We caught up with some small business owners and strategists to find out what they do to get ahead of the competition.
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Australia is home to more than 2 million small businesses, so it’s no surprise that many struggle to find a way to stand out among the crowd.
However, setting yourself and your business apart from the competition is crucial to long-term success. So how do you do it?
I got in touch with a variety of small business owners, successful entrepreneurs and established strategists to ask what they do to stand out. Here’s what they told me.
1. Move quickly
After a spot on 9News, ethical pet food business Scratch saw a sudden and dramatic spike in sales – but the young company didn’t have the capital to meet customer demand.
Reluctant to miss the golden opportunity, the company applied for a business loan so they could fulfil orders and keep products in stock.
“We were able to commit to bigger order sizes very quickly, as we got an early decision and knew we had the funds to keep up with demand,” said co-founder Mike Halligan. “If we’d had to wait even a week, we’d have had to turn to waitlists and miss a lot of the demand that we were getting.”
Scratch’s loan was sourced through digital lender Moula. Mike chose the brand largely because it doesn’t charge any early repayment fees. With orders already coming out of his ears, Mike knew he could pay off the loan as soon as the orders were fulfilled.
“The loan helped us to make more money and we paid it back within weeks,” he told Finder. “We simply wouldn’t have gone ahead with a loan if it carried huge fees for what was a very short-term loan. Moula completely helped us make the most of our sales boom.”
2. Have a vision
Not only did Tristan Wright build a cycling apparel business from his kitchen table, but he later managed to pull it out of debt, rebuild it to even greater heights and eventually go on to sell it.
Now he works as a business coach, showing others where he went wrong and how he righted it. According to Tristan, one of the most effective changes he made was creating a clear vision.
“An often overlooked way that businesses can stand out is to have a vision and mission that align with their values, then ensure that their products, services and content they create then aligns with those values,” he told Finder.
“I often see business owners who want to jump from one shiny object to another, bending to whatever they think the next big money-making idea is, when in reality, once they uncover their values and work to those, clients will be attracted to what they stand for.”
3. Upgrade your offering
Kate Tomlinson and her partner Tom White run White Clover Music, a one-stop-shop for wedding services which offers everything from live music and DJing to event planning and coordination. To date, they have racked up well over 650 weddings.
According to Kate, one of the turning points for the business was when they realised their equipment was holding them back from providing the quality of service they knew they were capable of. After an inspiring lunch with other wedding industry professionals, the couple took the leap and applied for a business loan.
“Previously, our equipment didn’t reflect the service we could provide but when that loan came through, I got the sexiest new DJ decks and Tom got a new guitar,” Kate told Finder. “We looked better, we sounded better and we felt so empowered. We weren’t just making do anymore.”
White Clover’s loan was also sourced through digital lender Moula, which Kate says was the only lender she approached which actually took the time to fully understand the business.
“Our business code categorises us as musicians, even though we do so much more than that,” she explained. “Big banks were looking at that and immediately saying no, but Moula didn’t care about the code. They just asked to look at our funds, saw we had the potential to earn money, and approved the loan.”
Moula works by requesting secure access to a business’s data and accounts. Then it can make a responsible lending decision based on factors such as business profile, time in business and transaction volume.
Alan Manly is a successful entrepreneur who was recognised with the Medal of the Order of Australia (OAM) earlier this year. He told Finder that all business owners should be committed to professional networking and not just doing the bare minimum.
“It’s not just about going to any event when we’re able to, but working out where the potential clients are then becoming part of the furniture,” he said. “Join the industry associations. There is nothing more powerful than a volunteer in a volunteer association.”
Manly also encourages business owners not to abandon some of the traditional strategies that might sometimes be considered outdated in a modern world.
“Small businesses need every break to get a customer,” he said. “Hand out business cards. That business card will go all the way to a person’s home or office, long after they may have forgotten your name.
5. Lean into PR
Oisin O’Callaghan is a director at Watterson Marketing Communications. He told Finder that many small businesses have a misconception that they just can’t compete with big corporations in the world of PR. In reality, they can actually outshine them.
“Small businesses can approach PR in a very different way to stand out from competitors and larger businesses,” he said.
While large businesses typically have regional or global PR programs, these require a lot of planning, strategy and approval processes. On the flip side, small businesses can be more nimble and available for quickfire media opportunities, which are often the most effective.
“Small business leaders also often provide more relevant, direct points that the media appreciates and engages with better,” said Oisin. “They haven’t been media and messaging trained to an extreme degree, often – somewhat paradoxically – leading to more honest and meaningful conversations with journalists. Developing these relationships at an early stage can be beneficial in the long run too.”
6. Be honest
You’re only human and you don’t have limitless resources, so you’re going to make a mistake (or two) and you won’t be able to promise the world. Larissa Pickens, co-founder of career advice platform Worksion, says small businesses shouldn’t shy away from this.
“In a world where customers are constantly bombarded with false promises and sugar-coated campaigns, embrace honesty and wear it proudly,” she said. “It is a seemingly effective way to stand out in a sea of competitors, but it will require you to be bold, courageous and tactful.”
Larissa also encourages small business owners to be honest about what they stand for and own any mistakes, rather than brushing them under the rug.
“Customers aren’t stupid and you’ll be better off being clear and honest with them,” she told Finder. “If you messed up, there’s no need to hide or lie — just remember to follow it up with a solution.”
Business agility specialist Rob Gaunt has worked with some of Australia’s most successful companies, including Afterpay, WooliesX and Cochlear. He told Finder that adaptability is key.
“Fallout from the coronavirus crisis has proved to many small businesses that competition has increased in their sector and that you need to move fast to capitalise on your market,” he said. “If your small business can quickly adapt to the challenges you face, there may be real opportunities that open up, and put you head and shoulders above your competitors.”
8. Be strategic with social content
If you’re yet to delve into social media, it’s time to stop putting it off. Jake Munday, CEO and co-founder of Custom Neon, said social media and online content can go a long way to getting a small business noticed and building a loyal following.
“The demand for video content has skyrocketed in the last year, so utilise this on YouTube or your website to not only illustrate what your business does, but also put a face to the business name, further solidifying you as a business that can be trusted,” he said.
“If your company is focused more on the Gen Z demographic, social media marketing, Instagram Reels and TikTok are great ways to get noticed. If you are a customer-facing business, make your venue super Instagram-able. If there is a great photo opportunity to be had, punters will come for miles!”
9. Evolve your offering
Liz Nable, who owns a multi-site health and fitness business, says she regularly discusses the topic of standing out within her business community. While it can be challenging, she says there are always opportunities to stand out.
“Evolving your traditional service or product offerings, creating a really connected online community, collaborating online with other complementary businesses and brands, outstanding customer service and becoming an expert in your field are all really practical ways you can help your business stand out from the crowd,” she told Finder.