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As SME’s continually try to reinvent themselves to compete with their bigger rivals, sometimes the obvious escapes them.
The most common way a small business can win against a big business competitor is to develop vertical markets or niche’ markets. This works well for many, especially in this digital age. Small business operators with a small ‘business footprint’ are leaner and more inclined to react far quicker to clients concerns than the larger operation of their bigger competitors.

With lower operating costs, often employing fewer staff, and having employees that are more inclined to multi task, SME’s are often the thorn in the side of the bigger operators.

But, small business operators often fall down in the overall scheme of things because they are not ‘all encompassing’ like their bigger opposition. Bigger businesses can project a ‘one size fits all’ front to corporate operators or bigger client bases.

Now, I look for likeminded businesses, usually smaller operators like myself
That is a dilemma that confronts us all.

That said, some SME operators make a very healthy living gleaning the small jobs that the bigger operators are not interested in. Some bigger operators simply can’t afford to do the small jobs because they are either unprofitable for them to be interested in, or they have lost interest in doing them.

Bigger businesses usually invest heavily in getting bigger business, so going backward to do smaller jobs is just not on their radar. These small jobs feed a lot of the smaller, and sometimes less experienced operators in many fields. The sign industry is no different.

Like many industries tho, the wide format industry has clients that are simply driven by the lowest price. We also have some operators that are simply driven by offering the lowest price. Nothing will change these mindsets until the buyer realises ‘you get what you pay for’ and the operator realises that clients that only want cheap are not really clients that develop long term  prospects.

So how do small business develop a big business approach?


Outsourcing works well with the main proviso that you do your homework.

I can tell several horror stories when I outsourced in the past. One was for traditional sign writing, and the company I used simply went behind my back and stole the client off me. That signie has since gone broke, but I still lost a sizeable client in the process. Talking to others, I found out I was not the only one he did it too, but it doesn’t ease the pain any less.

So why do I still suggest outsourcing? Because it works.

For instance, I’m a small family business. I have a good loyal client base around several niche markets, but it can be a bit unreliable at some times of the year. I find myself saying ‘yes’ to a few things that are, frankly, way out of my depth. That is when outsourcing works for me.

I’ve learned some valuable lessons from being burned a few times in the past too. Now, I look for likeminded businesses, usually smaller operators like myself, because they are the businesses that like me, appreciate the need to supply a good service to get repeat business. I’m not ’just another client’ for the most part.

Trust plays a big part in the outsourcing concept too, and it must be reciprocal. I’ll usually use someone who has been referred to me rather than source someone by an advert in the yellow pages. My reps from my wholesale suppliers are a good source of contacts in that regard.

For example, at the risk of this sounding like an advertisement, I use people like Reliable Designs and Print, a well respected and very capable business, to do all my large print banners. They have a great attitude to being an outsource supplier, and with a 2600mm printer, it keeps my two 1600mm printers free for smaller jobs, my bread and butter. Reliable then outsource the finishing to other smaller operators that also appreciate fast turn around and repeat business. As a bonus, it is all small local suppliers looking after each other.

Each usually offer a contract rate, each are fast to react, and each are honest and trustworthy.

I have the same approach with graphic design, business card printing, translation services, fabrication, finishing services, traditional sign writing, and sign installation…. Many services I supply are outsourced without my client having any idea.

Of course, being an outsourced digital print supplier myself, my own sign writing clients expect no less from me.

The best thing about outsourcing is the fact that you can keep doing things that are your strengths and likely more profitable for your business, whilst handing less experienced elements of the job over to other groups that have strengths in that area.

The time it saves is measurable, the confidence the job will be done right is comforting, and you’ll no doubt have a happy client at the end of the project thinking that you are bigger than you actually are.

If you don’t do it already, why not give it a go?