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How Your Small Business Can Beat a Larger Competitor

pawn beating king in chess game


Is it possible to start a small business today that competes with an established, successful company—and win?

The answer, of course, is yes.

Big companies get beaten in the marketplace all the time.

Want proof? Of the top 100 companies listed in the Fortune 500, 38 were new to the list in the years between 2000-2010. New, innovative companies are not just solving new problems. In many cases, they solve old problems better than existing companies. And when they do it well, they replace them.

So how does your small business compete (and win) against a larger competitor?

By choosing the battle field and competing in a different way.

Battle of Salamis—How Small Businesses Can Beat a Large CompetitorFirst, a history lesson, courtesy of Dave Trott. Remember the Battle of Salamis in 480 BC? Okay, maybe this one didn’t stand out in high school history class.

But it should have. There’s a great strategic lesson to be learned there.

This was a naval battle between the Persians who had more than 1200 massive ships and the Greeks, who had just 371 smaller boats. The Persians were the greatest military force in the world. They had conquered everyone but the Greeks. And the Greeks didn’t stand a chance against this superior military force.

But the Persians were humiliated.

How? The Greeks lured the Persian force into the Straits of Salamis, where their smaller boats could easily navigate, but where the Persians couldn’t. The Greeks hit the Persians from the side. The heavier, bigger Persian ships couldn’t turn in the shallow straits to attack. The Greeks circled around the almost helpless Persians and punched holes into their ships below the waterline. The Persians lost more than 300 ships. And after the disastrous loss, they retreated to Asia.

End of history lesson.

David can beat Goliath. But not in a sword fight. He has to change the battlefield (stand far away). Choose a different weapon (a sling and stones). Come from an unexpected angle. That is the only way he can win against a superior enemy.

Need more examples?

Google is a massive search engine that controls more than 60% of all search traffic. But that doesn’t stop a small search engine like DuckDuckGo from taking them on. They found a weak spot in Google’s armor (privacy) and exploit it mercilessly. They may never put Google out of business, but they have carved out a nice market niche for their service—one that is growing and profitable.

McDonald’s is the king of burger makers, having sold more than 300 billion hamburgers since the 1950s. But that hasn’t stopped dozens of up-start competitors from coming at them from the side—once small businesses (now bigger) like Five Guys, SmashBurger, and In-N-Out Burger have found a way to compete with a giant (fresh ingredients, more choices, different combinations) that McDonald’s struggles to match.

Intuit controls the small business financial software industry with its Quickbooks products. But that hasn’t stopped several competitors like Wave, Freshbooks, and Kashoo from creating simple-to-use solutions that hit Quickbooks where it hurts (simplicity and ease-of-use).

So how can your small business win against a larger competitor? You don’t out muscle them, you out think them. Out maneuver them. Figure out where your competition is weak, where they can’t respond, or where they don’t care to compete. Then go after them.

If David can slay Goliath, why not you?


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