SME Secret Weapons – How Smaller Businesses Can Take On and Beat Bigger Competitors

how small business beat big businessIn its 50 years, business book publisher Kogan Page has remained buoyant in a sector that is dominated by much larger companies.

The fact that its business is still prospering is testament to a few basic concepts that are as true today as when the company started in 1967. We asked Managing Director, Helen Kogan to share her experiences of how a smaller business can gain competitive advantage over bigger, dominant competitors.

1. Know who you are

One of the major advantages for smaller businesses is the ability to remain authentic and stay close to the company culture. It’s something that global giants struggle with but should be used to full advantage for SMEs.

It’s important to have a clear mission statement and to stay true to your objectives. The emphasis on authenticity and trust has become even more important since the financial crash of 2008, and smaller businesses have a very real opportunity to leverage this against the global giants.

Kogan Page has been able to position itself against much larger competition because it’s been clear about who it is and what its brand stands for.

Many of the highly successful co-publishing contracts the company has won have been secured based on the company’s USP of being ‘small enough to care’ but also ‘big enough to punch its weight’ on a global stage.

2. Keep your loved ones close

Smaller businesses can really ensure that key producers, innovators and staff are completely engaged with the company. Offering a premium care service to your external partners can offer significant pay-back.

Kogan Page is able to compete successfully with global giants by attracting top authors from corporate or academic backgrounds who want to have contact and support throughout the publishing process.

The company‘s emphasis on author care lies at the very heart of what it does. It’s a very compelling USP and something that its competition isn’t really able to offer in the same way.

The same principle should apply to staff. In a highly competitive environment attracting great staff, and keeping them, is a vital component of being successful. Communication and transparency has to lie at the heart of this and ensuring that staff are completely informed of what’s going on in the company should be a priority.

Regular company meetings, weekly email briefings and creating forums, which encourage ideas and discussion from everyone, are all achievable in an SME environment and are a very attractive recruitment and retention tool that can outweigh the attraction of working for a larger company.

Smaller firms can, and should, provide flexibility for staff when at all possible. The payback for this is true engagement and the building of mutual trust.

Employees at SMEs have a fantastic opportunity to be involved in far more than they would be at a larger company and this is a significant advantage in creating an attractive work environment.

3. Make friends

There are significant benefits in creating partnerships with complementary services or partners as a smaller business. The large companies have structures and volume but partnerships, where sales channels are shared or resources pooled, can work well to compete.

It’s really important to use whatever opportunities there are to network to create opportunities. But be patient. Some of these relationships – particularly if they are international – can take time to come to fruition.

We have established great relationships with international sales agents and distributors which have taken time to build but once in place can provide real opportunity to expand into export markets.

A presence at international trade fairs has supported this relationship building and it now sells successfully into 90 different territories and has its titles translated into over 50 languages.

Whatever opportunities are offered by your sector take full advantage of them to meet and network with others.

4. Stay agile

Digital transformation has provided some fantastic new tools which are now easily accessible for SMEs. Larger companies tend to have rigid decision-making processes and hierarchies and therefore struggle to adopt new tactics and work practices.

Technology has helped to create a flat playing field and the opportunities are there for those who are prepared to take them. However, failing fast is a really important principle. Try things, if they don’t work, move on.

Open source has meant that there are some really accessible tools and platforms that smaller operators are far more likely to be able to take advantage of than their larger competitors.

Innovations in marketing, product development and communication tools can transform SMEs and help support them to be first to market.

5. Don’t put your feet up

Most SMEs are owner-managed and this brings with it a level of commitment and engagement that is hard to mirror in larger companies.

It does mean that energy levels need to remain constant and a relentless search for opportunities and spotting new trends has to be maintained. There’s no room for complacency and smaller businesses are often first to spot new opportunities that may get missed by larger organisations.

Kogan Page has lived and prospered through several recessions, enormous sector change, brought about by digital transformation, and changing customer expectations during its 50 years.

This has all been achieved through following the advice given here. It’s not for the weak-hearted but the achievement of half a century of successful business outweighs anything else.

About the author

This article has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Helen Kogan, Managing Director of Kogan Page, an independent publisher of business books which this year celebrates its 50th anniversary.

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