How A Tiny Business Can Beat Big Competitors

Part 3: Live off the land

This is part two of a 3 part series on how to beat your competition.

The purpose of the series is to give you 3 strategies that you can use to gain an advantage in the marketplace, and ultimately get customers to choose you over competitors.

These strategies are meant for small companies, even one person, that are at a resource disadvantage compared to their competitors.

Part 1 contains the introduction to the series, and the first strategy: counter-positioning.

Small companies in a large competitive landscape need to learn first and foremost how to utilize what little resources they have available to them.

The results from building off of what you have instead of bringing in outside resources will generally create a stronger and more durable business anyway.

Founders who live off the land tend to prioritize resourcefulness, originality, and attention to detail. Conversely, people who don’t live off the land tend to prioritize size or growth, status markers, and best practices.

I’m not saying if you raised funding or have some other form of external leverage that you can’t have an ethos of living off the land. I’m saying that when you learn to live off the land you don’t require external leverage to succeed.

It will force you to prioritize sustainability from day one.

Build small then build on top of it

The key to living off the land is seeking to be effective over being efficient. In other words, focus on finding what works instead of what you can do a lot of.

An example would be the method from earlier of finding 10,000 potential customers and reaching out to them one by one. Does it scale like ads or content? No. But it does work assuming you actually have a product that is fit for them.

But marketing and growth isn’t the only place starting small and effectively pays dividends. When you force yourself to think and build small, you get rid of the good ideas in favor of the great ones.

If you could only sell one product, which one would it be? If you could only use one marketing campaign or process, what would that look like?

If you could only pick one, you’d think harder about which one was the best.

Then, after you’ve successfully built something small, you build on top of it using the same line of thinking. What’s one thing you can add that will have the largest results?

If the focus is on effectiveness, you will usually innovate your way through problems instead of searching for best practices.

Sure, some people spout the phrase “don’t reinvent the wheel” in an effort to encourage you to stick with what already works. But, especially in today’s environment, best practices become dated tactics very quickly.

Take as an example, Tesla. If they were building their company based on industry best practices they would have sold dealership franchises to get people to buy their cars. Instead, thinking through the issue from first principles, they decided to instead go direct-to-consumer with showrooms and e-commerce points of sale.

That not only got the job done of selling cars but saved them 30% of their profit margin which is usually the margin of dealerships.

Raise money from your customers

If you are truly living off the land and didn’t take any outside money, then it’s your customers that provide all the funding for your business.

This is great because it keeps you focused on your asset’s market, not the asset market. That’s just a snarky way to say the business becomes about selling something customers want instead of selling itself as a product to investors.

When you want more money, you have to do it by negotiating acceptable terms with your customers. That might mean you find more customers, launch a new product, or change your pricing model, but at the end of the day, your customers will have to agree to give you more money, likely in exchange for more value from you.

This keeps you incredibly aligned with the marketplace. And that alignment will create a wider moat for your competitors to tend with.

It also turns your customer base into your most important asset. They won’t only be the ones paying you, they’ll also take part in promoting you and making the product better through feedback.

Focus on the effective few

In entrepreneurship, especially in the startup days, there is immense pressure to attempt to do all the things you could be doing.

So often a struggling entrepreneur asks an open question to an open audience on Reddit or Twitter or Indie Hackers how to go about marketing their product.

Each time the answer points them toward a side project like building an audience, doing SEO, or starting a podcast or youtube channel.

What it assumes is that you can’t market a project without having some type of distribution asset at hand.

Putting it mildly, that’s an amateur move.

It’s true it’s easier if you already have 40,000 followers who are likely to be qualified prospects for your product, but building a distribution channel and marketing your product is not the same thing. And you need present customers, more than you need future customers.

Focusing on the effective is focusing on what works now, not what might work later or what might work if only you had some nebulous additional resources like funding or an engaged audience.

The trick is after you find the thing that is the most effective at your disposal, keep doing it and then look for ways to make that more efficient.

The thing is effectiveness, which is about getting results, and efficiency, doing a lot of things faster, always seem like opposites.

Finding real potential customers, reaching out to them manually, having a conversation about the problem you solve, and then asking them to buy your product, is an incredibly effective way to get more customers. It just works.

But it’s horribly inefficient compared to the sound of things like content marketing, social media ads, and going viral on TikTok.

Yet, if you do a lot of the former, you could easily get to a point where you are getting 2 or 3 customers a day. And you’d be surprised how quickly that momentum builds.

Conclusion

If I could sum up an ethos for how to compete with giants, it would be: Don’t Diversify. Instead, be extremely targeted with how you spend your resources whether that be in time, money, or energy.

Like in investing, diversifying spreads you out and averages your results where you should be focusing on only the highest return activity. You don’t abandon what’s working unless you’ve found something better.

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