5 Marketing Tips for Small Businesses to Compete with Big Business
Here's something I hear all the time.
"We want to do what they're doing?"
This is what I hear from a lot of business owners when their small business wants to grow. They tell me, we want to do what that MASSIVE business is doing!
Because I don't beat around the bush, I'll respond with a question that sounds like this: "What have you already done to help you do that?"
It's a disarming question; on purpose.
Here's the deal, if you're a small business owner, today, in the here and now, you shouldn't be trying to mimic a Fortune® 500 company.
You shouldn't be trying to be anybody else period.
But you do compete with these businesses on one term or another, whether you sell an identical product, sell your wares or services to the same people or simply have your building in close proximity to theirs.
And this post isn't suggesting you shouldn't compete. It's telling you, don't be someone else.
That's not how you etch your own individual place in the market and it's certainly not how you grow.
If somebody's already done it and you know they do it better than you, don't try to do it too. There can only be one winner.
Face facts. They beat you. It's why Jim Collins in his book Good To Great says:
And you want results, right?
So the question is not, how can we do what they do?
The question is, how can we do what we do better so we can compete?
This blog exists to help you answer that question. It will equip you with simple tools to cut out all of the noise surrounding your business and provide laser focus into how you improve your company's bottom line, and if you do it right, your culture as well.
If you want to compete with the big boys, you can't play their game. You have to be adaptable, uncompromising and have a bit of ingenuity.
Like all complex problems, start with the basics. Here are 5 marketing tips to help your small business compete with the big companies.
Tip 1: Identify your target market
The Hedgehog Concept
You should already know who your potential customers are and what your business goals are to help acquire more or to serve them.
But have you truly, and I mean truly, spent the time to evaluate who it is you're trying to serve?
It may seem benign and simple but this tip is a lot more important than you think.
Let's use an example shall we?
If you provide payroll services at a local level to small businesses, your target market is going to be pretty straightforward. It might look something like this.
Any business within a 50 mile radius that has less than 25 employees and/or has annual revenue between $500K and $10 million.
That's it. That's the basic target market.
But if I asked the business owner a few questions, would they stick to the target market or not?
ME: If a Fortune® 500 company wanted to work with you, they told you they'll sign a contract today, would you take them?
BUSINESS OWNER: Of course! That'd be amazing.
ME: What about someone from a couple states away who makes $20+ million in yearly revenue?
BUSINESS OWNER: That'd be a big fish! You bet.
This is obviously unlikely but what's amazing is how many business owners believe that they should be going after the one big account.
You're a small business. You might want to be a medium or large business someday and you may think the one big account can help you do that.
At least the payroll company I used as an example can't.
How quickly did the business owner go against their target market because of the shiny thing that flashed before them.
Fortune® 500 companies rarely get dropped in a small business owner's lap.
That business owner told me their target market is within 50 miles and does an average yearly revenue between $500K and $10 million a year. If a company from another state or worth $100 million a year got dropped in their lap, would they even be able to serve them?
If you want to be a big company someday, you need to stick to what you know and make yourself better at that concept than anybody else. Jim Collins calls it the Hedgehog Concept and here's its definition:
The Hedgehog Concept calls on companies to identify their core value proposition (or the primary thing that they do well) and focus on that. The concept says that scattering ones interests and objective causes a lack of focus, competency, and efficiency. Thus, it results in getting little done. Focusing on the thing that a company does well is the best method of achieving the objectives of that activity. (source: thebusinessprofessor.com)
Translation: if it's not what you do better than anybody else or if it goes outside of what you can handle, it's a distraction, plain and simple, and it's just as likely to end poorly as actually propel your business to new heights.
Focus up your marketing strategy
If you want to know what it is you do better than anybody else, you have to ask the question and you have to be brutally honest.
There are plenty of airlines who might look at Richard Branson and think, wouldn't it be cool if our airline were like his, but what would be Delta's, United's, Southwest's and other airline's biggest problem if they thought that way?
They're not Richard Branson.
The airline who knows that better than any other is Southwest. They know they're not Virgin Atlantic and they know their target market is not the same people who set foot on a Virgin plane.
So what does Southwest do better than any other airline? It's right their in their purpose statement:
Connect People to what’s important in their lives through friendly, reliable, low-cost air travel.
"Connect People...through friendly, reliable, low-cost air travel."
Virgin Atlantic finished 2021 at $3.7 billion and Southwest finished at $5 billion.
On paper they look like competitors but they couldn't be farther from it in terms of target market.
Aside from the pandemic, Southwest saw consistently steady rises over the last 10 years, all by sticking to what they do best.
So what are we to learn from all this?
Southwest was able to continue to grow in the market because they followed their purpose statement to the letter. They weren't concerned with people who had disposable income, they were concerned with people who wanted a friendly, low-cost option.
They stuck to their concept and target market and they grew.
That's what you need to do.
Asking the right questions and creating a buyer persona
So you've learned you can't beat someone who already is the best at something and it's easy to be distracted with the big account or a lot of money at once.
Here's how to avoid the distractions and getting sidetracked and build what you do well into becoming what you do better than everybody else.
It's called creating a buyer persona, and while you should go even further in depth than we will here (we really like HubSpot's take on it) you should be able to answer these questions and so long as you do and you answer them honestly, you're going to be ready for tips 2-5 to help you compete with big business.
But right before the questions, if you've never heard of a buyer persona, here's what it is:
Buyer personas are semi-fictional representations of your ideal customers based on data and research. They help you focus your time on qualified prospects, guide product development to suit the needs of your target customers, and align all work across your organization (from marketing to sales to service).
As a result, you'll be able to attract high-value visitors, leads, and customers to your business who you'll be more likely to retain over time. (source: HubSpot)
Questions to help you identify your target prospective customers through the buyer persona concept:
- What gender is this person?
- What's their annual salary?
- What's their political leanings?
- What car do they drive?
- Where do they shop?
- What are their weekend activities?
- What is this person's key frustrations?
- What are their goals (using your product and in general)?
- And more
We really like this example of a buyer persona for a local cafe.
By having a buyer persona established, and it's totally cool to have more than one but keep it to less than four, you'll know exactly who you're trying to serve.
Anyone who falls out of these personas is not worth targeting. You'll also start wrapping your brain around how to talk to these specific people, and that's where tip 2 comes in.
Tip 2: Make your website your number one employee
Want to know the key reason your website isn't your number one employee right now? It doesn't serve the user. This is endemic among thousands of business websites and it's something that can be easily fixed if you put the time in.
So how does your website specifically not serve your user? Probably in one or several of the following ways:
- It's not crystal clear on what it is you do.
- You're selling too much.
- You expect people who land on your website to "get it", IE: know where to go and what to do.
- It doesn't load quickly.
- There's no clear call to action (CTA).
- Your content strategy is vague.
- You lack a positive review of any kind.
- There are no case studies.
- Your shopping cart has too many requirements to buy something.
- And a hundred other things.
You're probably thinking, but hang on a second, I'm not a website designer, how am I supposed to know how to do this?
Stay tuned for tip 4 on that.
But in short, your website is the only employee/salesperson who stays up 24/7. It's the only one that can show up in Google or fit on a mobile device.
It needs to do its job better than you do yours.
If your website doesn't speak to your target market, whatever marketing efforts you pour into it will be completely wasted.
So how do you stop wasting that time and losing that business?
1. Get your website found
This is covered more in depth in tip 4 but in short, you need to make sure your website speaks to two people: your target market and Google.
2. Make sure it works
Your website should load quickly, fit to all screens, have a main menu that's easy to navigate, a shopping cart that's easy to check out from and content that's easy to read, is unique and makes sense.
3. Focus up the content
Remember, you have a buyer persona now (or a couple). You know that customer. You know how to talk to them. Your website should be doing just that.
Don't mimic another company who doesn't do exactly what you do or serve your exact market. You want standout content that establishes your position and the prospective customer shouldn't have to stumble through dozens of pages or cumbersome menus to find out what you do.
4. Make it obvious
Listen, you probably go to your website everyday. You want to know who doesn't? Your prospective customer.
They don't have a clue what to do and how to do it when they first arrive.
You need to make it obvious, without being egregious, what you want them to do.
Want people to call you? Make sure your phone number is always present at the top of the site, regardless of where they click or scroll.
Want form fill outs? Have a button directing them there before they even scroll.
Want them to check out of your shopping cart? Make it easy as pie to put items in the cart, make sure the cart is always visible and help them checkout in fewer than 5 clicks.
Be serious with yourself
Pull no punches when it comes to your website performance. If you look at your website's user-experience through rose colored glasses, you're never going to seriously improve.
Remember, it should be your number one employee. If you don't train an employee, if you don't invest time and attention into making an employee better, how could you reasonably expect it to be the best?
Tip 3: Have a keyword strategy
OK. You have your buyer personas and your website is now behaving like a number one employee should, now what?
You need that website to get found in Google, right?
That happens through relevant keywords.
Think of keywords as your primary products or services that you want your website to get found for.
As you well know by now, when a prospect is looking for what it is you do, they go to Google first. In fact 93% of all online consumers start their web experience with a search. (marketkeep.com)
So what does that mean for your business website? It could look amazing and operate perfectly but if it's not found on the top pages of search engines, it's a beautiful billboard in the desert.
What you need is search engine optimization (I'll explain in tip 4) and how you can tie all the tips together to truly get your website found and producing leads and sales—closing the gap on the large companies.
But most SEO strategy is going to start with keywords. These keywords are going to feature prominently on your website to make sure that when people search your products or services, that you are ranking highly for those searches.
Gathering a list of keywords isn't as hard as you think and there are a ton of keyword research tools out there that can get you on the right path.
These SEO keywords will be the baseline of what sort of unique quality content marketing you're going to produce on your site.
What's are long-tail keywords?
We say "long-tail" for a very specific reason. Emphasis on "specific".
If you're trying to make your website competitive for the first time, you don't want to be going after keyword phrases that are super competitive and generic. It doesn't serve you to do so.
Effective SEO keywords will focus on a specific thing you do.
For instance, if you're a local auto body shop, you may want to rank in Google for something like "tires" but your small business website is never going to sniff page one for something so generic.
Why? You're going to be competing with the likes of Goodyear, Tire Rack and other superstores. Plus, not specifying a location means you're competing with the whole world.
However, a long-tail keyword phrase like "tire repair near me Scranton PA" is much more likely to not only show your site on the top pages of Google but help you get found in Google Maps as well.
There's way more to getting on page one of Google than just choosing the right keywords (if it was easy, anybody could do it) but it's nearly impossible to get to the top page of Google for something generic when you're just starting out.
Gathering your list of keywords
Finding a target keyword for your business (or multiple long-tail keywords) is actually pretty simple.
You just need the right tools.
Here's an example of doing keyword research in SEMrush.
And here's another example:
How many primary keywords should you have?
Like we said, having a specific primary keyword in the beginning is a great first step. We recommend gathering up to four or five "I want to rank #1 for these keywords over any other" type keywords and having maybe one or two support keywords under each of those.
Let's use us as an example. We're a digital marketing agency who specializes in search engine optimization.
Primary keyword: small business search engine optimization services
Support keyword: small business SEO services Kansas City
Primary keyword: local SEO small business
Support keyword: local SEO services Kansas City
Primary keyword: affordable SEO services near me
Support keyword: best SEO specialists in Kansas City
Primary keyword: best SEO agency Kansas City
Support keyword: how to do off-page SEO for small business
You get the idea.
The primary keyword is already specific, because we're trying to compete appropriately. We're not just going after "SEO" or even "SEO Kansas City" or even "SEO services Kansas City".
Think of the primary keyword as a page on your website. You should be able to write crystal clear and unique quality content about that primary phrase.
If you want standout content, it needs to not only explain the keyword in detail and your role in it, but it needs to be resourceful to the site visitor. Don't be over the top with sales.
And speaking of don'ts, here are a few other don'ts when it comes to your content creation.
- Don't put the keyword on the page more than a few times - Google hates spammy content and placing a keyword on a page too much is a black hat SEO technique called "keyword stuffing".
- Don't produce too little - this is called thin content and if you can't talk about it at length, it probably shouldn't be a primary keyword.
- Don't plagiarize - it certainly won't be standout content if someone else has already done it.
- Don't just have content - your content should link to other pages on your site.
Follow the basic rules above and you'll be on your way to writing standout content that not only humans love to read but search engine algorithms will want to rank you for.
But remember when I said that there's a ton of other stuff that goes into your SEO efforts.
That's no joke. There's over 200 things you should be doing to help you rank in Google.
And you might be thinking, but I don't have time to do 200 things.
And you're probably right.
That's where tip 4 comes in.
Tip 4: Hire a professional digital marketing company
You probably saw this coming and there's good reason for it.
If you want to think of digital marketing as getting found in Google, you're really talking about search engine optimization (SEO) and if you're talking about helping your business website rank in Google (and actually succeeding in doing that quickly), you're talking about business SEO services.
So how does SEO marketing actually work?
It can be broken down into four basic facets:
Technical SEO: making sure your website speaks to Google algorithms through structural and contextual work.
On-page SEO: the content that talks about your keywords (tip 3).
Off-page SEO: we'll cover that here in tip 4 but it's essentially expanding your digital footprint through off-page entities like forums, directories and social profiles.
User-experience (UX): making sure your website is your number one employee by loading quickly, fitting to all screens and being super easy to use (tip 2).
To do this stuff correctly means you're achieving SEO rankings by following Google's Guidelines. It's a handy little tool that's hundreds of pages and filled with technical geek speak.
That's why you'd want a professional SEO company to handle the load.
Are affordable SEO services actually affordable?
Let's put it this way, getting your website to be your number one employee is going to cost something.
It's going to cost time, money or both.
But when you hire a professional SEO agency at an affordable cost, you're going to find that your time and your monetary investment might not be as much as you think.
And it's certainly way cheaper than trying to hire a marketing employee who "does your marketing" and has no core competencies.
Here's the general breakdown:
Common questions business owners have about affordable SEO services
How can local SEO services help a small business owner in 2022 and beyond?
Local SEO services are going to help you get found in your local area. SEO agencies are hugely valuable for local businesses because their service will not only make sure your website looks good for long-tail local keywords but they'll also make sure you get found in Google Maps and have recommendations to help you gain positive Google Reviews and avoid negative reviews.
In short, trusting your local SEO services to a professional provider will build your online visibility to a point where it gets harder and harder for your potential customers to avoid you for important search queries to your business.
What is the best Search Engine Optimization company?
There are a lot of good agencies and a lot of not so good agencies. But if you truly want to find a great agency, you can look at places like Clutch or UpCity and of course, check Google Reviews for these companies.
How would I increase my sales through SEO?
Having hyper-specific real business goals, a website that is your number one employee, and hiring a professional SEO company to help you with organic search rankings is all going to turn your website into something that ranks highly and can attract more visitors.
Once visitors land on the site, it's up to your brand and the user-experience of your site to help convert these people. But remember, these people will be coming from highly specific long-tail keywords that are important to your business. If they land on your site and you don't make it difficult for them to engage with your brand, the sales will come.
What should you look for in small business SEO services?
With so many selections in the United States, you will be able to find high-quality SEO marketing in numerous places. So we recommend focusing on a few basics:
- Are they willing to teach you their process?
- Do they provide full transparency in pricing, recorded meetings, analytics, messaging and more?
- Do they guarantee their results?
- Do they communicate well?
- Do they come highly recommended?
- And more
When you consider that business SEO companies cost less than a marketing employee and take less time than DIY, as well as being more effective than DIY or an employee, it's clear to see that affordable SEO services are a real thing and proper execution of those services will help you close the gap on larger competitors.
Tip 5: Measure everything through digital tools
All right, you've invested time in identifying your target market, you've made strides on helping your website become your number one employee, you have a keyword strategy and you've hired a professional digital marketing agency to help you.
You need to determine if it's working.
What SEO tools should you be using to make sure it's working?
Here are the top 5 tools that will help you see if your digital marketing strategy is working and if you're getting return on your time and monetary investment.
1. Google Analytics
This tool helps you see what's happening when someone lands on your website. See things like what pages they landed on, how long they were there for, what country they came from, what source (Google organic, paid, social media, referral) they found you from, how often they leave without doing anything (bounce rate), whether it was desktop or mobile searches and a whole lot more.
In fact, Google Analytics is so in-depth, they have a whole academy course that you can go through to get Google Analytics certified.
2. Google Search Console
This tool gives you a ton of data on how you're showing up in Google SERPs (search engine results pages).
See your top search term, your top impressions (how often you show up in Google), compare periods to see growth and see your click through rate (CTR).
Once more, see your average position in search ranking and check in on the site's health by seeing broken pages, errors and more.
We like to think of Google Search Console as the school principal of the site. It sees how many people are enrolling in your marketing strategy and paying attention to any red flags.
3. Google Business Profile (also known as Google My Business)
A fantastic tool for all kinds of small business, especially local ones. Google Business Profile is your online business listing that lets you show business hours, your various business locations, your business address, your holidays / out of office days, and of course your phone number, website and more.
Google Business Profile really is the foundation stone to getting you found in local search. It supports local directory listings and provides invaluable business insights when it comes to how many people see your Google Map listing as well as contact you or request directions to your office.
If you're not sure where your Google Business Profile is at, this is a high priority item. Learn more about it here.
As you've already seen from tip 3, SEMrush is a fantastic tool that helps you identify important primary keywords and long tail keywords that you'd want to be found for online.
Here's a super helpful video, direct from SEMrush in how to rank #1 in Google for beginners.
When we consider that your website only gets one shot to convert somebody, you need to find where the gaps are.
That's where HotJar comes in. It's a fantastic tool that produces heatmaps, and more importantly records peoples' interactions on your website to give you valuable insights into how your website is being perceived by visitors.
Learn more about it right here.
You might be wondering, what do all these tools cost me?
Google Analytics, Google Search Console and Google Business Profile don't cost a thing. SEMrush is just south of $100/month and HotJar has a free trial.
Here's the good news, if you follow through with tip 4 and hire a professional digital marketing company, they're going to have access to all of these and you won't have to pay a penny for it.
That get's more valuable business insights in your hands to accompany your focused digital marketing strategy.
Tying it all together
Here's what I know, if you've read this entire post, you're serious about helping your business and you know that online marketing and SEO are some of the most cost-effective ways to help close that gap on those larger competitors.
You also know that trying to mimic somebody else who's already the best at something, means you're going to be the best at nothing.
So get out there and find your hedgehog (what you're best at) and get super targeted (buyer persona and long-tail keywords), make sure your website can become your number one employee (user-experience) and hire an expert to help you tackle it all (SEO services company).
You put all those things in place, and pay very close attention to the stats, it will be nearly impossible for your business not to grow, your culture not to improve and your future to not be solidified.
So let's start back at the beginning.
What are you best at and how will you do it better so you can compete?