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How Small South African Businesses Are Successfully Competing With Larger Rivals As a small business, you've got a lot going for you, starting with the fact that you can personally interact with each of your customers. Here's how to leverage your entrepreneurial agility.

By Stefano Maruzzi

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

You're reading Entrepreneur South Africa, an international franchise of Entrepreneur Media.


If you own a small business that competes with big brands, you may feel like you're caught up in a David versus Goliath contest. But never forget that David won that epic battle, despite the odds, and you, too, can be a giant slayer.

You can use the power of personal connections and a local community to help show customers how you can give them extra attention, support and value. Here are a few ways to do it.

1. Tear down the walls and get personal

As a small, local business you have the upper-hand when it comes to the human part of the business. The personal side of your business is closer to the customer than that of a big company. Take advantage of this close connection by presenting your products, team, mission and backstory.

Related: Find Out How This Local Entrepreneur Went Global

Some ideas of how to do this may include:

  • Sharing behind-the-scenes photos on social media.
  • Opening up and telling first-person stories about your business through your blog.
  • Presenting "staff picks" in your store so customers can connect with your team.
  • Highlighting your core values and mission on branded company materials.
  • Using your website to showcase your business and its offerings, and to tell your story to the world.

Ben Matjiu, a multitalented South African radio producer, photographer and content creator, is one example of a small business owner using his website to create personal connections with his clients.

"My site enables me to showcase my portfolio of images and creativity so my clients can understand what I really do. Anyone can visit one platform, see what I'm able to do and contact me directly."

2. Connect with the community

Small businesses can also build connections with the community to stand out from a big competitor. Customers are often more likely to support local companies when they see the business interacting with other parts of their community. You may want to consider:

  • Get involved with local charities.
  • Sponsor a local sports team.
  • Put on community events.
  • Form partnerships with other local businesses.
  • Sponsor local events.

Build a presence in the community so local shoppers recognise your business name and have additional incentives to support you.

Related: The Growth Mindset That Has Taken This Local Company Global

Here's what Marissa Vogel of event design and styling company, Konfetti Love, says about the power of working with others in the community: "A small business relies on other small businesses to survive. Collaboration over competition is truly important. Joining hands with people in the industry by sharing knowledge with each other, supporting each other, and uplifting each other has really been the key to my growth."

3. Leverage the social media check-in

Create profiles on social media sites where users can check-in. This is free advertising for businesses as check-ins are shared with the user's friends and followers. Encourage your customers to tell their friends on social media that they're at your location. Instagram and Facebook are a couple options to consider.

Then, create situations that promote check-ins:

  • Offer a discount or reward to customers who check-in.
  • Set up displays that create fun and unique photo-ops that encourage photo sharing from your location.
  • Ask employees to check-in to create additional social media buzz.
  • Display signs that tell guests to check-in.
  • Reward customers with multiple check-ins to promote brand loyalty.
  • Repost photos and social media comments from users who mention your store.

4. Optimise for local online searches

Search engines cater to local businesses. They factor in the location of the searcher to produce results that include businesses near them. Make sure your business and website are optimised for local search with a Google Business Page.

Related: 8 Mindset Hacks From Local Entrepreneur Nathan Reddy

When you have a Google Business Page, your business profile is more likely to show up in search results for generic terms such as "women's boutique" or "craft store". Your business also gets a featured sidebar when someone searches for your business name.

5. Create unique experiences

Big stores often don't have much of a unique personality. They all look the same and are designed to be an in-and-out type of experience. Take the opposite approach with your small business and create an atmosphere where shoppers like to go and linger.

  • Build unique product displays that stand out from the typical items on a shelf approach.
  • Cater to unique needs by offering a team that helps customers find what they are looking for.
  • Host open houses and free events with food and drinks to encourage customers to visit your location.
  • Put on workshops that give customers an opportunity to try your products or learn how to work with the items you sell.

Braai Point is one example of a South African brand that offers something a little different to the generic burgers and pizzas of the fast-food chains.

Litha Mzozoyana and Sijadu Mzozoyana offer a tasty spin on fast food with their fleet of food trailers selling hearty South African fare. From boerie rolls and dombolo and chuck, to traditional pap and chakalaka, Braai Point offers an entirely "local is lekker' eating experience.

Rise above the giants

Being small doesn't mean having a smaller value. You can rise above your competing big brands and show consumers just how amazing it is to support a small business.

Related: Do You Know Who Your Real Competitors Are?

Stefano Maruzzi

Digital Growth Expert and VP of GoDaddy, EMEA

Stefano Maruzzi is the VP of GoDaddy in EMEA, one of the world’s largest tech companies dedicated to small business. Previously, Stefano was Country Director Google Italy, Microsoft MSN Country Manager and President Condé Nast Digital International. He has spoken at length about the digital world over the past 25 years.

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