5 Ways to Compete Against the Giants in Your Industry

If you own or manage a small business you probably stay up nights trying to figure out how you’ll ever be able to survive, let alone compete against, the huge companies that dominate your industry. This could apply to any field or industry, but for the scope of this article I’d like to focus on service businesses whose main asset is the skill of their workforce.

In the marketing classic The 22 Immutable Laws of Marketing: Violate Them at Your Own Risk! (this book is a MUST read), law number 9 is “The Law of Opposites.” The law if based on the following concept:

In strength there is weakness. Wherever the leader is strong, there is an opportunity for a would-be #2 to turn the tables.

Here’s how you do that:

…study the firm above you. Where is it strong? And how do you turn that strength into a weakness? You must discover the essence of the leader and then present the prospect with the opposite.

Think about it. If you’re an accounting firm with less than 50 employees, how are you ever going to compete with one of the Big 4, or even one of the much larger midsized firms in your region? By turning your weakness (ie. size) into your strength and selling point, and their size into a disadvantage.

1. Client Attention

As a small firm (ever hear of the term boutique?) you have the ability to give your clients the personal attention they deserve (if they want it) in a way that bigger firms simply can’t. Or even if the big firms can, you can still create the impression that they can’t. You can emphasize that they’ll get lost and just be another number with a huge firm. That will reinforce their existing perceptions of working with a large firm. But make sure you can follow through on your promises of super attention.

2. Quality of Work

Tell your potential client that their work will be handled by skilled senior level people with years of experience. In a large firm they might get relegated to the desk of a junior level employee. Whether this is actually true is questionable, but the perception certainly exists. And marketing is all about perceptions. Again, make sure your work is as good as you say it is.

3. Specialization

As a small firm you have the ability to specialize in a particular niche which you can target. The big boys might have specialists in that area, but the perception is that if you only specialize in one thing, then you’re probably pretty darn good at it. An expert. Yes, that big firm does A, B, C, D and E, but if you’re looking for just B, that what we focus on and are experts at.

4. Location

Business is about relationships and being local can be a huge advantage in building and nurturing those relationships. Most clients value the ability to meet with you face to face when they need to, which is something the local guy can do with ease. If you can create a strong personal relationship with your clients, you can hold your ground against the big guys. There’s also the aspect of supporting local business that can work in your favor.

5. Don’t Compete

Sometimes the best way to compete is NOT to compete. There will be times when, due to the size, nature or complexity of the project, the client will go with the big guys. Don’t waste your resources competing for those jobs. Instead, focus on all those juicy companies that fall below the radar of the big guys. To succeed, the large firms need to target large companies that can pay super large fees. As a small firm you can do quite well with the rest.

Frame your large competitor’s size as disadvantage and your small size as a strength…and let the fun begin!