How to survive as a small fish in a big pond [Free Guide]

Digital marketing and online advertising seem like they’re dominated by a few big names (namely, Google and Facebook). But that doesn’t mean your small business can’t make a big splash there with local customers looking for a provider.

Get your copy of our free guide “How to Survive as a Small Fish in a Big Pond” now. You’ll find helpful tips on competing online, including:

  • Focusing on your strengths as a small, agile business
  • Leveraging your knowledge of and relationship with your local customers
  • Finding where your business can fill a niche that “the big guys” aren’t paying attention to

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[“How to Survive as a Small Fish in a Big Pond” whitepaper transcript]

Everyone loves an underdog

Before the days of search ads and Facebook statuses, marketing was a constant uphill battle for a lot of small businesses — especially when they had to face larger, more established brands.

Smart small- to medium-sized businesses (SMBs) know they have a lot to gain from a well-planned, synchronized digital marketing campaign and must make sure every marketing dollar is put to good use. They have to think outside the box and use their built-in advantages speed, precision and disruption — to compete.

In this guide, we’re going to outline the strategies and tips you should use and explain how a small business can go toe-to-toe with a behemoth in their industry.

Speed

As a small business in a crowded space, you’re constantly forced to find ways to be different from your competitors — fast. And that necessity can be a powerful resource.

That puts pressure on you to continuously rethink your products and services, internal processes and marketing strategies. You have to anticipate what your customers expect from you in the future and pivot quickly to meet that need.

[Related: Four Motivating Factors That Turn Site Visitors Into Customers]

While that sounds like a daunting task, it helps to realize that all businesses, big and small, are trying to do this, but it’s only the small businesses that can do it quickly and often.

When a small business learns something about their process that needs to be corrected, they can quickly pivot and change it without having to run it by the executive chain of command to get approval.

Large companies are unable to change direction, apply new strategies, or react to industry trends as quickly as small ones. This is something you should use to your advantage. Small businesses need to take advantage of their inherent agility by learning (and failing) fast, reacting quickly and changing before their larger competitors get a chance to.

In today’s complex marketing environment, where things are continually changing, speed of execution will always give small businesses a leg up on the competition.

Where does your business stand today? Get your free digital marketing score to find out >

Pro tip: Testing + Iterating

When looking for ways to pivot and improve your marketing performance, it can be tempting to use your intuition to predict what will make people convert. But basing marketing decisions on a “feeling” can be pretty detrimental to your results. Rather than relying on guesses or assumptions to make these decisions, you’re much better off always running tests.

With a solid testing plan in place, you can play to your strengths as a small business and put yourself in a position to adapt to changing market trends quickly.

Though there are many different types of tests you can run, there are a few key steps that you’ll always have to implement to ensure you’re gathering useful data…

Pick a variable to test

Look at the various elements in your marketing resources and think of possible alternatives for design, wording, and layout. Keep in mind that even simple changes can drive significant improvements.

Test your marketing plan with our quick Marketing Quiz >

Clearly identify your goal

Are you looking for more calls coming through to the business? Or are you more interested in increasing your website traffic? It’s important to choose a primary metric to focus on before you run the test.

Choose a “control”

Your control is the unaltered version of whatever you’re testing. It’s what you’ll be measuring your test against. If you’re testing the copy on a web page, this is the unaltered page as it exists today.

Give the test time to produce useful data

You’ll want to make sure that you let your test run long enough to gain enough data to make meaningful decisions.

Take action based on your results

No matter what the outcome of your test is, you now have valuable info you can use to inform your decisions. If one variation performed better than the other, you have a winner. Ditch the losing variation (or better yet, test again). If neither is the clear winner, you’ve just learned that the variable you tested didn’t impact the goal you set. Time to try something new.

Plan your next test

There’s always room for more optimization. Take your findings and test another feature of the same page or ad you just did a test on. If you just tested the headline on a landing page, try a new test on body copy or color scheme.

[Related: 4 Ways to Adapt to the New Customer Journey]

Precision

Sure, the big guys with their huge marketing budgets and massive reach have the upper hand when it comes to getting the word out to their potential customers about their products or services. But, believe it or not, starting with a niche is one of the most powerful ways for small businesses to go up against even the biggest giants.

The trick is to determine the right niche and the right positioning for your product or service. You don’t have to do everything to please the entire market. Focus on what you’re good at, make a name for yourself with a small, more targeted community and grow from there.

The beauty of being a small business is that it’s easier for you to really get to know your target market and your customers. They’re your neighbors and friends — they’re the people you interact with every day. And this intimate relationship is the key to winning over more customers.

Pay close attention to what improves the experience of interacting with your brand for each of your customers. Especially what seems inconvenient, difficult, or challenging for your customers. The more frustrations you can eliminate, the smoother and more delightful you make your interactions, the better and more convenient your customer’s experience will be. Use this information to craft a top-notch personalized experience that the bigger brands never could.

By getting to really know your audience, keeping your business offerings simple and narrow and getting creative, you can take pivots the behemoths can’t — and start racking up wins.

Pro tip: Market research

Finding the right niche is going to take some extra homework — market research. That might sound obvious, but how deeply do you really understand exactly where your potential customers are conducting their research and what’s influencing their buying decisions? The answers to those questions are going to be the key to getting the jump on your biggest competitors.

Get the answer to these questions to get a good sense of your market conditions:

What’s the demand?

Is there a desire for your product or service?

How big is the market?

How many people would be interested in your offering?

What’s the location?

Where do your customers live, and where can your business reach?

How saturated is the market?

How many similar options are already available to potential customers?

What’s the average price?

What do potential customers pay for these alternatives?

Disruption

Don’t play a game you can’t win! Small businesses don’t have to play by the rules established by their larger and more established competitors – in fact, they would be foolish to. What SMBs should do instead is look for ways to disrupt the status quo and do things in a different way.

Change the rules and play a game the big guys haven’t even considered yet.

Following your biggest competition will only leave you in their wake, trailing behind to capture their leftovers. Look ahead and ask yourself, “What’s Next?” and plan for “What If?” Embrace disruption in your own business and continually look for ways to improve your capabilities and expand your offerings. Don’t be afraid to scrap a business model for a fresh approach. Your size is your advantage — it’s time to be agile.

Find the interconnected marketing solution that’s right for your goals >

Pro tip: Identifying the “whitespace”

To break through all the noise in the market, you should uncover what your competition isn’t doing. Those areas of opportunity are what we call whitespace.

In the fight to stay competitive, identifying the whitespace in the market where you can gain a strong footing is an essential component to building a successful brand and stimulating business growth.

Here are just a few questions you can ask yourself to see where there might be whitespace in your market:

  • What aspect of the market have your competitors taken their eye off of?
  • Where have they become complacent?
  • What are the weaknesses in their product?
  • Are all of their customers completely satisfied?
  • What do their negative reviews say?
  • Is there a pattern that they’ve done nothing to remedy?
  • Are all demographics of the market happy with them?

[Related: A 4-Step Guide to Analyzing Your Competition on Facebook]

Just keep swimming

As a result of all the modern advancements in technology, SMBs have a real shot at bringing the competition straight to the big guys.

With the right strategy and proper planning, even a small fish can make it big.


Ready to think big? Find out how Hibu’s digital marketing solutions for small businesses can help you compete in your market.

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Ian Messinger

Ian Messinger

A longtime lover of a little alliteration, Ian is Hibu's Senior Copywriter for Marketing and Communications. Since joining in 2007, he's worked closely with the product development and creative services teams to get first-hand knowledge of how Hibu's marketing products help small business succeed online - knowledge he's happy to share with you here!

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