Being Small & Winning Big

Using your size to your advantage.

James Carter / April 26, 2016

I get the chance to speak to a ton of fantastic business owners about their brand's on a weekly basis. It's a blessing to hear stories from entrepreneurs who are building great brands but unfortunately, not every story is a happy one.

Fear of the competition

In business success and setbacks go hand in hand. But I've begun to notice a startling trend. One that paralyzes decision makers, causing them to make poor choices with their brands.

Way too many of us as small business owners have an unhealthy fear of larger competition. Let me preface by saying, keeping your eye on your competitors is fine, as long as it doesn't hinder progress. What I'm referring to is much deeper and often cause us to do things to sabotage our chance at success.

What is this paralyzing trend? And just how bad can it affect the growth of a brand? Let's take a look.

Breaking down the impostor syndrome

A client recently informed me of how they were stretching themselves thin. And as a result, their business was suffering. When we dug deeper, we found that the cause of their problem was impostor syndrome. They were trying to appear larger than they were to measure up to their competition.

They feared that if customers found out they were small, they'd decide to take their business elsewhere. Many companies happen to think like this. Thankfully, this assumption isn't correct; it's actually the complete opposite.

“Customers are looking for an authentic experience, with attention to detail and a personal touch.”

Small size, large reach

In the early 2000’s my client may have had a point. The size of your business could hinder the number of customers within your reach. But in the last decade, it’s been much easier to compete against businesses both large and small. It's thanks, in part to the maturity and growth of the internet.

Today with just an internet connection, time and a little bit of luck you can start a business from the comfort of your home. Companies like Etsy created an entire business model around helping small operations grow. And the business owners who take advantage of these services are making serious money. Did I mention that most business owners on Etsy run their operation out of their homes?

Price isn't a factor

Not only are customers willing to supporting small businesses, but they also tend to prefer it, even if means paying more. Did you get that? They’re ready to give you a chance even if they have to pay more to do it.

“Your size isn't the issue; it’s your brand’s authenticity.”

Authenticity is key

So what gives? Why are customers willing to shop with smaller businesses over larger corporations? It turns out they believe smaller brands have higher ethical standards than large-scale enterprises. Consumers feel smaller businesses create better personal experiences and have a real understanding of customer needs.

Bigger ≠ Better

Businesses betting only on their size in 2016 are playing a dangerous game. It's an ineffective strategy that's no longer the differentiator it once was. The reality is, customers aren't turned off by the size of your business. In fact, they tend to enjoy it. They’re turned off by a lack of transparency, an inability to deliver and poor service. Your size isn't the issue; it's your brand’s authenticity.

Reclaim your authenticity

There are many ways for your business to compete with the incumbents. You first need to reclaim your authenticity and shake off that impostor syndrome. It's easy to do. But it requires having an honest conversation with yourself, partners and staff. Customers are looking to do business with brands that have relatable stories. To relate to customers, brands must be transparent, deliver a quality experience, and make good products.

Still figuring out how your business can measure up? Here are three questions that will guide you back on the path to authenticity.

Question 1: If our brand was an employee, what would its role be?

Imitating a larger business while holding onto your credibility is hard. Hence, why my client's business struggled. Impostor syndrome forces us to balance two different extremes. On one hand, we're trying to keep up with competitors. On the other, we're holding onto what makes our brand unique.

Treating the brand as an employee is a critical step in getting back to the business of who you really are. It realigns the roles and responsibilities of the company. It defines the values of the brand and the principles of the brand’s promise. It outlines the tasks the business needs to carry out every day. And most importantly, underscores the benchmarks required for its growth and success. Once you’ve established the role of the business–what it does and what makes it work–drop any actions non-vital to your success.

Question 2: Why do customers shop with us?

You've successfully defined what your brand does. But is the sentiment true outside of your company? You'll now need to figure out if your message is in alignment with what your customers think of you.

To do this, start by asking your most loyal customers why they patronize your business. It's key to understanding what you think of your brand vs. what the customers see as their reality. The truth exists somewhere in the middle. Gathering this info allows you to adjust your assumptions and find places for growth and opportunity.

Afterward, determine if what you believed about your brand is still true or if you need to put energy towards improving your message.

Question 3: What do we do better than anyone else?

Defining ourselves re-establishes who we are as a business. Talking with your customers gives you insight into your brands strengths and weaknesses.

We're almost impostor free. But for the last task, we're going to use the remnants of the impostor syndrome to our advantage.

You’ve spent a decent amount of time studying your competitors. It's how you're able to imitate what they do, regardless if it's been successful or not. But unknowingly, you also have an idea of where their weaknesses lie. Impostor syndrome forces you to imitate the things your competitors do well. But to do this, you have to have an understanding of where they fall short.

Every business has deficiencies. But it's the great companies that work tirelessly to fix them. These are the spaces where you can thrive. These are the areas that give you a unique edge over your competitor.

Look at the areas where your competitors are letting customers down. Determine if there's enough of an opportunity for you to gain an advantage. Decide whether that will make a difference to your audience, then plan strategies to incrementally improve and promote this area of your business.

A plan for success

1. Defining why your brand is unique and the role the business plays.

2. Understanding why customers invest in you.

3. Identifying your competitor's weaknesses and improve these areas of your business.

A three-point plan for reclaiming your authenticity and one-upping the competition. Once you've figured this out, use your resources to create the best experiences possible. Your customers will thank you for it.

“Being small puts you at a minor disadvantage. Being inauthentic takes you complete out of the game.”

From insecurity to transparency

Creating a false persona based on what you think customers want does your business no favors. Especially if your competitors have more money, more influence, and a larger audience.

Customers are buying your authenticity, quality of service and customer experience. Your size does nothing for them. Being small puts you at a minor disadvantage. Being inauthentic takes you complete out of the game.

You created this business for a reason. You believed you could make something great that people would love. Share that story with your customers and they'll appreciate you for it. Stay focused on your north star. Use this post as your guide and get back on the path to reclaiming your authenticity.

Fighting impostor syndrome? Tweet me @jamescarter and let me know if this helps your journey to authenticity. And if you enjoyed this post, please scroll down and share it with friends and colleagues. I'd appreciate it.

CREDIT: Khazan, Olga. "More Americans Prefer Small Businesses to Large Companies, Survey Finds." Washington Post. The Washington Post, 15 Nov. 2011. Web. 16 Apr. 2016. "What Americans Think About Business." Public Affairs Pulse. Princeton Survey Research Associates International, 23 July 2015. Web. 16 Apr. 2016. Emarketer, and Toulna. "Consumers Favor Small Businesses Because of Their Customer Focus " EMarketer. AYTM Market Research,, Apr. 2014. Web. 16 Apr. 2016.
SPECIAL THANKS: Jason Akoi, Clarence Bethea, Laurent Chevalier, Matthew Manos, Denney Pham, Laura Providence, HongJoo Sun, David Yarde for reading the first draft.