How can small businesses compete with large companies

By Robert Half 6th February 2018

As a small or medium-sized enterprise (SME) in the UAE, there's little doubt you offer a great service to your customers, who keep coming back time after time, but still your bigger rivals seem to have the edge.

Large companies or multinational organisations often have the size and scale to corner the market, and the prestige and financial clout to hire the best people.

So you may be finding yourself asking, as a family-owned business or SME how can you compete against large businesses all the time? It's important to remember, there are ways to compete with large businesses when it comes to hiring the best talent. SMEs should realise they have certain advantages over larger organisations, including agility and the ability to specialise. Exploiting these strengths allows small firms to vie for custom more effectively and build profitable businesses.

In a digital age, start-ups and SMEs don't have to be a prisoner of their own image and stature. The accelerating globalisation of business means small firms can, to a great extent, become whatever they want to be. With the latest technology at their disposal, family-owned businesses or SMEs can compete with large companies and multinationals now, more than ever.

The presence and importance of SMEs within the UAE economy cannot be underestimated. A recent article published by Khaleej Times outlines the many reasons why SMEs are the driving force behind the growth of the UAE economy. Dr. Karim El Solh, CEO of Gulf Capital was quoted in the same article saying: "SMEs and entrepreneurship are key to ensuring economic growth, innovation and job creation in the region. In the UAE, SMEs make up 95 per cent of all enterprises, employ 42 per cent of the workforce and contribute over 60 per cent to the country's GDP.  SMEs are clearly the engine of growth for the local economy and we need to actively support and encourage them and celebrate their achievements."

Building a 'big brand' for your SME

So what can your small business do to compete with large and multinational companies more effectively? Here are a few suggestions:

  • Define your mission, vision and values

It's commn to ensure that your customers know what your company is about - and so do potential employees. Once you've established a set of values, capture these in your vision and mission statements. They define the purpose of your company and what it is trying to achieve, providing a focus for the future. The statements also help customers, partners, suppliers and job applicants make an informed decision about your business.

  • Deliver professional service

Your SME needs to deliver great service to customers the first time they get in touch, and on all subsequent occasions. This means answering calls, responding to emails and social media comments, and putting customers first at all times. If your company doesn't have the staff to cope with the influx or maintain a professional customer service, it might be time to consider hiring more staff. 

  • Focus on your employer brand

In order to build a successful company to compete with large, mutlinational companies, you need to get good quality people onboard. This means making your company an attractive place to work, and ensuring staff members have sufficient incentive to remain with you for the long term. Building a strong employer brand is essential - if you develop a poor reputation the best candidates will stay away. If you're going to make a bad impression, you'd be better remaining an anonymous start-up with no customers. Work with recruitment agencies to define your hiring strategy and how to avoid making common hiring mistakes.

  • Become a thought leader

SME leaders can become even more valuable assets for their companies if they are able to develop a reputation as an industry expert. Writing insightful blog posts, commenting on other people's articles and sharing content and links can increase your profile. Attracting Twitter followers and Facebook likes certainly won't hurt either, but you've got to ensure a steady flow of great content. That's the only way to attract people's attention and keep them interested.

  • Hire quality people

Attracting top talent to your business can give it a real boost. You want to be bringing in skilled, experienced professionals who have the energy, drive and ideas to take the company forward. Building a quality team can offer access to quality contacts, opening up further opportunities for the business - either directly or indirectly.

Can your small business attract the best people?

When it comes to hiring employees, small companies can find it difficult to compete with large companies and offer the same remuneration packages - it's simply a case that they have longer arms and deeper pockets. So in order to attract the top talent, you need to offer professionals something else of value, persuading them to overlook the big firms and come on board your SME.

It's important to sell the opportunity to the best candidates - promising them active involvement in company decision making at the highest level and input on the strategic direction of the SME. Offering an executive role in your company - however small the business is - gives the professional the chance to move up the career ladder and boost their CV.

You can promise the talented individual a degree of autonomy, giving them the room to act and add value to the business as they see fit. By nature, small companies are less bureaucratic than larger firms, and it might be that the new recruit can effectively write their own job description. They should be able to get involved in as many aspects of the company's business as they like, providing they can add value.

Another potential benefit your SME can offer is flexibility - both in terms of time and location. Allowing talented people to customise their working day, or operate from home where appropriate, can allow you to hire people who may otherwise have been inaccessible. Those who have young families may be particularly interested in working on their own terms - something your SME can potentially offer.

Being flexible in terms of pay and benefits can also help attract talented people. It makes sense to tailor the remuneration package to the needs of each individual, ensuring they get maximum value from what you are able to offer. You might not be able to compete with larger firms in terms of salary, but there may be other perks - potentially even equity in the business - that appeal to the best people. Find out more about the latest hiring trends and salaries in the Robert Half Salary Guide.

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