4 Ways Small Businesses Can Take on Behemoths and Win

Small businesses are the lifeblood of the economy. In the United States, small businesses make up 99.7% of all employer firms and accounted for 63% of net new jobs created between 1993 and 2013.

Why am I telling you this? Because for some strange reason, when we think “economy” we think of the Amazons, Googles and AT&Ts of the world. Not one thought is spared for the businesses that actually employ almost the whole country. Remember, every President and wannabe President has cried out, “Small businesses are the backbone of the American economy.”

However, even though small businesses play such a vital role as employment generators, they lag far behind the large companies in terms of business value created. Despite employing way more people, small businesses accounted for just 46% of total private sector output and just a third of all exports.

This means the behemoths of the world are doing something right that’s leaving the minnows eating dust. Does this mean there’s no way for a small business to compete against the Goliaths? Absolutely not! It depends to what extent you can replicate their marketing strategies successfully.

Bring Your Brand Personality to Life

One of the biggest benefits that a small business has is that it has the freedom to really be itself. With passionate owners driving small businesses, it’s a great idea for business owners to infuse some of their own personality into their brand.

Sevenly, is a great example of a small business that was founded by a pair of socially-conscious millennials to give back to society.

In keeping with its image as a do-gooder brand, every marketing message that goes out from Sevenly reinforces its cause oriented, social commitment. The company has donated over $5 million to various charities since its inception.

Help Customers Help Themselves

Big businesses with deep pockets have the luxury of splurging on things that small businesses could never dream of. A 40% discount on your bestselling products? No problem! A 24×7 toll-free helpline number with 10 dedicated reps answering questions? All yours! 30-day returns with no questions asked? Why not!

But tight resources are no excuse to not offer your customers great customer service. There are a million ways to keep those disgruntled customers happy, even on a shoestring budget.

So why not be proactive and offer your customers answers to frequently asked questions upfront? Create a dedicated FAQs section on your website that users can browse (and search!) to give them answers before they pick up that phone to call you (or worse, walk in to have an argument).

Product demo videos that explain step by step how to use your product are great customer care tools as well. Does your product have a steep learning curve? Set up a quick online learning option where users can understand more about various use cases, watch how-to videos on-demand, and get more comfortable with your product or service in a virtual environment, at their own pace.

For B2B or SaaS businesses, helping customers learn by themselves is far easier than hiring and training staff to help them. As a simple example, you can record a video where you explain stuff in person, as well as show a step-by-step tutorial via an app right from your iPhone screen (and I’ve rarely seen a startup founder who doesn’t carry one of those!)

Stay Connected

When the typical entrepreneur starts out a new venture these days, they naturally gravitate towards social media to promote their business and generate word of mouth around it. While reaching out to your friends and relatives about your business is great, it’s even more important to connect with your actual target audience and customers on a one-on-one basis.

When local businesses connect with customers, they tend to listen and engage better. Reach out to your customers in your own, authentic voice; not as a soulless corporate brand.

Social media is not the only way you can build a personal bond with your audience; email is equally effective too. It allows you to reach out to users regularly (after all, out of sight is out of mind) and offers a wide variety of ways to offer true value to the user.

A Mighty Girl is a small business that empowers young girls through unique toys, clothes, and knickknacks, all focused on changing societal attitudes about women.

Even though their bread and butter comes from the items users buy on their website, notice how their email does not hard sell any item; instead focusing on content about powerful women in history, inspirational news items, content pieces that teach values to young girls – things that their typical user cares deeply about. Without a single “buy” button on their email, A Mighty Girl encourages its users to shop with them purely on the strength of the bond they’ve forged.

Use Familiarity to Your Advantage

My morning ritual consists of dashing out the door for work and stopping over at a neighborhood coffee shop for my morning cuppa. I prefer this small shop over a Starbucks for a very simple reason. I like to start my day with a smile, with people who know me, know what I like to drink without me even having to tell them. This level of familiarity and comfort is a privilege that is enjoyed by many small businesses. But are they making the most of it?

Make sure you offer a personal touch to all of your regular customers. A smile, a little chit-chat, helping them find a product, go a long way in putting your customer at ease and encouraging them to come in again for a similar warm experience.

When you know you your regular customers are and what they like, go the extra mile to offer them a product or service that is custom-made for them. Personal gestures like placing a special order for an item for a customer or offering to install a product in a customer’s home at no extra charge are all effective ways of knocking down walls and winning a customer for life!

If you’re an online-only business, though, you don’t have the luxury of a face-to-face tête-à-tête with your customers, don’t despair. Simple and inexpensive chatbots are within the reach of every small business willing to invest a little time and effort into online customer service.

Chatbots are no longer just fancy FAQ machines equipped to answer basic queries. They are capable of interactive dialog at different touchpoints along the customer journey, as well as initiating and completing transactions with scalable, omni-channel functions. The easy availability of big data and simplification of AI programs has given bots the ability to personalize the experience for each shopper. The future belongs to mom-and-pop-and-bot stores!

Wrapping Up

While small businesses cannot outspend their large, established competitors, they can definitely charm the pants off their customers. Show prospects your vulnerable side, and you’ll soon be well on your way to replace the corporate business machine and win a customer for life. Remember, the vast majority of people prefer rooting for the underdog. A small business that does its job perfectly and serves that up with a huge dollop of genuine empathy can be held back by no business behemoth!

Rohan Ayyar

Rohan is the Regional Marketing Manager for India at SEMrush. He is an experienced digital marketer who has worked both agency and in-house, developing data-driven strategies for SEO, PPC, social media and content marketing. Rohan is also an avid business and tech blogger, with insights featured on publications like Fast Company, Business World, Search Engine Journal and Adweek.