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Beat big businesses by owning your small size

by Nora Landis-Shack

Most companies begin with just a few people - and being a small company is sometimes perceived as a negative. But being small can actually be great for your business. In fact, it can give you a unique advantage over large clumsy competitors who often lose sight of how what they do impacts their customers.

So, don’t be afraid to be small. Here are a few examples of how you can use your size as a strength:

It’s OK to be Rough Around the Edges

Do you have a dedicated editorial and legal team combing over every word you write? (I hope not!). Sure, your writing might be a little rougher around the edges, but it’s also more candid, interesting, and easier to relate to.

You want to read blog posts with personality that directly relate to your experiences. At Woopra, Natalie Issa wrote about her difficulty finding a marketing automation tool. She’s not afraid to admit that she struggled to find the right product, and that makes her relatable. She speaks from personal experience and has actually researched the options she reviews.

It’s alright if you’re a little casual in places other than your blog. When people sign up for your newsletter (you have one, right?), send a thoughtful welcome email. If you sign up for Groove’s newsletter, here’s the email you’d receive:

The email you receive from Groove's newsletter

Alex adds some nice touches, like providing email address and encouraging you to contact him. That extra step, combined with Alex’s casual tone, builds trust, respect, and likeability.

Show Off The People Who Make Your Company Great

Most big corporations use impersonal language when they write and that makes it less enjoyable to be their customer. Even if you’re automating your emails, why hide that they’re still written by a real person? Check out this great example from Freckle:

Amy Hoy has a way with words

Amy Hoy wrote this, and even went through the trouble of attaching her real signature for authenticity. It’s a small touch, but one that clearly demonstrates thought and effort has gone into the email and to making you feel welcome.

Litmus makes sure you know who’s tweeting on their account: Love love love litmus' twitter background

Putting faces to names and including CoTags so you know when it’s ^JJ (Justine Jordan) tweeting or ^LS (Lauren Smith) is great. People tweeting at Litmus know they are talking to real people. This is a little touch we liked so much, we added it to our twitter account too.

Take the Time To Understand Your Customers Deeply

No matter your size, taking the time to understand your customers’ needs and wants is key to your success. Smaller companies have the opportunity to get everyone involved in activities that improve customer experience and company credibility.

In the early days, spend A LOT of time talking to people on the phone, or in video chat to really understand your customers. As your product becomes more mature, it’s still important to have a pulse on your customers.

Everyone at Customer.io spends time each week helping Diana answer customer queries. We were inspired by Wufoo and this presentation by Kevin Hale, “Everyone On Support”. Getting engineers to talk to customers lets them know where customers are struggling, and helps them feel connected to solving the problem. Everyone on the team knows what is important to our customers.

If you’re just talking to the people who have questions, that’s probably not enough. Bryan from CodeClimate recommended sending out a survey every 6 months to customers. The questions from Survey.io are pretty great, but the reporting isn’t. We sent ours out using SurveyMonkey.com.

One of the surprising things we found out was that 42% of our customers signed up from a personal referral!

I’m sure if you sent out a survey, you’d discover all sorts of things you didn’t know.

Don’t Hide Mistakes When You Make Them

If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes. John Wooden

Successful companies make mistakes. When you do make a mistake, your first instinct might be to pretend that nothing happened while you scramble to cover up the problem. But if you’ve ever been caught lying, you’ll know that brushing it under the rug is not an effective strategy.

Remember when Buffer got hacked? After CEO Joel found out, he sent a personal email to users explaining and apologizing for the breach. He was heartfelt, apologetic, and honest about what Buffer was doing to fix the problem. This post at 3seven9 goes in to more detail.

Think of mistakes as an opportunity for people to trust you more. If you admit to your mistakes, your customers know you won’t hide important things in the future. Acknowledging mistakes will almost always make your customers like you more.

Have Fun!

Having a small company means you can really be free with showing your personality. Share what you’re making for dinner. Post puns, interesting articles, or cute photos of animals in the office on Twitter and Facebook. These personal touches highlight the special something (or somethings) that only you and your company have. Share them with the people who want to get to know you better!

These are only a few examples of strategies you can use to take advantage of your small size. We’d love to get your feedback on how you own being small, whether you use these tactics or have come up with your own. Let us know in the comments below.

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