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3 Ways To Fight The Small Business Inferiority Complex

IStock_000005086698Small Let’s not pretend you don’t know what this post is going to be about. Anyone who has worked in or run a small business has felt the ugly sting of an inferiority complex to their larger rivals at some point. Sure, having your own business is liberating and rewarding and life changing. But sometimes it would be nice to get the corporate card back and walk into a new business opportunity knowing without a doubt that everyone in the room had already heard of your company.

Of course, that’s an overly rosy picture of what it is like to work for a large company – but you get the picture. The thing is, when it comes to this inferiority complex that many small business owners and employees might feel, it typically only comes down to three things: perceived lack of size, perceived lack of experience, and perceived lack of resources. The irony of each of these is that what is holding you back from confidence in your own business in each area is probably the same thing that is making that issue a barrier for your business in the first place.

The good news about that is that if you can address this question for your potential customers, you can likely solve it for yourself and your staff as well. Let’s tackle each of them one by one:

How To Fight Perceived Lack Of Size

When it comes to fighting this perceived lack of size, there are only really two strategies you can employ:

  1. Pretend to be bigger than you are. This is not about lying. The default assumption for most customers, however, is that you business is composed of more than just yourself … so a big part of this is to avoid doing anything to change that assumption. Of course, you can also bring on shorter term partners or advisors who are not really “on staff” but do enough to be part of your business.
  2. Make size the enemy. The second and often better strategy is to make size the very reason why a customer might choose to work with you instead. You can offer more personalized attention, you are not faceless, you are locally located, and your flatter structure means they get more high quality service.

How To Fight Perceived Lack Of Experience

When a customer perceives that your small business may lack experience, they are typically focused on the expertise of your staff.

If you have only been in business for a short time, the perception of your experience will often come from the date of your founding … as if no one in your business was doing anything relevant before that date. The reality, of course, is that you and your staff were likely already working in whatever field your business happens to be in for many years before you started your business … so if you can demonstrate that you can get past this perception.

How To Fight Perceived Lack Of Resources

When it comes to experience in doing the type of work a customer requires, sometimes a customer’s objection will come down to one of scale of resources. “Sure you have delivered 100 widgets for your smaller customers, but we need 1000 widgets – can you really handle that volume?” This is a harder objection to address, but you need to show either through increased staff or production that even though you haven’t done a larger volume order yet … you are prepared to handle it.

This post is republished from the original article I wrote for the American Express Open Forum website. It is part of "Small Business Friday" on this blog – a featured series on ideas and marketing techniques for small businesses.

To read more articles like this, visit the "Small Business Friday" category on this blog.

6 thoughts on “3 Ways To Fight The Small Business Inferiority Complex”

  1. Rohit,

    Great article – very helpful to my audience.

    I especially liked the phrase, “Make size the enemy.” Very much like, “make the competition irrelevant.” By making size the enemy, small business owners can work toward the latter.

    The 100 to 1000 challenge – Yes, often this is scary for the customer to believe of a newbie. But if we have displayed previous work and knowledge, and we build the solid foundation, adding a zero isn’t such a hard thing.

    As our economy has evolved, and the marketplace is likely to evolve, small business and soloprenuership will become more a commonplace. That makes your words all the more relevant.

    Thank you!


  2. Fighting the lack of perceived experience can be a big hindrance. Our company has evolved from retail to online only and even after 3 years of online status along with a name change we still get phone calls relating to our retail presence. However, that has also given us more credibility with some of our customers as they can look back and find records of our previous experience. So what may first seem to be a hindrance may turn into the silver lining.

  3. This is a great point. I have gone up against much larger companies and have one, because large companies have just as many resource problems and small, plus, it it is harder to get that personal touch that clients want.

  4. Could Identify with a lot in this article. But like you also mentioned, what may be a perceived weakness could also be an advantage. I also find that small businesses can use leverage e.g technology, systems, joint ventures to gain competitive advantage.

  5. Yes! Keep in mind also that Small Businesses are often perceived as working a lot harder, than large companies. If you already have a few large customers you can bill yourself as “A small company serving the needs of large companies” or something along those lines. Today, with social media exploding, small companies can create a sense of small business “cachet” by sharing their unique brand in blogs and tweets.


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Rohit is the author of 9 books on trends, the future of business, building a more human brand with storytelling and how to create a more diverse and inclusive world.


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