It’s a cruel catch 22. You have a brilliant technology or service that will save the world, yet you have no size to play with the big boys. You know with a burning conviction that, if given the chance, you will deliver the next best thing since sliced bread… with a great dollop of marmalade.
The problem is – you’re too small, and that seems to be the catch for everything. You lack capital, human resources, clients, reputation, exposure and credibility in the market. And, because of all that, no one wants to know you.
What is an SME to do?
First, you can make yourself look bigger. This often comes down to your own psychology, how you choose to think of yourself. If you think small, you will be small, look small and stay small.
On the other hand – think big, act big, look big, become big. On your side is the internet. Even the smallest can take on gigantic proportions, thanks to various options on the internet. A website can generate exciting appeal, but don’t go using the same sort of ‘small time’ language and content, such as plastering the owner’s picture everywhere, or showing that you only have a few staff members.
With something that is well-designed and uses images that express size, and copy language that says leadership, you can generate big impressions, to make yourself more attractive to deal with.
A case in point was a client who needed to work with Hollywood studios. Its animation and graphics are at the high end, and used with the big name blockbusters. A key to getting Hollywood execs to take an interest was ensuring that its website, a ﬁrst point of call, didn’t announce its smallness.
I often get the question, “How do I make myself look more ‘corporate’?” I think the right question is, “How do I make myself look bigger?” When you get right down to it, a clean and simple use of design, with a strong and simple logo can do wonders for an SME wanting to look big. Or, at the very least, as attractive as possible for others to deal with.
Restaurants are a terrific benchmark
When you go out to eat, on a spur of the moment sort of thing, where are you more inclined to go? Let’s say you have a hankering for Indian, and you go down to the restaurant district, spot an Indian restaurant and it is empty. Next door, the Italian joint is bursting at the seams. Where will you eat?
Often, you’ll pick the busy restaurant, especially if you’re in a foreign land. A restaurant that is empty looks and feels dangerous; you’re exposed somewhat, but also there is a huge connection at work here. Full equals safe, because, logically, that restaurant has the best to offer, that’s why everyone goes there.
Therefore, empty equals danger, because no one is there.
As a company you need to do the same. You need to ﬁll seats as it were, by ensuring that the company has all the appearance of being highly popular, busy, with a bustling trade. Otherwise others will perceive you as a threat, dangerous even.
You achieve this by having customer case studies on your website, and by updating your website at least twice a year. Make sure you are listed in business directories, sponsor industry events, get involved with industry events and create events that you sponsor. And there is a key difference here!
Many go down the path of putting on a customer event, where they hold centre stage. Well, guess what – customers do not care about you, OK? Customers care about themselves, so cater for that. Make an event that educates or inspires them, and then sponsor it, along with others. So the star of the show is the concept or theme you select, and your brand is there, associated with success.
The fact is: winners work with winners. And you have to look at what resources you have available to nurture that human need. Ever heard of guilty by association? Well, that can be a very positive thing. By associating yourself with winners and success, the ‘natural’ conclusion people will draw is: your brand is a winner.
There are a number of ways to do this.
First, get the best people you can, and when you get them, pay them well. Also, if you are small, attract the best advisory board you can and, if needed, offer equity in exchange for them helping you reach milestones. If you are slightly larger and can look at a board, again, get the best you can.
Take a good look at your industry, and what the potential is. It’s funny that many SMEs are ﬁghting tooth and nail, holding on to all their cards for dear life, not sharing anything with anyone, when the reality is, there is plenty of business for everyone.
For example, the global water industry is valued at a trillion dollars. That’s a fair sized market. So, if you are in that industry, and are small, why not look at who you can collaborate with, even those you think of as competitors? Alone, you’ll struggle to really crack it, but with strong partners, you multiply your opportunities and also can deliver a bigger and more valued package.
The other thing that hurts is lack of money. Large corporations and government, as a matter of policy, often won’t consider you if you don’t have enough capital. The simple reason is if you go broke, what do they do? Or, if you make a mess, who will pay for the clean-up?
Again, here is where you need to consider partnerships, or get a big sponsor to back you. Sometimes, you need to bite the bullet and understand that you won’t get there, unless it is holding hands with a giant.
It worked for Bill Gates, and he came from a garage.