Starting a business is a daunting prospect in any climate, particularly when the chosen market is dominated by big brand players: it can seem as though you are a very small fish in a large competitive pond.

When university student Mark Zuckerberg had an idea for a social networking site, few would have believed that his idea could take on the likes of MySpace, let alone surpass its success. Yet MySpace has recently announced it is launching a Facebook ‘mashup’, and the once dominant site now looks to be latching on to the huge growth (and now dominance) of Zuckerberg’s Facebook, which is now a billion dollar enterprise.

An inspiring tale for budding entrepreneurs. But ambition isn’t enough to ensure the successful growth of a start-up. So what does a smaller business need to do to become a serious player in its market?

  1.  Focus on your unique selling point

Find a niche in the market that will make your business stand out against its competitors. Consider why a customer would choose your business over a competitor’s, or what aspect of your largest competitor’s business could be improved upon, and focus your strategy on it.

  1.  Carefully define your target customer

Identifying your target audience is crucial to business success: do this wrong and you will be wasting both time and money on sales and marketing activities. The narrower the focus or niche you aim for the easier it will be to give compelling reasons for those customers to deal with you.

  1.  Don’t undervalue your services

Don’t undersell yourself. Just because you’re a smaller business, it doesn’t mean the quality of service or expertise is any less important. Ensure your team is fully aware of the value you provide so that you can sell your business in the best way possible.

  1.  Think value over cost

Some smaller businesses might believe the most effective way to compete is by offering lower prices. However customers are savvy in the knowledge now that paying for a better product up front means long term savings. Remember, your price point sets a perception in the buyer’s mind more quickly than anything else.

  1.  Customer service is key

One of the pivotal elements of many successful companies is the friendly customer service. Larger businesses can struggle to provide the personal touch. For smaller companies this presents a great opportunity to provide an exemplary service and build a strong reputation in doing so.

  1.  Value your team

Successful entrepreneurs know that their own hard work might get a business going, but pretty soon you have to rely on other people. Recruit the best people you can afford, and try to keep them happy and motivated. It’s better not to fill a vacancy than to get the wrong person who might hold your business back.

  1.  Take a flexible approach

Smaller businesses should take advantage of their ability to be flexible and dynamic to stay one step ahead of competitors. A small business can react quickly to changing environments and adapt its business model to meet customer needs. Larger businesses often have a long chain of decision makers and cannot adapt so easily.

  1.  Challenge the norm

Don’t be afraid to challenge conventional wisdom. Just because everyone does it in one way doesn’t mean that it is right. Think outside of the box to challenge your competitors and yourself. EasyJet is a great example: the company turned the airline industry on its head with its low-cost approach.

  1.  Get your website up to scratch

Large companies can often over-complicate their website, which can put potential customers off. This presents a great opportunity for smaller businesses: a clear, concise and easy to navigate site can add credibility to the business, providing an effective marketing and promotion tool.

  1.  Make good ideas happen

One of the main threads behind the book Eating the Big Fish is that challenger brands don’t have a monopoly on good ideas: what is unusual about them is that they make good ideas happen.