Entrepreneurs, especially in the early years of developing their businesses, worry a lot about the perceived size of their companies — and they do many things to appear bigger from day one.
Some get larger voicemail systems with lots of options to make it seem like they have tons of employees. Others mention departments and teams that don't really exist to help make sure customers view them as grander than they are. Many take larger advertising spots or trade show booths that they can't afford in hopes of impressing the competition.
But, what's so bad, I'd like to know, about being small? Given the recent economic crisis and the deep-seated resentment consumers feel towards many large corporations, I believe there is no better time to be a small business. We have the advantage of being easier to reach, customer-centric, innovation-driven, and incredibly nimble. Showing the value of our size in savvy ways can help beat big competitors with ease.
Keep this virtue in mind with everything you do, and find ways to communicate about it. How many times have you been told by a big company — and usually by email — that someone would get back to you to address your questions in 24 to 48 hours? Customers want to connect directly with you and they want to know that you do, too. As a smaller entity, focus on making the connection as easy and as quick as possible. If you are able to have real people answer every call, that's not a size deficiency — it's a selling point! Actively communicate about the fact that your customers will always get a live person when they call your business. At Metal Mafia, customers rarely, if ever, get voicemail during business hours — and a real person is available to answer calls for 13 hours out of every day.
When customers contact your company, use your small size to create a very personal interaction with the customer. Large corporations rarely worry about how many different people and departments a customer may be forced to deal with, and they do not hesitate to pile on the phone transfers and the confusion. At Metal Mafia, each customer gets one point of contact, and I teach my employees to talk about that aspect of the relationship as a value. Customers love to know who they can expect to talk to every time they call, and they especially like the idea that one person (whose name they know) is responsible for their well-being.
Big corporations bet heavily on a large stable of products, rather than worrying about making each one perfect. Don't let the number of products a bigger competitor offers make you panic. Quantity does not mean quality. As a small business, my company has always had limited resources in comparison to competitors with deeper pockets. But rather than a handicap, this fact has made us more judicious in our product choices. We may offer fewer items, but we work hard to ensure they are the right items. Our customers come to us knowing they will find what they really need. We also keep our finances in check by developing those products correctly rather than in abundance.
While large corporations lumber forward, constantly slowed by various internal checkpoints on everything from product development to company policies, small businesses can make fast decisions and work to implement them almost immediately. At Metal Mafia, if a customer gives us a suggestion for a new product that would help her, we can make it available in as few as six weeks. If a particular item we sell is an unexpected hit, we can usually replenish it in less than two weeks. Speed is also a core aspect of our shipping strategy. Almost all our orders ship the day a customer makes them. As a small business, you should be able to get even the most complicated products to market faster than any goliath.
So the next time you contemplate acting bigger than you are, think about the advantages of being small — and show the big guys that petite can be powerful.
Vanessa Merit Nornberg owns Metal Mafia, a wholesale body and costume jewelry company.