The year 2015 is expected to be one that will throw up plenty of surprises, unexpected and on a global scale. There is a lot of optimism regarding the economic green shoots that are visible all across the world but there are also niggling worries.
Startups and small businesses that managed to stay afloat during the economic downturn and have continued to grow can aim for a bigger slice of the consumer spending pie. But competing in a more demanding, connected, crowded and still-slow economy is not going to be easy.
The markets are no more generous to all out there so you will have to fight hard to gain and retain customers. And that involves standing up to the goliaths as well.
Big multinational companies have several advantages due to their size, brand recognition, money power and marketing abilities. But they are also hampered by the inability to know their customers directly and the high risks involved in every key decision-making process.
Related Article: 5 of Your Biggest Startup Problems Solved
If you want 2015 to be a sellout year for your business here are a few encouraging signs for you.
It's the Right Time to Start Small
2014 proved to be a good year for startups, and 2015 too promises to be better.
The American economic model is thriving with the Dow ending the year at 17,983. Tech IPOs are back in vogue, and the investors are happy to pump money into markets again. Cloud-based technologies help you reach out to customers as well as access capabilities in any part of the world.
Bowery is a NYC-based startup that didn’t start out with big money in its kitty. They offer on-demand coding environments which can be set up in less than 30 seconds and lets developers share them with co-workers in real time. The founders launched their desktop version in October 2014 and have raised a $1.5 million in seed funding.
Hampton Creek was launched in early 2013 to encourage non-animal based and egg-free eating habits with a venture capital backing of $2 million. Today it has Unilever fighting against one of its products - Just Mayo - for market share and has raised over $90 million, in addition to an early round of $30 million funding a few months back. If you have a stellar idea and the passion to sell it to the right people, you will definitely find end users as well.
The potential market is the whole world and investors and VCs know that. Startups and small businesses can start small, but need not by any means remain so.
There Is a Galore of Online Marketing Opportunities
To exploit the online marketing opportunities you need to gear up your personality to meet the unique challenges of the medium. And it’s no different from our real world.
The person with the largest number of contacts naturally has an edge over the socially-awkward and introverted shopkeeper. If the former sells poor quality stuff obviously his friends will prefer to buy the better products from the grumpy guy. But if the networking rock star sells top notch stuff as well, it won’t be long before grumpy shuts shop.
All you need are social media accounts, fairly good knowledge of how their business side works, and friends, connections and followers to help you.
So if you sell good quality services/products and have managed to build a good online network of brand supporters as well, then you can leverage your goodwill to bring in sales.
Lolly Wolly Doodle used Facebook to sell customized children’s clothes and has now grown from a garage venture into a multi-million dollar business attracting $20 million investment in 2013.
Online personality matters a lot now because sites like Yelp, Angie’s List, Google Local, Trip Advisor, Foursquare and Merchant Circle are all places where potential customers are searching for you. Customer-friendly policies, good service and quality products will get you good reviews and new customers.
You Are a Cool and Nimble Cat
The multi-billion players have strengths and capabilities that you cannot match. Do not try to excel them in areas where they are light years ahead of you. Channel your energy and resources to build unique advantages for your product, brand or business. A nimble, agile, small and smart business has several advantages that a biggie lacks and probably envies you for.
First of all, you are young and do not carry the burden of decades-long history on your back. You are not stuck in stereotypes and do not generate any negativity in customers’ minds; in other words you are perceived with neutrality, and how liberating is that?
You can forge a new path and a different identity from the big players in the market.
The teens, Gen Y and the Forgotten Generation (Gen X) love to spend on novel, unique, individualistic and quality stuff. That’s the reason why local online directories and review sites translate into big sales for independent and local businesses rather than for franchises and chains. They would like to buy and experience something new rather than what the whole world out there, and even their grandparents are spending on.
Your nimbleness is your biggest strength and allows you to pivot when you spot the next big thing in the market. The Obama election campaign was the driving factor for the Socrata pivot, and it transformed from an online database company to a developer of cloud-based offerings for open-data governments. The 8-year old company has a total funding of $55 million now.
You Can Customize and the Biggies Will Sweat
You can keep your finger on the ever-changing pulse of the market and make changes accordingly. You can fine-tune your offerings to what the customer is really demanding from you. Big businesses will find it difficult to do that getting caught in slow decision-making processes, choking hierarchical struggles and self-doubts.
Commodity products will find it hard to offer differentiation but startups like Zendesk have managed to topple giants. If you have a superior product to sell, it will not be long before customers show willingness to try it out. And Zendesk’s success story has given birth to other sellout stories.
New age customers want value for money and have far less trust issues than the generations of yore. They do not believe in maxims like “You get what you pay for,” and don’t blindly believe what marketers say or print. So it’s that trust and accessibility which give you the firepower to battle the behemoths.
Related Article: Work-Life Balance: Ways Your Real Life Impacts Business
Your Passion Can Build Brand Advocates
People love and are attracted by passionate and honest personalities. If you have faith in your ideas and a big heart, you can win support. You can encourage brand advocates who use and believe in your product, and are willing to talk about it.
Ensure you have a simple, informative, fun and intuitive website. If you sell pet products, obviously the people who visit your website are pet owners, aspiring owners or those in pet business (like sellers of live pets, vets, animal nutritionists etc.). You and your visitors share the same love for the other inhabitants of our planet, and you can use it to drive on-site communities.
A great example is how the SPLASH community of Petco brings together fish enthusiasts. Another equally worthy one is how the online design program Canva helps even newbies create amazing designs and share them with others.
Within no time, community-driven forums can build raving fans who have the potential to turn into your ultimate brand ambassadors. No multi-national giant can take away the personalized, human experience you can give your advocates. The non-sterile and warm bonds that small companies can build are out of bounds to your giant competitors.
If small businesses play their cards well, 2015 can very well be the year of massive gains. You can really sound the death knell for your Goliath-like competitors if you play to your strengths.