Right now, there’s a lesson big business owners are beginning to learn: Never underestimate the underdog.
In a modern world, bigger isn’t always better. In fact, in an age of rapid communication, social media and light-speed tech innovation, people crave connection, and there’s no better place to find it than at a small business. After all, where else will you find someone who’s offering a smart product with a human touch? Now it’s easier than ever for a savvy small business to compete for high-level brand partnerships on a global scale — even when going against the biggest businesses on the planet.
Sometimes, prominent brands worry about partnering with smaller businesses. Usually, it’s a question of manpower. While being the “big” client means more attention, it also means the brand will work with a smaller staff who might not offer the same time, expertise or experience.
Of course, these reasons aren’t always founded in reality. (In fact, they might be the opposite of how your small business works.) But in order to score that big account, you have to show these potential clients why they should trust your business and how your smaller company can tackle a big account even better than your bigger, more established competition.
Proving yourself is never easy. But it’s important to remember that smaller can be stronger. After all, a smaller company has more at stake when it’s striving to impress, and that means it will put its best work forward — every time. At a small company, your clients can count on working with a senior staff member without paying an inflated fee for layers of junior-level staff. And your clients are treated with care and attention, which translates to better service, more thorough, detailed work and better results.
That’s why scoring high-profile clients doesn’t mean you have to completely rethink how you do business. In fact, it’s just the opposite: It’s all about the attitude, the presentation and the work you’ve already accomplished. Here’s how to start:
- Demonstrate your ability to handle sophisticated work. Make sure your potential clients can see the strategies and systems you have in place to handle their workload — and handle it well.
- Make yourself distinctive. Becoming a destination means setting yourself apart from the crowd. A smart way to do that is by developing a specific niche expertise that you can use to distinguish yourself from bigger, unfocused competitors.
- Show your depth of expertise. Big clients might not expect a smaller shop to have a deep knowledge of their field. Surprise them.
- Give them your testimonials. Nothing’s as powerful as a glowing review from another client. Find out which of your current customers are willing to serve as references. (And remember, potential big clients will want to talk to them, not just read a letter from them.) It’s an excellent way to show how well you can perform on the job.
Smaller and Stronger
Competing with bigger companies might feel like a David-and-Goliath story in the making. But success stories aren’t as rare as you may think. Let’s start with an example: Gumas is an advertising agency in San Francisco that’s small. (Right now, there are fewer than 20 people on staff.) And it occupies a very specific niche: They’re the “champions of the Challenger Brand.”
What’s a challenger brand? Well, to use Gumas’ words, it’s a brand that uses a “strategy that’s specifically designed to help our clients take on more established, better-resourced competitors and win.” But that’s not just Gumas’ market share; it’s also the way it wins larger accounts when pitching against bigger agencies, too.
Gumas was invited to pitch against famous, established agencies for Bendix King, a large division of Honeywell. During this pitch, it took what the client perceived as a disadvantage — being small— and turned it into an advantage. How? It emphasized its strength in working with “challenger brands” and discussed how Gumas could offer dedicated service and one-on-one attention, unlike other agencies.
In the end, Gumas won the account. And it won the work because of its size, not in spite of it. By pitching against bigger, more established, and better-funded agencies, Gumas showed that it is a challenger brand. What other brand could execute with the same expertise and passion as a company that faced, and solved, the exact problem its clients battle?
There’s a message in Gumas’ success: Being small has its advantages. And one of them is that you’re nimble and can react quickly, intelligently and seamlessly in a changing landscape. What really matters is that you can do the same for your clients.
Sometimes, a fresh voice comes from an unexpected place. And that’s exactly where the strength of being the underdog lies: You have the element of surprise. Use it.