Small business can sometimes feel swallowed by much larger companies, especially on a local level. How can a local diner compete with a chain restaurant that moves in across the street? How can small boutiques lure customers away from the convenience of purchasing an item online and having it delivered a couple of days later?

Even in an age when convenience dominates the customer market, small businesses can win customers. In fact, the drive toward online shopping can work in a small business’s favor, especially if that business is a brick-and-mortar shop. There are benefits to the in-person shopping experience that online retailers can’t duplicate, despite their attempts to do so. Here are seven ways your brand can take advantage of those benefits and win customers away from larger businesses.


The first place to start differentiating yourself is in the products you sell or the services you provide. If you’re a local shop, carry items your customers can’t easily find somewhere else. A local boutique may sell a collection of unique items its owner finds while shopping around with distributors, combined with items made by local artisans or bakers. This not only has the benefit of giving your customers something they can’t get elsewhere, it supports local artists and bankers, pumping money back into the local economy.

If you’re a service provider, you’ll have to bring an extra touch to compete with bigger brands. Often customers choose local providers due to word-of-mouth recommendations and online reviews. You’ll have to work hard to keep customers happy so that the word will spread about the service you provide. For small restaurants, cafés, and diners, the food usually brings customers in above all else. You’ll have to work hard to ensure every customer has a consistently good experience in your restaurant to avoid scaring potential customers away.

Know Your Customers Personally

One of the biggest frustrations customers have with big business is that when they need help, they often have to go through miles of red tape to get it. They call customer support hotlines, only to be put on hold for extended periods of time in order to finally speak to an indifferent customer service representative. Over time, customers long to frequent a business that treats them like people rather than numbers.

To give yourself an edge over the competition, focus on personalizing the experience for each of your customers. Learn your customers’ names and shopping preferences and put that information to use. If you see a product you know one of your customers will like, purchase it and let your customer know you have something in stock they might want to see. Those small extra touches will create a brand loyalty that will continue for many years.

Capture Contact Information

You’ll likely see numerous one-time customers passing through your business over the years. Instead of allowing them to leave, try to capture their contact information to send future offers and discounts. Give them the option of signing up or declining and set up a marketing plan to reach out to them.

Once you have the information, use it responsibly. Over marketing will merely send customers scrambling for the unsubscribe button. Use the latest tools to personalize each marketing message based on customers’ previous interactions with your business. If a customer is getting emails that meet his own personal interests, they’re not only likely to seem less spammy, they’re more likely to lead that customer to take action.

Price Competitively

Larger companies often win customers simply by virtue of being cheaper. As a small business, this means you must remain aware of the going rates for the products you’re providing and price your items either at that point or below. You can do this pricing comparison online usually, since many brands now put their prices on their websites for customers to see.

Service-based businesses should make it easy for customers to pay. This may mean an invoicing process that incorporates one-click online payment. Often, however, it means setting it up so that your service team can accept credit card payments while on the go. Mobile card readers are a great option for growing businesses, since they allow employees to accept payments using their existing smartphones or tablets.

Take Risks

One of the biggest benefits of being small is the flexibility you have from one year to the next. A large business often has difficulty battling its momentum. Even the smallest change takes so much work to implement, it can take months or years.

As a smaller business, you can make changes to your business model without major disruptions. While it’s important to operate consistently so that customers will know what to expect, you can make small changes like selling a new product or starting up a food truck to handle your catering or participate in special events. Don’t be afraid to take risks as a business. Those risks will be the thing that pushes you from small startup to mid-sized business.

Use Tech Tools

Business intelligence solutions are not just for enterprise businesses anymore. There are marketing systems priced from $30 to $1200 a month. Drag-and-drop tools that sync multiple databases to easily visualize data in different ways are available for under $300 a month. Small business owners and managers can now easily analyze business data without needing an IT staff to do it.

Today’s small businesses have the advantage of operating in an era where technology can make even a small business seem large. Cloud tools like accounting software, CRM applications, and business intelligence platforms can give an entrepreneur easy oversight of each aspect of his operations.

For best results, shop several different packages before making a choice. Some software manufacturers gear their offerings specifically to small businesses. You’ll find the pricing and features more in line with what you need. Your larger competitors may be using a complex piece of software like Salesforce, for instance, but is that the best option for your business?

Partner Up

One way for small, local businesses to compete is to join forces. Two businesses located close to each other could team up for a promotion that pulls customers into both places at once. Or they could work together to pay for something they might not have been able to afford separately.

Often small businesses benefit from the support of the local community. Your Chamber of Commerce and community organizations usually seek out ways to promote and help locally-owned businesses. Participate in events specific to this and be active within your local community. This will give you a level of exposure big businesses don’t normally have.

Small businesses are the heart and soul of a local community. By creating a unique, personalized experience for your customers, you’ll offer something your much bigger competitors never can. Local businesses and small startups must realize that they can comfortably coexist with big businesses if they fulfill a completely separate consumer need.


Peter Daisyme is the co-founder of Palo Alto, California-based Hostt, specializing in helping businesses with hosting their website for free, for life. Previously he was the co-founder of Pixloo, a company that helped people sell their homes online, that was acquired in 2012.

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