How about that Super Bowl? Even if you didn’t see the entire game, chances are you watched at least parts of the action. I’m always surprised at how Goliath-sized guys often dominate the game, but the smaller players still run rings around them. Not only that, but the smallest running backs are some of the best players in the entire NFL. How? Because being small has distinct advantages. Smaller players are faster, lighter, turn quicker, are harder to see, there’s less to grab onto and they can go through gaps and holes that are too small for the big players to navigate. You don’t hear those little guys saying their size is a disadvantage. They see it as a strength. Because it is.
Companies that lament they’re “too small” can learn from these guys. Smaller companies, like smaller players, have the same distinct advantages over their giant competitors.
If you’re the small player in your industry, think about this. You can be edgier, faster and more responsive in your marketing approach—easily winning clients away from the larger, more established players in your industry. You can do things faster. You can make immediate decisions, allowing you to turn on a dime. You can all do this while being invisible to your competitors, all because you’re small.
I personally experienced this with my data forensics company. I was small, but I went on to sell my small company to a Fortune 500. There were major players in the industry that had been established for years, so when we came onto the market (just my business partner and I), none of our competition even knew we existed.
We took advantage of being the small guys. We immediately went after the projects (holes) larger vendors couldn’t see. For example, we found that there was a lot of investigative work in criminal defense analysis.
This was considered “dirty work,” since it meant we were providing evidence to the attorneys of people who stole stuff. It was a small market, but we quickly became the best provider in that niche. We learned, adjusted and filled the gaps fast. And with that we quickly became the biggest fish in a small pond. Then Enron broke, and guess who got the call to do defense side forensic analysis? Of course we did. By being the smallest, we were able to quickly become the best in the gap. And guess what happened after that case? One of the big players offered to buy our company. We accepted.
Advantages you can leverage by being small:
1. Faster: You can respond to the market faster since; for example, the “rapid re-tooling” of your entire company may only involve 25 employees. A larger competitor may have 2,500 employees to re-tool. If you’re efficient, you’ll beat them to the punch every time.
2. Lighter: The costs of adjusting to market demand is proportionate to your size. So your costs may be dramatically less than the big competitor. Even better? You’re small, so you’ll also adapt faster.
3. Turn on a dime: Can you say, “Approval by committee”? Big companies have dozens of meetings before they sign off on anything—especially major decisions. They change directions very slowly. In a smaller company you may be the sole decision maker. After a quick discussion with a partner, consultant, coach or spouse you can act ... often within hours. You can pivot super fast. The big boys can’t.
4. Invisible: Large companies look at the data for the big projects they win and lose. If you take away business from a big player, chances are they won’t notice. A contract that represents 25 percent of your income may only represent 0.01 percent of the larger player’s business—mere crumbs. They won’t even notice, let alone go hungry or try to beat you up in the market. It’s not worth it to them.
5. Less to grab onto: When you go after a hyper-niche (as I did with my forensic company), even if the big competitors notice (some of ours ultimately did), there’s usually not enough money for them to jump on. We very quickly identified $10 million in annual revenue from just one type of criminal defense forensic project, and believe it or not, that was too small a job for our big competitors.
6. Big companies don’t see small gaps: When you go after hyper niche gaps, you can see the opportunities, but the big guys can’t. They are looking for projects that are 10 to 100 times bigger than what you do, so they won’t even see what you see.
Embrace your (small) size! It’s your greatest strength.
Mike Michalowicz is the CEO of Provendus Group, a business growth consulting group that helps companies whose growth has plateaued to grow again (and fast). Michalowicz is the author of The Pumpkin Plan and the business cult classic, The Toilet Paper Entrepreneur.
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