If you have to compete with Lebron James, don't do it in basketball

Lebron James is talented. Not only is he one of the world's most naturally gifted athletes, he's also brilliant, compassionate, and he has incredible work ethic. Let's be honest, if you had to compete in anything with Lebron James, you'd be facing an uphill battle.

But there's one thing you know with absolute certainty you wouldn't stand a chance in, and that's basketball. That's his thing. It's the reason we know his name. If you tried to play him in tennis, he'd probably still win, but at least you'd have a shot.

You might think that sounds obvious, and yet small businesses make this mistake all the time. They decide to mimic their largest competitors, which basically means they're competing at the things their competitors are best at. If small businesses want to stand a chance, they have to find something that the big companies can't do, and take advantage of it.

Here are some examples of areas where you're not going to win against big businesses:

  • Looking big, established, multi-national, etc.
  • Automation
  • 24/7 support

If you try to differentiate yourself in any of those areas, you're playing basketball against Lebron. You're not going to win no matter what you do.

What should you do instead? Embrace what makes you different. Give your customers a reason to pick you. Here are some ideas on things that you can do that your larger competitors can't.

  • Play up your small size - Yes, your competition has 24/7 support. But you know what? If a customer calls them up, they'll end up talking to someone they can barely communicate with, and who knows nothing about the product they're supposed to supporting. Advertise the fact that you're small. Sure, your hours are only 9-5, but when they call, they get to talk to the owner. How cool is that?
  • Embrace a manual process - Artificial intelligence is good at some things, but for the most part, a human making manual decisions is still better. It might be a bit more expensive and/or slower, but the outcome is better. Instead of trying to have better automation, make your lack of automation the reason customers choose you.
  • Enter markets that are fundamentally small - Google killed their social network Google+ because it "only" had 200 million users. The first version of the Apple Watch was considered a failure because "only" 4.2 million people bought the $300 device. Big companies can't afford to go after small opportunities, but what's small to them might be huge to you.
  • Have opinions - Big companies have to be everything to everyone which means they're not laser focused on serving any particular type of customer. Figure out who you're for, and tailor your business to that specific niche. If you're a vegan restaurant, it's ok that your menu doesn't appeal to McDonald's customers.

Let's take my business as an example. Our name is Less Annoying CRM. That certainly doesn't sound very professional in the big corporate sense. We only provide customer service during normal business hours here in St. Louis, MO. When our customers ask what features we have that our competitors don't, our answer is, "we don't really have any unique features." And despite all that, we have the highest rated support and the happiest customers in the industry. Why? Because while everyone else is playing basketball, we're playing tennis. We've identified what we're about, we find customers that mesh with us, and we let our competitors serve everyone else.

Running a business is hard. It's an uphill battle no matter what. But if you have to compete with Lebron, stay away from basketball.

Have thoughts on this post? I'd love to hear from you! I'm @TylerMKing on Twitter.