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Competing With the Big Boys

Even if there's a giant in your town, your small business stands a chance.

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

Q: I'm opening a shipping business in a town where there is already a well-known business of the same type. Is there a way to make myself known? Or am I crazy for doing this (as some of my friends suggest)?

A: A small business can hold its own with a giant in the neighborhood. First of all, make sure you have the following:

  • 10 brand-new shipping boxes
  • One large roll of brown shipping paper
  • 10 rolls of packing tape
  • 20 large plastic food storage bags (1 quart each or larger)
  • Styrofoam peanuts
  • Shipping labels with your logo on them

Now you'll want to get quotes from the big competitor in your town (and others if you want) on packages of varying weights and sizes, and then make up an easy-to-read sheet of comparative pricing on the items you can ship for less than your competition does. Next, pack up all 10 boxes, including in each of them:

  • One roll of packing tape
  • Two large plastic storage bags full of the peanuts
  • A sheet of address labels
  • Enough brown shipping paper to wrap two medium-sized packages
  • A business envelope that includes your business card; your competitive rate sheet; and a letter of introduction. The letter of introduction should give your address, phone and fax numbers, URL, business hours, pickup and delivery information, and a list of the benefits customers will reap by doing business with you. If you also have a fax or copy machine available to clients, include a discount coupon of some kind.

Wrap the boxes neatly and deliver them to businesses in your area that would have a frequent need for your service. But call ahead to get the names of the people in charge of shipping, so you can address the packages to them. Follow up with a phone call within two days, while those people are still pleasantly surprised by the creative and valuable package they received from you. Ask for their business. Deliver packages to 10 different businesses every week, or as often as possible.

To succeed, you'll need to climb above the commercial commotion of your competition, look for fresh tactics to attract the attention of your target market, and then make your case to the best of your ability.

Kathy Kobliski is the founder and president of Silent Partner Advertising, where she oversees multimedia advertising budgets for retail and service clients. Her book, Advertising Without an Agency, was written for businesses owners who are working with small advertising budgets and can't afford professional help. You can reach Kathy via her website at http://www.silentpartneradvertising.com.

The opinions expressed in this column are those of the author, not of Entrepreneur.com. All answers are intended to be general in nature, without regard to specific geographical areas or circumstances, and should only be relied upon after consulting an appropriate expert, such as an attorney or accountant.