How to take on the big guy - and win

20:16, Feb 28 2013
Russell Crowe sizes up his opponent in Gladiator

"If you can't solve a problem, it's because you are playing by the rules."

Those are fighting words from one of the world's most creative thinkers, Paul Arden; an advertising man in the world's toughest market, the UK.

On retirement (early, might we add), Paul sat back and reflected on what makes good companies, great. He determined that great companies are the ones that stake their ground, that are brave and different; the ones that are prepared to change or break the rules, and even make mistakes. They are the companies that challenge the status quo and rip up the rule book.

2degrees is one of New Zealand's most successful challenger brands. Even when faced with two big competitors with significant assets, resources and huge awareness, they determined that a position of being fairer and making things better would actually attract Kiwis who'd been putting up with expensive, unfair and inflexible mobile plans.

So what would you do as a small business? You too can change the game and the rules. Try these three new rules on for size.

1. Pick your battleground


It's pretty pointless trying to fight over every territory and be all things to all people. You need to figure out where the opportunities are, and where the customers are who are going to most want your offer.

2degrees worked out early that Kiwis were dissatisfied with pricing and packages and focused on this. Some business pundits will tell you that focusing on pricing is not a successful strategy, but it is when you do things differently. For example, 2degrees is still the only mobile company in New Zealand that offers Carryover Minutes, meaning that you actually get to use what you've paid for, keeping unused minutes for up to a year.

There are other big brands that offer small businesses a new way of looking at the world. Look at how iTunes and Spotify are changing the way that people purchase and listen to music.  They are putting bricks and mortar stores out of business - not because music sales are declining, but because people want to buy and enjoy their music differently.

Consumers want to buy singles, the instant they hear it on the radio, no matter where they are. In much the same way that 2degrees customers want flexibility in their mobile plans - term or no terms, prepay or pay monthly and the option to share their data, using it across devices or even with family and friends.

So have a think. What's the one thing that you can offer that your competitors aren't currently, aren't likely to, and even if they did, you have already stolen the march on them?

2. Work with the best people you can find

Partner with suppliers and partners who are the best in their field. What you want are people and partners who are the most responsive to your needs, even anticipating what you might need before you even know. They go out of their way to understand your business and, like you; they are prepared to give a little to gain a lot. They are also the ones that share what they know freely and easily.

Smart builders have partnered with like-minded plumbers, or wedding planners with caterers, referring each other, sharing networks, contacts and opportunities. Bigger businesses like The Warehouse partner with up and coming fashion designer Saben to create a limited edition handbag line. The Warehouse borrows Saben's fashion credentials and Saben gets access to mass numbers through The Warehouse's huge retail footprint. It's a win, win for everyone.

And partnering with the right suppliers can make a huge difference to your business as well. Small businesses like Spotlight and iSign have recently joined with 2degrees to help them improve their mobile business services (calls/text/data/gear) and meet their need for mobility while keeping costs at a minimum. Check out their stories here.

To know that you are working with the best, ask, ask and ask again.

3. Give yourself some spin

Tell your story loudly and clearly. Think carefully about your audience, what you stand for and how you present yourself, a bit like 2degrees - the name recognises that there is literally only two degrees of separation between us Kiwis, not six degrees of separation as the theory goes. We're a village that likes to stay connected!

There are also many ways to advertise your business that go untapped: your car, van or truck, business card, a sign on the berm outside your office or your website. Your phone number is really important too and you can easily bring your number with you to 2degrees and pick or customize one to suits your needs.

And try going to as many industry events as possible - they afford you the opportunity to learn new skills, grab a bargain and also network with the best people in the business. When you are there ask questions, ask for information, and ask for a deal. If you don't ask, you don't get.

But most of all, tell your story. Sell your vision of the future. And rip up the rule book!