower and more resources so how could a small business possibly compete?


Photo By Kimberley

First of all, if you are trying to go head on against a large company, you are probably going to lose. Ever watch the movie 300? You can’t just charge in head first against your larger brethren and hope to succeed. You need to take advantage of your small, agile size and use guerrilla tactics to make your business stand out.

Every small business has many advantages over its larger competitors. Here are some things that you can do with your small business to give yourself an edge.

Give Personalized Service

Large businesses will always have issues providing personalized service to their customers. With fleets and fleets of customer service agents to train, it’s almost impossible to ensure consistent service unless they all follow the same script.

Large businesses have very little flexibility. In order to convey a consistent message to the customer, employees must follow a rigid set of guidelines set by the company. Ever call customer support for a large company like Dell? Did you feel like your customer service rep was reading off a script? Worse yet, did they have a horrible accent?

As a small business, you have the time and opportunity to treat every single customer like they are your only customer. When a customer calls, make the extra effort to get to know their names and to figure out exactly what problem they are trying to solve.

Whenever I answer the phone for our wedding linens store, I almost always ask for details about the wedding. Especially if it’s the bride on the phone, chances are that they are extremely excited about their wedding and want to gush over the details.

It may seem like a chore to some people, but I honestly enjoy hearing about other people’s wedding experiences. As a result, offering personalized service is usually not a problem for me.

In the process of getting to know the customer, I can usually extract important details about what they are looking for and offer them other items that may be of service as well. Sometimes, the customer doesn’t know exactly what they want and you have to point them in a certain direction.

For example, I’ve encouraged several brides to hand make their own wedding favors using our wedding linens to add a personal touch to their wedding.

If I’ve established a rapport with a customer, I can usually extract valuable feedback about our online store and obtain helpful information about what we should stock on our virtual shelves. I remember one customer who told me about her ingenious wedding favor idea which eventually turned into one of our hottest crafts.

Most importantly, I try to make the customer feel at home and comfortable shopping with us. I’d say that nine times out of ten, a pleasant conversation with a customer results in a guaranteed sell. More often than not, the customer then goes on to refer someone else as well.

Can a large business replicate this kind of service? It’s extremely difficult because the large fleet of customer service reps don’t have the same vested interest in their company as you do. Take this opportunity to translate your passions straight to your customers.

Bend The Rules

Most large companies have strict guidelines and policies. As a small company you can be malleable and adjust your policies as you see fit. One of your biggest assets is flexibility and you have the opportunity to treat every customer in a unique fashion.

For example, we once had a customer that wanted to print their wedding invitations directly onto our handkerchiefs. Instead of telling them that we didn’t offer fabric printing services, we took the time and hooked them up with a list of printing vendors in their area.

This customer really appreciated our help and was extremely grateful. I’d be willing to bet that she refers us to her friends whenever she can.

There are other little things that we do as well to make the customer feel special. For example, if the customer is late on a return, we usually let it slide. Sometimes we even give free items depending on the occasion. All of these little things add up over time and the word soon spreads.

Take Advantage Of Your Agility

One of the greatest assets of being small is the ability to make quick changes to your business at a moments notice. If you want to stock an item, it can be up on your website the next day. If you want to change your store policies, you can do it immediately.

Large companies have to go through layers and layers of bureaucracy in order to make even minor changes to their business. For example, when a large conglomerate like Target wants to stock a new item, they have to work out the logistics of stocking it in all of their stores and work with their large distribution chains to make it happen.

Large companies can also forget about making quick policy changes. All decision making must go up and down the chain of command and then be conveyed to the workforce as well.

When my wife and I first launched our store, we played around with several variables such as free shipping, product bundling and discount coupons so we could see what worked the best. Sometimes we changed our policies on a weekly basis.

We also experimented with different personalized products to see what sold the best. If a large company decided to do the same thing we did, they would have had to stock all of their stores with expensive equipment which would have presented a logistical nightmare.

Don’t Be Scared Of Being Small

Instead of being afraid, you should embrace the fact that you are a small business. Don’t be ashamed and don’t try to act bigger than you really are. Like a child, your business will only be small once so take advantage and appreciate it while it lasts.

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17 thoughts on “Your Small Business: 3 Ways To Take Advantage Of Being Small”

  1. Agility has certainly helped me the most.

    Because I am small and I do not have to answer to a board or even a partner, I can implement change immediately and reap the rewards.

    There is something to be said about working for oneself, especially if you have the initiative and drive to make it work.

    1. Hey Matt,

      Couldn’t agree with you more. I hate company politics. Sometimes decisions at my day job are made via consensus rather than what actually should get done. It’s refreshing to have your own business where you call the shots.

  2. I fully agree with giving outstanding customer service. As you grow, you should never stray from it either. Companies such as Bed, Bath and Beyond have really excelled by offering excellent customer service – even as a retail giant.

    I get less excited about bending the rules, because it often means compromising some level of service on the end of the business. After all, you have the same profit margins and doing things outside of what is normal can end up costing you more in the end. It certainly has its place, however.

    1. Hey Anthony,

      I never realized that about Bed Bath and Beyond. I’ll have to pay attention next time I shop there. Bending the rules for us is usually done on a case by case basis. Since we are usually dealing with brides, we try and be more understanding. After all, weddings are stressful affairs.

  3. Steve, when my wife and I registered there for our wedding, we found them to be amazing and they have always given the same level of service at all locations nationwide, even years after our wedding (so it wasn’t just to earn our registry business).

    1. Hey Anthony,

      So I was just checking out your blog. Turns out that I’m originally from Montgomery County, MD. Do you still go back and visit MD? How does AZ compare? I love MD. Would go back if my wife didn’t fear the cold winters there.

  4. I have known larger retailers who bend the rules. I worked for (corporate) and they were the kings of doing everything they can to satisfy their online customers. I had a pretty good experience with recently myself. They can afford it!

    I know most of the time, smaller, local, non-chains, etc is best though. My customers speak, write, Tweet, etc with ME, not a paid customer service rep. I know that makes a different.

  5. Hey Steve, small world. I lived there for most of my life and came to AZ in 2007 (FT) after living between the two for about 2 years. I have to say, I don’t miss the cold weather at all. I miss the people, but that’s about it. The DC area is much more high strung and stressed out.

  6. B7 says:

    Agility is an unbelievable advantage. A small company can make a decision to change direction in 30 minutes that takes a large company 6 months at best. And, combined with the massive leverage that the internet and outsourcing solutions provide, a one person company can literally compete with a Fortune 500 company.


  7. You’ve hit the nail on the head with this post! Especially #3 and the agility one has as a small business. We’re running circles around others because they require far too much time to change course. As far as Bending The Rules (#2), we changed our promotions over and over again with our vending company until we got it right. Thanks for the continued insights, Steve.

    1. Hey Matt,
      In the vending machine business, does offering personalized service apply? I’d be really interested in hearing some of the interesting promotions that you’ve offered with your business if you are willing to share them.

  8. I personally experienced the slowness of corporate marketing and let me tell you – it’s DREARY.

    You make a good point on the flexibility and ability to quickly change, but I think you have an even better point that you don’t make explicit – testing can be done quickly when you’re small, because no one’s permission is needed. Amazon and Google’s success have been based on building testing cultures, and I think that’s a key message to tell small business, which is usually risk-averse when it comes to marketing tests.

    1. Hey Gab,

      I’ve never worked for a really large company before. The largest ever was around 700 employees. Even then, decisions took forever to make and what pissed me off was that almost everyone had to agree. As a result, everything we did involved compromise and had bits and pieces of everyone’s input. It was always a big mess.

  9. Overall, pretty good article, some of the details that go into further detail can be so much the better. Because there is no support to do some figures

  10. I like your list and might add to it. If you are a small business and this is a side business (not relying on the income), you have the ability to take more chances. Basically, you have less to lose if the business goes belly up. Also, as a small business, you are able to keep costs low (working from home would be ideal), and might be able to weather a few storms that large business with expensive offices may not be able to weather. I understand that both of the instances I gave do not always work, but being frugal where it makes sense and staying small does have it’s advantages.

    Great post Steve!

    1. Hey Dustin,
      That’s true. Small businesses can take more chances because they have no legacy customers and no real reputation to maintain. Keeping costs low is definitely another advantage which I didn’t get a chance to mention in the article so thanks for pointing that out. Come to think of it, if we had to, my wife and I could maintain our business on 100 dollars a month.

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