8 Ways a Little Guy Can Compete Against a Big Guy - Vertical Response Article

If you run a small business, you know how tough it can be to compete with your larger competitors especially when they're undercutting prices like crazy to get people in the door. Not to mention that a lot of them have huge advertising budgets for newspapers, TV commercials and radio spots. So how can you compete?

You have to be tough like Rocky that's how! You have to be creative and you have to do some grass roots marketing.

Here are a few ideas you might be able to put to work for your business.

1. Give an extra discount just for getting an email address. Communicating via email marketing is far less costly than communicating in almost any other form of marketing and you need every penny you can save.

2. Give free parking. If you have a parking lot near you, find out if you can validate the parking fees for up to an hour. Making it as easy as possible for your customers to get to you and save could be paramount. They may just choose you for that reason alone over chaos at Walmart.

3. Give a $20 gift card for their next purchase. If your customers buy something over a certain amount give them more. A store here in the Bay Area was giving $20 gift cards for every $100 customers spent and they could only use them in the following month.

4. Serve snacks or coffee. You really can drive more business by giving your customers an excellent experience. I know of a car dealership that serves a full-on breakfast while you wait to have your car serviced. There's nothing worse than having to sit in a room waiting for an oil change, so they make it pleasant!

5. Have a kid-friendly shop or office. Keeping the kids busy while Mom or Dad does the shopping or the office visit could be the thing that gets them to your place. They've got a tough job as it is, if you can make it easier for them to come to you while giving the kids some fun, it just might get them to stop going to the big boys.

6. Buy your competitor's name as a Google keyword. If your larger competitor is spending big advertising dollars, you might be able to capitalize on people searching for their company name. Of course you can't make false claims in your ads and if it's a Fortune 500 player there's a chance Google won't let you, but if you type their company name into Google Search, and you see ads down the right-hand side, chances are you won't have a problem. One note on that, you can't use their company name IN your ad content.

7. Pick up the phone. When people are dealing with your larger competition and have to call them about something they usually expect a phone tree about an hour long and then another hour of wait time. You might have the luxury of picking up the phone when it rings or calling them back quickly if they leave a message. They might want to start dealing with that type of service rather than saving a few bucks to sit on hold.

8. Start Tweeting. It might sound silly to you but surely you've got customers and prospects that are following other businesses on Twitter, why not yours? VerticalResponse customer Due Maternity does a great job at this, and in no time they got 268 followers. It may not sound like much, but it's 268 people they can message at any given moment about their sales, content and site. The big guys are starting to do it, you may as well beat them to the punch!

Going the extra mile and being clever are the only ways to compete against a large company, but it's not impossible. A company like Due Maternity has a very successful website with many thousands of customers. They compete with a larger maternity brand with a website and 1000 stores but are still growing and successful. I know they use a lot of these techniques to help them keep growing!


Long live the Sneakernet: Computing's most resilient network by Larry Dignan

When Amazon Web Services latest-and arguably most valuable-service is a system that allows you to ship terabytes of data to the cloud via snail mail you just have to chuckle. Yes folks, for all the fancy talk of cloud computing, terabytes-not to mention petabytes-of data and technological advancement the Sneakernet is alive and kicking.

The Sneakernet, where someone puts data on a disk, flash drive etc.  and runs it to another computer, is arguably one of our most enduring networks. I still use it all the time. I'm sure I could network my home devices together, but the Sneakernet works just fine.

Multiply the Sneakernet on a grand scale and you understand why Amazon is launching a service called Import/Export. There's too much data to move to the cloud and not enough bandwidth to get it there quickly. Why take five days to move data-and hog up all your bandwidth-when you can toss it on a storage brick of some sort and just overnight it?

Amazon CTO Werner Vogels explains:

In some ways the computing world has changed dramatically; networks have become ubiquitous and the latency and bandwidth capabilities have improved immensely. Next to this growth in network capabilities we have been able to grow something else to even bigger proportions, namely our datasets. Gigabyte data sets are considered small, terabyte sets are common place, and we see several customers working with petabyte size datasets.

No matter how much we have improved our network throughput in the past 10 years, our datasets have grown faster, and this is likely to be a pattern that will only accelerate in the coming years. While network may improve another other of magnitude in throughput, it is certain that datasets will grow two or more orders of magnitude in the same period of time.

Simply put, if you wanted to move a terabyte data set to EC2 it will take you a while. On an enterprise scale, this data-moving problem is yet another hindrance to cloud computing adoption. Amazon gives the following time frame to shipping a terabyte dataset over the network:

But that doesn't capture the true costs. Microsoft Research notes that you still have to maintain that network. And there's labor and support.

Here's a look at the slightly dated statistics from a 2002 Microsoft Research paper:

Microsoft Research's Jim Gray concluded that Sneakernets are the answer to the above conundrum:

What is the best way to move a terabyte from place to place? The Next Generation Internet (NGI) promised gigabit per second bandwidth desktop-to-desktop by the year 2000. So, if you have the Next Generation Internet,  then this transfer is just 8 trillion bits, or about 8,000 seconds - a few hours wait. Unfortunately, most of us are still waiting for the Next Generation Internet - we measure bandwidth among our colleagues at between 1 megabits per second (mbps) and 100 mbps. So, it is takes us days or months to move a terabyte from place to place using the Last Generation Internet.

That passage was written in 2002. And guess what? We're still waiting. Simply put, the Sneakernet is the most efficient means of moving a terabyte of data around.

Given that fact, Amazon's Sneakernet, the Import/Export service, may become its most appreciated if not technologically advanced feature. Go figure. In a nutshell, Import/Export allows you to ship data on storage devices with a manifest that explains how and where to load the data and map it to Amazon's storage system.

Here's when a move to Import/Export makes sense:

Now there are costs. Amazon will charge you $80 per storage device handled and $2.49 per data loading hour. And then there's the usual storage pricing. But add it up and it's cheaper per terabyte than waiting a week for a dataset to move.

Will the Sneakernet ever go away? Nope. Gray sums it up:

Until we all have inexpensive end-to-end gigabit speed networks, terascale datasets will have to move over some form of sneaker net. We suspect that by the time the promised end-to-end gigabit (next generation Internet) arrives, we will be moving petabyte scale datasets and so will still need a Sneakernet solution.