Steal This: 4 Ideas Small Businesses Can Take from Big Businesses

1. Show Us Your Uniqueness

Many of the world’s biggest and best brands are uniquely identifiable. Although your business may never make Forbes’ list of the world’s most valuable brands it’s still vital to strive for uniqueness.

Your local business’s uniqueness should be more comprehensive than just a logo. Think of it as a way of “being” that sets you apart. Shopping at an Apple store is unlike any other retailer with its long, elegant tables displaying products to explore. There are no cash registers; Apple retail store employees check you out on the spot.

Take your business and list your unique offerings. Is it products? Services? Location? In-store customer service? REI is known for its easy return policies. Zappos is famous for over-the-top customer service. Take a page from these big brands: highlight what you do well and then let the world know about it.

2. It’s Okay to Change
Great examples abound of companies that launched doing one thing and later changed to what they are famous for today. Starbucks started out selling coffee machines and coffee beans (not drinks!). Nintendo explored all sorts of business avenues, including making vacuum cleaners and manufacturing instant rice.

If your first idea isn’t working or you think your company isn’t all it could be, there’s no shame in the pivot. A term coined by entrepreneur Eric Ries in 2009, “pivoting” is when “successful startups change directions but stay grounded in what they’ve learned. They keep one foot in the past and place one foot in a new possible future. Over time, this pivoting may lead them far afield from their original vision, but if you look carefully, you’ll be able to detect common threads that link each iteration.”

Although Ries was writing about technology startups, some pivot lessons can apply to most small businesses. For instance, your panini bistro may have failed to gain a wide following, but your catering offshoot business is booked every weekend. Before jumping to closing the bistro and expanding the catering business, examine your past success (and failures) and see where your common threads are. Don’t jump blindly; pivot.

3. Take on Challenges

If business is great and the sales are rolling in, congratulations! Just don’t get too comfortable. There are threats to your business that you might not even see coming.

In 2000, Blockbuster’s CEO turned down a chance to buy a fledgling company called Netflix that offered DVDs by U.S. mail. Dial-up Internet still ruled the day and the streaming media revolution was a dim dream. Blockbuster passed on Netflix, not seeing the potential of the startup.

Consider your small business and where the threats might lie. Could your homegrown ice cream company be toppled by a self-serve yogurt chain landing down the street? Push yourself now to amp up marketing; to create a clean logo, mobile-friendly website; and accurate online listings.

4. Ask Customers to Share

User generated content, or UGC, refers to the content that consumers create about your business: ratings, reviews, blog posts about products, video testimonials and images uploaded to social platforms, among others.

UGC is a great way to promote your business and customer loyalty. Ask your customers to post images of themselves enjoying your products or services to Instagram, Facebook or Twitter (contests help get this effort going). Offline, coffee shops and laundromats can host art exhibits or local photos of customers.

Steal this tip from big brands such as Urban Outfitters and Ford: Request video testimonials from your customers. Ask for photo uploads of favorite products. Let top customers have access to a special Pinterest board. Make a place on your website where people can shop the most pinned items.

There are a lot of brands doing amazing things to develop relationships with customers. Feel free to “borrow” their ideas for your own business. If you don’t, the competition just might. Let us know other “big brand ideas” you’ve discovered in the comments, below.

Olga is a Senior Manager of Marketing and Sales Operations at Connectivity.