Five tips to help small companies upscale and compete for big business

Marketing, outsourcing and upgrading your e-commerce offerings are key components of a successful upscale. Here, we take a look at how you can apply them.

You’ve taken an idea and built it up into a successful business. What’s next? If you’ve reached stability in your profits and are ready for the next step, you may be wondering how to compete for bigger business, or even upscale your entire venture.

No matter how well your small business is doing so far, it’s important to keep your feet on the ground when you decide to expand. It’s taken a lot of work to get to where you are now, and you need to make sure you’re not only ready for expansion, but for the changes that you’ll need to make to your business in order to find and sustain that growth.

Marketing, outsourcing and upgrading your e-commerce offerings are key components of a successful upscale. Take a look at how you can apply them.

Smart marketing

In order to get this far, you’ve had to tell dozens – maybe even hundreds – of people about your business. You’ve sold your services, your products and your brand successfully until now, so we’re not here to tell you how to talk to your customers.

But are you in a position to reach a wider audience? Do you know where to find bigger business? Can you convince people to choose you, over your competitors? Marketing your business should be an evolving practice that changes along with your goals.

Here are the key areas to focus on when marketing your business for bigger and better things:

Analyse your social media

Used well, social media is an ever-growing database of prospective business. With such a huge audience, you can find new potential customers to target.. The more relevant followers you have, the greater credibility you’ll have when it comes to competing for big business.

For every social channel and web platform, analytics tools can give you incredibly in-depth information about the demographic of your followers and how they interact with your content.

Use personal and local influence

One of the greatest advantages you have against your competitors is a chance to forge personal relationships with your target audience. Where large corporate firms can only say they care about that connection, you can put in the time and effort to convince people on a personal level.

For every sale you secure and service you provide, focus on making your customers’ experiences as personal and memorable as possible. When you’re competing against industry leaders, you may not be able to match their prices or logistics, but trust and brand loyalty will generate repeat customers and have them talking about your business.

For some small businesses, being ‘local’ will have a huge impact on brand perception. If there is a market for what you’re offering in your local area, you should make that a key focus of your marketing strategy.

People are tiring of corporate takeovers, so it’s no wonder local and independent businesses are booming. That’s not to say that your customers no longer value competitive pricing and the ease of service that comes with global chains; they do. However, if they can find what they’re looking for, support local businesses and receive an outstanding customer experience, they will be more inclined to thank you with their loyalty.

Harness relevant influencers

Social influencers are huge in the fashion and lifestyle sectors, and it’s about time other industries looked at harnessing their reach.

Working together is mutually beneficial – the brand gains exposure, and the influencer receives free products or services, and sometimes commission or a cash incentive too.

To harness the power of social influencers for your business, find accounts that are followed by your target audience. This is crucial – there’s no benefit in reaching thousands of followers if they have no interest or need for your products or services. Once you’ve got a shortlist of desirable influencers, reach out to them to find out what they want in return for promoting your brand.

Create distinct internal frameworks

Having built something from nothing, many business owners find it hard to let go and hand over control when upscaling. It’s understandable, but micro-managing will hold back the people you employ to make life easier. Also, taking on too much for yourself will – as discussed above – take you away from the strategy side of running the business.

As hard as it may be, delegation is essential if you’re looking to expand. Ensure you have a framework that clearly outlines each employee’s responsibilities, and encourage communication between all levels to keep things running smoothly.

Offer user-friendly e-commerce

Selling something? Make sure it’s accessible to your customers. If you have no clear system for getting your products to them, prospective buyers will go elsewhere.

In February 2017, the UK spent an average of £1 billion a week online. Having a bricks-and-mortar shop no longer means trouble for small businesses as the online marketplace continues to expand, and more shoppers are spending money on their smartphones.

If your business relies on product sales, consider selling online. Amazon, eBay, and smaller, more niche marketplaces (such as Etsy), give small retailers access to a whole world of shoppers.
Going online with e-commerce puts you in front of a wider audience; however, as technology advances, your customers will become easily frustrated if your systems aren’t up to date. Make sure your website and other marketplaces are integrated for a smooth customer experience that won’t put potential buyers off making a purchase.

Outsource operations

One of the most widely acknowledged problems that faces growing start-ups is keeping on top of operations and admin. As your business expands, so does the amount of administrative work, giving you less time to focus on strategy, and ultimately, less time making money.

Outsourcing is an effective way to tackle those tasks that get in the way of day-to-day business. It can be far more affordable than expanding your workforce, and the right company will get to know your business as well as you do, so that they can handle everything, exactly how you would want them to.

Consider outsourcing in these areas:

  • Personal assistant tasks and general admin
  • Call answering and customer service
  • IT support
  • Marketing
  • Accounting and financial services
  • HR and recruitment
  • Fulfilment

Think big, stay small

When competing against the big industry names, use your size to your advantage. You may not have the funds, audience or experience that they do, but you have a far greater opportunity to be agile. As trends emerge, you have the freedom to be far more reactive than your larger competitors, and this is something you should strive to keep as you expand.

If you’re concerned that your business is too small to impress big potential clients, consider leasing office space in a busy, desirable location, or set up a virtual office for your company address and outsourced phone calls. You should also amplify any work you’ve done for big clients in the past, as this will make you look more established to those looking to work with you.

Whether you aim to expand or simply take on bigger business opportunities, don’t fall into the trap of continuing as you are. Expanding beyond your means without the necessary preparation could be detrimental to your business’ future. By taking these measures beforehand, you can ensure your business is ready to take new challenges in its stride.

Gemma Tomlinson is marketing manager of Exact Abacus.

Further reading on competing for business

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel

Ben Lobel was the editor of from 2010 to 2018. He specialises in writing for start-up and scale-up companies in the areas of finance, marketing and HR.

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