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What can SMEs learn from the Big Boys?

Are you a small business? If so, you might think that you can’t compete against the industry leaders — or at least that there’s nothing you can learn from their shopper research techniques. If you’re thinking this, you’d be far from the truth. Not only can small businesses learn from the strategies used by companies with a much bigger reach and an incomparable budget; they can pick up where large businesses fail and dive in to scoop up the customers.

From their online presence to their shop floor layout, here are four simple, yet essential ways which SMEs can learn from the successes and mistakes of companies they’d never think of comparing themselves to.

  1. Pay for Good PR — You’re Never Too Small!

As the famous quote by Bill Gates goes: “If I was down to my last dollar, I’d spend it on PR.” Whether or not he actually said this is debatable, but this quote is now infamous among people who work in public relations. Was it said by Bill Gates, or is it something generated by PR companies? Either way, this certainly goes to show one thing — PR is a powerful creature!

A lot of smaller companies don’t understand digital marketing. Because it’s new and startups and SMEs work on shoestring budgets, many shy away from investing real money in something they don’t understand. If you’re wondering what PR and digital marketing companies actually do, just ask them. There’s a reason big brands hire PR companies to generate a media storm on their behalf: PR companies are experts at thinking outside the box, chasing down leads and bringing attention to your business.

If anything, the smaller you are, the more important it is for you to have a solid digital PR team behind you. With no marketing, no-one’s going to know you’re there and you’ll simply fade away into the shadows.

  1. Don’t Assume That You Can Change the Market

A staggering nine out of ten startups fail, which means that if you’re a small business attempting to take on the market, your chances of survival are equivalent to that of a lone gazelle trying to cross a river of alligators. Just because you have a great idea, doesn’t mean it will survive the market, so don’t just rush in. Is it the right time to go forward? Do you have a solid business plan? Is there already a cheaper, better version? Or do you truly have a USP that people will be willing to pay startup prices for?

A great time for small businesses to take notice of the big boys is when assessing the market to see if the time is right — and looking at where they fail. Take Amazon Dash, for instance: Amazon’s small button to place in your home and “instantly” (if two days is instant for you) restock a product when it runs out. The button has produced cries of horror and countless jokes at Amazon’s expense.

Amazon isn’t giving up, but there are some definite aspects of this product that a small company could manage much better. Environmentally, Dash buttons are far from friendly and they encourage thoughtless consumerism. Shopper research suggests both of these are key factors in today’s market. If a small company created something similar that relied on an app rather than a piece of plastic, was environmentally conscious and gave people the impression that they’re still thinking for themselves, they would have a greater chance of succeeding where Amazon is failing.

  1. eCommerce is Where It’s at — No Exceptions

eCommerce is something that isn’t swayed by the whims and idiosyncrasies of the economy. It’s growing. Period. Without an eCommerce store, your business misses out on the chance to sell online. If you have a brick-and-mortar small business, you may not be thinking beyond your neighbourhood. eCommerce opens you up to a whole new world of possibilities to sell your product and isn’t something that should be neglected, let alone omitted completely.

As another instance of something that’s developing constantly, small business owners often omit putting time, energy and money into their eCommerce stores because they either don’t understand it, or because they tried it once but saw limited results. Without a strong user experience and smooth interface, an eCommerce store will drop customers like flies before they make it to the checkout.

Would you open a physical store without paying attention to shopper research techniques and shopping behaviour analysis? An eCommerce store is no different: if you want the customers to complete their transaction, you have to make sure they’re having a positive experience. Large businesses have put time, money and research into their eCommerce stores, making sure customers have a positive experience and will not only buy, but regularly return. If you’re a small business, you should be viewing your eCommerce store as an integral part of your business model — not an accessory.

  1. Use All of Your Space Well

Almost any small business is going to have limited funds, which often leads to limited space. It’s vital that you use every last inch of that space well, especially if you’re running a retail store. While you may consider that you don’t have the budget of large stores — or, indeed, the square footage — to make a difference, shopper research techniques and shopper behaviour analysis show something very different. What music you’re playing, where things are placed, what eye level products are at; everything makes a huge difference to if and what the consumer decides to purchase.

A little shopper research can pay off a huge amount in the future and set you apart from the other businesses that think they’re too small to worry about factors like these. If you’re tapping into that on a daily basis thanks to some crafty product placement, the figures will soon add up; it could well be the difference between making or breaking your business.

Remember: there’s no such thing as “too small” when it comes to having proper marketing and techniques in place. While you may think that large businesses have budgets and markets that are worlds away from yours and aren’t worth looking at for guidance, they all started somewhere. Learn lessons where you can and from whoever you can, and you’ll be the one in ten that survives.

Phillip Adcock is the founder and Managing Director of Shopping Behaviour Xplained Ltd — a shopping research organisation that uses psychological insight to explain and predict how consumers will behave. SBXL operates in seventeen countries for hundreds of clients including Mars, Tesco and B&Q.