How to make an impact against better-established competitors

Bimla Safka discusses how a small business can be taken seriously and build a reputation in a market full of more experienced peers.

Every entrepreneur has, at some point, dreamed of having that one incredible idea that nobody has thought of: the business idea so original and life-changing that it creates a new market and sets the tone for years to come.

However, for every Uber or AirBnB, there are countless other businesses that start off by entering a market already crowded with long-established competitors. Competing with bigger and better-known businesses can seem like an insurmountable task, but everybody else has had to start from a similar point, so here are four strategies to make an impact in an established market.


Entrepreneurs start a business for a reason, and that reason is rarely because they want an easy life! Instead, entrepreneurs truly believe that they can offer a fantastic service, idea or product, and they have burning desire to make a success of it; even if that means hard work, long hours and stress.

It’s critical to hold onto that feeling when building a business. Remembering why you started and recapturing the passion to do something great will sustain an entrepreneur through any number of difficult times. Meanwhile, it’s also worth considering that a small business can do things that larger businesses simply can’t – and that provides a competitive advantage.

One such example is bringing a new idea to market ahead of competitors. The David and Goliath analogy may be clichéd, but a small, agile and hungry business can do things larger and more unwieldy businesses can’t. In my business, we find that we can react to cutting edge food and design trends for clients much faster than some of the larger operators, and that gives us a real competitive advantage. While a larger company may have a complex approval process and a hierarchy of decision makers, smaller firms often have a flatter structure and fewer barriers to innovation.

Don’t forget the simple things

Everybody has been on hold to a big company’s customer service line for what seems like forever when a recorded message informs them how important their call is. I don’t think anybody ends up believing that statement. This is exactly where a smaller company can outmanoeuvre a more established competitor. By picking up the phone, asking the right questions and showing a client that they care, growing businesses can really make their mark.

This shows that when trying to compete in a busy market, it’s absolutely essential to get the basics right. That can be as simple as answering emails quickly and efficiently, keeping clients appraised of what’s happening and delivering on time. When they’re all added together, these seemingly simple things are actually hugely significant; they add up to true, bespoke customer service: and that’s what keeps customers returning year on year.

Putting the right team in place

There are fantastic employees working for all kinds of companies in all sectors, regardless of the size of those businesses. However, a small and growing business has a unique atmosphere that can really bring the best out of the right kind of person.

The ‘start-up mentality’, where everybody pitches in, contributes ideas and feels that they’re directly responsible for the success of the business, can be intoxicating. Of course, it also asks a lot of the staff, and it certainly won’t work for people who view their work life as that inconvenient bit between weekends. On the other hand, motivated and passionate people who want to make great strides in their careers and build something special will often flourish in this environment. 

The key, as a small business owner, is to recognise that potential in people and allow them the mixture of support and freedom to live up to their potential. From experience, I can say that getting this balance right pays dividends, both in terms of a fantastic atmosphere in the office and in creating a conveyor belt of talent within the business.


One truism across all businesses is that the ‘why’ is interesting, and the ‘what’ can often be quite dull. For example, ‘writing an algorithm’ is not a compelling story, but ‘organising and making the sum total of all human knowledge accessible to everybody’ certainly is. This is the ‘what’ and ‘why’ of Google, and it applies to other businesses as well. A large part of PR is really just telling people the story of why your business does what it does.

This doesn’t mean going out and committing an unsustainable chunk of money to a PR agency. It could be as simple as joining a local business networking group and talking to people. Equally, a well-placed stunt or making sure the right people attend your event can be invaluable for publicity. The important factor is making sure that your market knows about the great things your company is doing.

This is excellent for building credibility, but in a way it’s even simpler than that. PR is a way of telling potential customers, suppliers and employees about what gets you excited and passionate about your own business. It’s telling the public the truth about your business, without that message being lost in a sales pitch.

It takes true dedication to get a small business off the ground, but with the right team, confidence in your own abilities and a commitment to treating customers in the right way, there is room in every marketplace for an ambitious newcomer.

Further reading on early-stage business advice

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