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SMALL BUSINESS | IN BOX

To find clients, find your niche

July 18, 2007|Karen E. Klein | Special to the Times

Dear Karen: How can my small company get larger clients to even take notice of us? We need more-lucrative contracts to grow our firm, but the big guys make so much more noise and get so much more attention than we do, I wonder if we'll ever break out of the pack.

Answer: The short answer is that you must specialize in a niche and become the absolute best at delivering the crucial service you sell.

Once you are the best of the best in a narrowly focused arena, even large clients will hear about you and take a look at what you have to offer.

Larry Weintraub, chief executive of new media marketing agency Fanscape, said he attracted major entertainment, technology and wireless companies to his three-employee firm initially by concentrating on one area of expertise and resisting the temptation to expand too quickly. (The company has grown to 28 employees.)

"We set a goal of becoming the preeminent new-media resource for record companies, musicians and talent managers.

"To do that, we had to have both a deep understanding of what our clients needed, as well as what our competition offered," Weintraub said.

Each client of his firm gets treated like they are the only client, he said.

And his employees continually strive for excellence.

"We started with one client and one project and over-delivered to prove that we could be incredibly important. That one project led to another, which led to another. Nine years later we still treat each project like it is the only one we have," he said.

Grabbing outsourced contracts is also a growth strategy for a small firm looking to work alongside its competitors.

"We can be a great resource for major marketing agencies, so they outsource their needs for online and mobile marketing to us," he said.

Being small can be a big advantage

Dear Karen: I own a small company that specializes in leasing fleet vehicles and equipment. How can we compete with larger and more well-established automobile fleet leasing and equipment leasing companies? I'm looking for new markets and new advertising outlets.

Answer: You can't market yourself in new markets or plan new advertising campaigns unless you have a well-defined corner on the market that distinguishes your firm from its larger competitors.

Why should a company lease its vehicles from you when there are larger companies vying for its attention?

In other words, what do you offer your clients that your competitors cannot?

Think of being small as an advantage: Perhaps you can offer faster delivery or more personalized service than your larger, more institutional competitors.

"Every company needs to have a unique selling proposition," said Robert M. Donnelly, a small-business consultant and author.

"What is unique or different about your approach to renting cars? Avis says, 'We try harder.' What can you say about your service?" he asked. "This is the crux of marketing for any business."

Once you establish your unique niche in the market, then you can move on to enhancing your image by adding a variety of benefits that collectively establish or position your company in the minds of customers.

"The more you can delight customers with added benefits, the better off you will be. It's really about the total value proposition you are offering versus your competition," Donnelly said.

Got a question about running or starting a small enterprise? E-mail it to karen.e.klein@ latimes.com or mail it to In Box, Los Angeles Times, 202 W. 1st St., Los Angeles, CA 90012

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