Businesses are in fierce competition, and it’s a no-holds-barred fight out there. As a small business owner, you have two options: be just one of the entrepreneurs out there who operate within their comfort zones; or you can break from the perceived limitations of small businesses. You can choose to become an Alpha Dog.
The book “Alpha Dogs: How Your Small Business can Become a Leader of the Pack” by Donna Fenn provides strategies needed to break-out from the mold and turn your small business into a success. It is not easy to rise to the top given the competition from big businesses (and even competition from Chinese manufacturers and low-cost service providers abroad) — but it can be done. The book gives examples of small businesses you’ve never heard of but was able to become successful.
If you want your small business to survive the onslaught of Wal-Mart and other superstores, here are the strategies you need to become the leader of the pack:
1. Lead the Pack
You need to rise above the pack. Re-evaluate your business to see where you can make a huge difference that is even beyond the capabilities of your big competitors. Can you come up with a new spin for a product? Can you ratchet up your customer service delivery? What ways can you engage the community? Is there a clever way to brand your business? As Chris Zane, who owns a successful bike shop in Branford, Connecticut advises, “Wal-Mart gives you the kick in the pants you need to get to the next level. And if you don’t want to get to the next level, you shouldn’t be in business.”
2. Seduce your Customers.
You are not just selling a commodity. A bicycle you sell will be the same bicycle your competitor sells. If you want the customer to buy from you, you’ve got to make it more valuable. You’ve got to sell something far more emotional. What extras can you give that will make a customer buy from you? Can you ante up your customer service? Can you give some freebies to go along with the purchase? Can you make the buying experience more pleasant for the customer? Can you provide additional after-purchase support? There are many things you can do, things that can push your business ahead of your competition.
3. Convert Employees into Believers
Employees ( if you have any) are your secret weapons. Their actions and beliefs are the faces of your business. They are who your customers see — and their attitudes can make or break your business. Ever been to a store where the salespeople seem irritated to serve a customer? Bet you never went back to them; or if you have to because they’re the only ones carrying the items you want, you’re always on the lookout for alternatives. Talk to your employees about your business – your vision, company culture, demographics, industry margin and the competition. Remember, “Great service begins with great employees, and great employees don’t just walk through your door ready to treat your customers like gold.”
4. Transform with Technology.
Technology is a great enabler for small businesses that want to look and act much bigger than they are. While the business model has to make sense, to begin with, the key is to be clear what technology can do for your business. Your investments in technology should streamline your operation and eventually cut your costs, better serve your existing customers, and make it easier and more efficient to drum up new business.
5. Stake a Hometown Claim.
Sometimes building a business around the uniqueness of your product is not enough. After all, all products eventually become commodities, and commodities are easily copied. Small businesses should think about hometown advantage. Many consumers nowadays are gravitating towards local companies and businesses that have long-standing connections to their communities. Be attuned to your community – support community efforts, and be proud to be part of that community. Sometimes (e.g. when the big boys come knocking), the community can rally back and help you ward off the giant competitions.
6. Innovate the Mundane.
Why compete in a crowded category when you can create your own niche? You can apply the principles of innovation to a commodity in order to create a whole new category of products. Look at an existing product or service in a new way. Starbucks, for example, did not invent coffee; but this successful business changed the way we view coffee shops and how we consume coffee.
7. Market your Brand – Inside and Out.
Create a brand for your small business. Your brand identity should reflect a resolute commitment to everything that makes your company distinctive. Cultivate an authentic image that the marketplace will respond to.
8. Build a Village
Networks and alliances are an increasingly popular tool for small businesses that want to stay small but occasionally need to look and act big. Check if there are small business alliances in your sector that you can join. Networks allow you to link up with other businesses to serve big companies.
9. Embrace Reinvention
Small businesses are constantly hit with changes – from the changing demographics to industry trends. The only way to survive these changes is if the business will also change with the times, not once, but continuously. You need to continually improve the quality of your products or service, even change the way you market your products or the way you manufacture them. Five years ago, Twitter did not even exist; but now the microblogging site has become an important venue for marketers. There will always be changes, and you need to understand how these changes can affect you and how you should adapt your business to these changes.