Big businesses can dominate markets with low prices, large product ranges and mass marketing. But small firms have the edge when it comes to quality, service and exclusivity. Afsheen Latif explains how to turn size to your advantage
Being small does not have to be a barrier to success - in fact, it can be a positive strength. Large organisations may seem to have many markets sewn up, but their one-size-fits-all approach to sales and marketing is not for everyone.
"Consumers associate good quality with small manufacturers," says Dennis Palmer, former senior client service manager at Business Link. "They picture businesses down the road, which gives a sense of product accountability and community."
Stress your difference
"Small businesses are at an advantage when it comes to finding and filling a niche," he adds. "Differentiate your offering. This can be in terms of quality or product type, or offering something that isn't available in the mass-market."
Take every opportunity to stress the benefits to your customers of buying from a small operation, and include the message on all of your marketing materials - even the packaging. Concentrate on quality and exclusivity: you might be family-owned, for example, use a handmade process or provide bespoke goods or services.
Reinforcing your community ties is also important. "The green agenda is very important for customers," Palmer says. "Locally-sourced products have less environmental impact, because they have travelled fewer miles. Let consumers know if you are supporting the local community or being environmentally friendly."
Customer service is a vital selling point for small businesses, and it's an area where large manufacturers and retailers struggle to compete. "If you buy something anonymously in a shop and it goes wrong, the feeling is that you're not going to be able to do anything about it," Palmer explains.
"But if you buy from somebody local who you trust, you feel you can call them up and they'll do something about it. Successful businesses tend to work closely with their customers," he says. "Small firms can offer a friendly face, be trustworthy, flexible and approachable. You should focus on providing exceptional customer service."
This, he suggests, should include making a list of your regular customers and keeping them up to date with your products, services, offers, and news about the business. You could do this via an email newsletter as well as in person. Make an effort to attend local events, such as markets, as well.
Expanding your customer base
Once you have established a strong presence in your local community, explore ways of breaking into larger markets. "Don't underestimate your online presence," advises Palmer. "Target it towards your local community, but remember it can also help you reach more customers. I know of a fish smokery in Scotland that sells locally, but now they're also selling internationally, purely on the basis that it's a product you can trust."