Brand & Marketing Strategy

Small Business Competition – who and what does it really involve?


When you’re running your own business, it’s important not to get tunnel vision and focus solely on your brand. In order to form an effective strategy, you need to be aware of the competition. But who and what exactly is your small business competition?

It’s easy to do a quick search online of other businesses in your industry and see them as who you are competing against. And in some cases, where your target customer is similar, you are. However, it isn’t quite that simple! Competition involves a lot more than just similar businesses. In this post I’ll explore what exactly you need to consider, and how to use that information to your advantage.

Before we begin, I’d like to give a shoutout to April Dunforth’s Podcast episode: Understanding the Distinction Between Competitors and Competiting Alternatives (And Why It Matters). It’s a great listen on this topic, and I’d highly recommend checking it out!

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A different professional

I recently wrote a blog post exploring the difference between a marketing consultant and a marketing agency. This is an important area to explore when it comes to your competition.

In my industry, the options someone might have are:

  • A marketing consultant
  • A marketing agency
  • A freelance specialist

All three of these options cross over at some point. But they each have their own very specific pros and cons. So rather than just looking at someone who works in the same way you do, broaden the field.

If you own a restaurant, you might want to consider food delivery services like JustEat, and meal kit subscriptions like Hello Fresh. Or if you run a fitness class, think about what is offered by a personal trainer or home gym equipment.

This is by no means designed to make you change your business. As a marketing consultant, exploring the options offered by an agency doesn’t mean changing my services! But by considering why someone might choose that option, you begin to understand what often triggers someone to start searching in the first place.

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What else counts as small business competition?

It sounds incredibly obvious when you lay it out like this! But it’s actually something a lot of business owners don’t consider straight away. In addition to other people doing what you do, another type of competition is “the alternatives”.

Instead of coming to you, or a business like yours, what might someone do to solve the problem they’ve encountered? The easiest way to explore this is via an example from one of my clients.

The lovely team at Loft Boarding Scotland offer high quality loft flooring services – perfect for anyone looking to increase storage space in their home. But that might not be the first thing that occurs to a potential customer. If they find that they’re running out of space, they might first consider:

  • Decluttering using methods like the Marie Kondo approach
  • Leasing a storage unit
  • Converting existing space like a garage
  • Building an extension
  • Or even, more drastically, moving to a bigger house

These are all common alternatives people might think about. They might not be considering your business not because it’s the wrong fit, but simply because they didn’t know it was an option. So think about what other small business competition you might face? Who or what else is solving the same problem for your target audience?

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Might they do nothing?

The last thing to consider is that someone might do nothing. There could be a number of reasons for this, from overwhelm or lack of time, to a lack of knowledge of their options.

So, for us in the marketing industry, that might look like someone choosing to continue struggling to run their own marketing, without any real sense of strategy or purpose. They might believe that getting help is too complicated, too expensive or they might just not know where to start.

Considering the fact that some people might do nothing at all when faced with a problem you can help solve is really worthwhile. It helps you understand what some of the blocks might be for people, from mental to financial. Knowing these blocks can help you find new ways of approaching people, or even help you develop new products, price packages or services to help them.

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So, what do you do with this information?

Once you have considered all of these options, you can use it to build on your marketing strategy. The earlier in their journey you can reach potential customers, the better. I actually have an entire post dedicated to this, which you can read here.

What makes you different from all of the alternatives you have listed? What’s your USP? Understanding the full breadth of your competition helps you hone in on that even more strongly, and you can use that to inform your copywriting, social media content and even your branding.

So, for example, Loft Boarding Scotland can market their business on the basis that by hiring them you don’t have to declutter items you want to keep, but without doing anything as drastic or expensive as building an extension, or moving house! You can stay in your beloved home, and increase your storage, making great use of space you already have.

And, to reach people earlier, they could consider targeting new homeowners, or people who are looking to move house. It can be tempting to focus on marketing to people who already need your services. But if you get on their radar early, it means that further down the track you’re going to be in the mix already.


To read more about this topic, have a look at these:
How to Keep Track of your Competition as a Small Business
5 Ways to Stand Out from your Competitors
What’s a USP, Why Do I Need One & How Do I Get One?
Small Business Brand: What Is It, Why Do I Need One & How Do I Get One?

Denise Strohsahl brand and marketing consultant for small businesses

Hello, I’m Denise from sandstonecastles, a brand & marketing consultancy based in Edinburgh, Scotland.

I help small business owners like yourself to find the right marketing that’s in line with your brand and values.