For small business owners, competing against enterprise companies can seem like an insurmountable, David and Goliath-style challenge. Small businesses have distinct advantages, however, that give them an edge when it comes to carving out and retaining market share. SMBs will never outspend big business — whether on marketing or salaries or even cool corporate perks - so they have to be smart when it comes to honing their competitive edge. If small businesses embrace the following four advantages, they will be able to differentiate their brand, build a loyal customer base and position their company on a path to sustainable growth.
You Have a Personal Touch
You likely know the name of every one of your clients, and you wouldn't dream of leaving one of them in limbo. Small businesses have the dexterity to consistently provide a stellar customer experience for their clients. Bigger companies utilize autoresponders and call centers to handle their high volumes, a service standard far below what you can offer.
Chris Davis is co-founder of Travefy, an online and mobile group travel planner located in Lincoln, Nebraska. He himself is a small business customer who runs a thriving business with 11 employees who understand the power of the personal touch. “Our customers frequently joke with our support staff like they’re friends,” he explains. “When our users need help, we can normally recall any situations they’ve had in the past and we might even know a little bit about their business so we can offer solutions more quickly that fits their needs.”
One way to achieve that level of responsiveness is by investing in the right technology. For example, turning to cloud-based communication software enables you to keep on top of customer service issues, without the hassle and cost of onsite equipment. Receive inbound calls simultaneously on your desk and cell phone, so you can respond to every important call — without being tied to your office. Access company-wide chat with anyone from any location or device — so you can troubleshoot issues efficiently and ensure client-facing communications are consistent and aligned.
You Have Flexibility
Having an organizational chart with many moving parts makes it tougher for large companies to maneuver around processes, feedback, and ideas. Small businesses have the agility to adapt to market fluctuations, increased competition and, most importantly, client feedback.
"At Travefy we take our customer feedback seriously and actively incorporate it into our product roadmap," says Davis.
Davis goes on to explain how his company’s flexibility benefits customers. “When we saw our customers asking questions about and having a hard time with our flight update feature, we were able to re-prioritize this quickly,” he says. “Our product team members have enough information about the business and our customers to be able to make these types of decisions without having to wait for a project manager or someone else to tell them they can do it.”
Agreeing with Davis is Stephanie Jarrett, co-founder of Bulu Box, a small company that designs and builds subscription-based health, nutrition and weight loss product sampler boxes. "There's an inherent agility in small businesses and startups, and we actively work to cultivate quick decision-making skills in Bulu Box employees," Jarrett says about the company, also located in Lincoln.
"If something's working, you can quickly do more of it; if something's not working, you can quickly stop doing it," says Jarrett. "This flexibility is the exact reason why I see more corporations partnering with startups in Lincoln, and it's why major retailers hire Bulu Box to build their subscription box programs."
The flexibility of Bulu is displayed in its agility, says Jarrett. “At Bulu, the team of two to three people who are responsible for building Subscription Box business models for our clients and licensed brands is the same team of two to three people who negotiate the contract terms,” she explains. “In a large company, these responsibilities stretch across three or four different departments.” Jarrett says that Bulu, the timeline to work through a process is so much shorter since all of her team members understand the Subscription Box businesses on every level and can accommodate the unique needs of every single one of their clients.
You Attract the Best and Brightest
Small businesses like Travefy and Bulu Box tend to attract employees who prefer forgoing layers of management in order to communicate directly with senior leaders. In this environment, they're able to learn fast, wear many hats, work with cutting-edge technologies and be quickly recognized for their hard word. Dedicated employees make it easier to ensure that the whole company, from entry level to C-Suite, is aligned with your company's goals, and that's the kind of integrity clients quickly sense.
"We have a core value at Bulu Box called 'Foundership' to establish that agility and trust," says Jarrett. "It means making decisions and carrying out tasks, big and small, as if you started the company yourself."
Bulu Box employees interact daily with the co-founders, and they uniformly incorporate the company's short-term goals and long-term visions into their own workday. "Employees thrive on that type of interaction and become empowered to make smart, quick decisions that have a significant impact on the business," adds Jarrett.
"A conglomerate can't match that kind of employee experience," agrees Travefy's Davis. "There's greater opportunity for impact and reward," Davis says. "Each team member has the ability to do important work and be recognized for a job well done."
Davis adds that small business employees can design their own course of personal growth. "In a larger corporation, there are frequently predefined career paths that you can choose from as you gain experience in a company, but those aren't a fit for everyone," he says. "In a smaller business, there's more opportunity to define your own career path by taking over ancillary responsibilities to develop additional skills."
You Have Community Support
Unlike enterprise companies, small businesses are deeply rooted in the community they serve — your clients are your neighbors. Show integrity, innovation and soul, and you'll find loyalty and support from the people you serve. You may be smaller than the big guys, but you can certainly harness the power of community spirit in the exceptional customer experience you offer.
For Bulu, Jarrett explains that every decision the company makes considers how it will impact the community, which manifests in several ways. “This pay it forward mentality is part of our community culture at every level,” she says. “Since we’re a small team, you see how your teammates give back and you’re inspired and encouraged to do the same.”
Bulu connects its brand with its local community in a huge way by hosting and sponsoring events that are must-attend celebrations, such as The Good Life Halfsy marathon. In addition to events, there was a conscious decision to hire local graduates of Defy Ventures, an entrepreneurial training program for currently and formerly incarcerated men, women and youth in the area.
Whether you’re using a product like Windstream's OfficeSuite, which provides uninterrupted service across your devices so you never miss a client call, or you’re greeting each customer by name as they walk in the door, embrace the advantages and technologies uniquely designed for small business — and position yourself for long-term success.