Think of all of the sprawling business plans, coffee conversations and number crunching that go into the early days of a small business. Someone is ready to make that big dream a reality, pursue their ideal life balance, or bring a tenacious product idea to life.
Whatever the inspiration, running a business is hard — and many will fail along the way. But today I want to explore the potential impact of those early ideas becoming a success, and the hard decisions it can take to remain a viable business.
You’ve established your market and attracted attention
Say you’ve opened a quality coffee shop, created a delicious new pizza, or developed an innovative piece of technology that nobody has ever seen before. You’ve done something really well – and the market sees its success.
You should be really proud of what you’ve achieved; I have no doubt you put in some hard yards and decisions to get there. But it doesn’t always end there. Because success breeds competition, and sometimes, the competition is bigger than you.
Poking the gorilla
Many small businesses face manageable competition every day, and some competition can be healthy for market conditions. But what do you do when the challenger is out of your league? When — after you’ve prepped and nurtured your market — someone threatens to spend big in the war to win your customers?
I call this corporate competitor the big-business gorilla: and it can cause a lot of loud noise and destruction in just a few moves. Local or foreign, retail chain or superstore — chances are your big business gorilla has deeper pockets, a more aggressive attitude to getting itself noticed, and a higher tolerance for failure than you. For any small business, that can be intimidating.
So, do you sell or do you stay? And if you hold your ground, how do you ward off something so big?
The strength in small
When Xero customer Ben Lee launched his automotive engineering business, Rhino 4×4, he faced stiff competition from larger national motor vehicle part suppliers. As a small business headquartered on the Mornington Peninsula in Victoria, Ben’s team learned to distinguish itself from the competition — by being fast and unique.
“We don’t look at competitor products or try and emulate what they do, we do the opposite — we think differently — while others fail to change their ways. We stand out through our innovation, and that means being able to act promptly on new designs and use the best technology to streamline our processes.”
Multinationals may be large and powerful but they are also slower and more predictable. Make your size your strength — ask yourself, can you adjust to market needs with greater agility or increased quality?
Don’t try to balance the scales
You don’t have to achieve the same scale of service to succeed either. Instead, remember what made you special in the first place — and make those differences matter.
“As a small businesses, we’ve always prided ourselves on excellent communication with our customers,” says Ben. “So in the last three to four years, we’ve used that to grow a Facebook community of almost 13,000 followers. Direct feedback from our consumers now determines the direction of our product, and gives us a cutting edge over the competition.
“Not only have we rapidly taken a percentage share of existing market, but we’ve created a whole new market. We don’t just sell to four-by-four drivers craving functionality, we cater to young drivers who just want their vehicles to look good.”
An economy of outlasters
There are millions of small businesses in Australia who, between them, employ half the Australian workforce — and they’ve not become the backbone of our economy by chance. It takes strength, awareness, agility and belief to outwit and outlast the competition.
So next time a big business competitor jumps and shouts at your customers, don’t use up all your energy trying to jump higher and shout louder. Stay grounded and whisper something deep and meaningful instead.