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How to Successfully Compete Against the Big Guys as a Small Business

| June 16, 2017 | Business Strategy

Have you ever found yourself apologizing for being a small business? Maybe you’ve felt like you can’t compete against the “big guys?”

Instead of feeling at a disadvantage, celebrate and embrace the advantages of being a small business. Here are some ways you can successfully compete and win customers away from the big guys.

Roll Out the Red Carpet

Small businesses can wow customers by getting to know them and treating them like royalty.

My colleague always raves about her local butcher store. Just like when Norm walked into Cheers, when she walks into the store everybody looks up and loudly calls her name. They remember what she likes, they point out new items, ask her about her business, and generally they make shopping fun.

What chain grocery store could match that experience?

Give Them What They Want

Customers want high quality and consistency. As a small business, you’re able to keep close tabs on production and delivery.

Nothing is more irritating than going to your favorite restaurant and ordering your favorite dish, only to find that it’s different than the last time you ordered it. You had your heart set on something being prepared a very specific way, and even if it’s good, it’s bound to be disappointing.

The same goes for a service business. Nail salon, spa, massage, whatever – people want a consistent experience.

Right a Wrong

No business is perfect. Things will fall through the cracks and mistakes will happen.

When something goes wrong – and it will – own up to the mistake quickly, and do something to make up for it. People are often very understanding if you’re honest with them and apologize.

Many businesses miss out on the opportunity to turn an annoyed customer into a raving fan by doing something special. Offer a coupon for something when they come back. Comp diners a free dessert or drink. Send the manager over to explain what happened and why it won’t happen again.

Pro tip: The secret to diffusing a tough customer situation is often to let them vent. A lot of times people just want to be heard.

Often, they will calm themselves down, and then you can go above and beyond and make them feel like it was a good experience after all.

Help Them Use It

How can you help your customers use or enjoy your products or services?

Do you have a clothing store? Have you considered adding personal shopping assistance?

Do you sell something that requires assembly? What about offering assembly services?

Do you sell something heavy? Perhaps you should connect with a local delivery service to make it easier for your customers.

Train or Teach Them

Is there a learning curve with your product or service? Do your offerings require that you teach your customers?

If you have a yarn store, do you have some Intro to Knitting classes, or weekly meetups where people can come and chat and knit?

If your business sells software, do you offer webinars or onsite training to help your customers make the most of it?

If you sell accounting services, do you have someone who can help a business owner get set up using accounting software instead of spreadsheets?

If you sell spices or cooking supplies, do you have recipes so customers know how to use unusual items? Do you offer cooking classes periodically? Contests for using a piece of equipment or special ingredient?

Make It Better

Small businesses can be nimble and try out new things. Don’t get complacent and keep doing the same old same old. As much as people want their favorite thing to stay the same, they’re also always looking for new and interesting things. (I know, it’s confusing.)

When you try a new ice cream or cookie flavor, give customers a free taste and see how they react. If customers rave about it, add it to the menu. If not, try something else!

Small business owners need to stay on the lookout for that special thing that makes them different, interesting or better.

Talk to your customers. Really listen to what they tell you. A big box store can’t replicate the personalized customer experience a small business can offer.

Carol Roth
Carol Roth
Carol Roth makes people think, makes them laugh and makes them money. She is a national media personality (currently an on-air contributor for CNBC), 'recovering' investment banker, entrepreneur, investor, speaker and New York Times bestselling author of “The Entrepreneur Equation.” As a deal-maker, Carol has helped clients complete more than $2 billion in transactions, including capital raising, M&A, licensing and partnership deals, plus create 7-figure brand loyalty programs. Carol acts as a brand spokesperson and advisor for a variety of companies, is a huge professional sports fan and has an action figure made in her own likeness.

See all posts by Carol Roth

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