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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on April 26, 2000. All rights reserved.

Against Goliath, Sling that PR


In the famous Biblical tale, David overcomes a mighty

opponent with smart strategy and a simple slingshot. Like David, small

business owners constantly come face-to-face with formidable opponents

— corporations that have established reputations, large networks

of customers, and money for marketing. With the right strategy, however,

those smaller firms can prevail over the "Goliaths" of the

marketplace, says Debra Koontz Traverso, a business consultant

and trainer.

In her recently-released book, "Outsmarting Goliath: How to Achieve

Equal Footing With Companies that Are Bigger, Richer, Older, and Better

Known," (Bloomberg Press, $19.95,, Traverso provides small business

owners with an artillery that includes tips on planning shrewdly,

cultivating image, and marketing. "Outsmarting the competition

doesn’t have to mean breaking them, or outpacing them, or even giving

them a run for their money," she writes. "Instead it can mean

flourishing in your market in spite of their existence. While the

big guys are throwing their weight around, it’s possible for you to

quietly thrive."

For proof, Traverso offers up the now cliche story of the dotcom Davids

— two guys, a garage, and an idea that’s turned from start-up

to multi-million dollar business practically overnight. An adjunct

faculty member at Harvard University and president of,

Traverso’s experience comes from 10 years of operating a small firm

providing crisis management expertise to big organizations like UPS

and NASA.

Cultivating a polished image is the first lesson for the would-be

Davids in this 250-page book. There’s also a chapter on harnessing

customers through contacts, and mastering the daily routine to foster

better opportunities. For small business owners, however, some of

Traverso’s most insightful remarks are in the chapter entitled "Marketing

for Optimum Impact." A few of her suggestions:

Solicit complaints. Customers aren’t always eager to complain,

and will remain loyal just because there’s no option available. When

there is, however, they’ll take their business elsewhere. Don’t be

left thinking, "If only I had known…" Encourage feedback

in creative ways — by offering a happy hour complaint night, for

example, or a complaint-of-the-month award.

Secure business whether or not you get paid for it. Early

on, it’s acceptable to underbid for a large job so you can leverage

your experience with the next customer.

Call key contacts and don’t talk about business. Spend

three or four hours each month talking to people who could be prospects,

but keep the conversation focused on them — not doing business.

Take notes on their interests, hobbies, family — so that you can

become more involved in their lives.

Push for Referrals.

Take Your Product to the Streets. Trade shows are good,

but also think in terms of where your customer is likely to be. Art

galleries, cafes, parks may all be possibilities for demos and garnering


Don’t offer sales. Sales generally attract the same crowd,

who only show up when there is a sale. This forces you to keep offering

your services at discount prices.

Market to somebody else’s customers. Not a competitor,

necessarily, but a business with a similar customer base. Traverso

tells how a caterer expanded her market by reaching out to new mothers,

pitching the idea that they should celebrate the happiest times of

their lives with a party.

Create an award or honor. This builds good will, customer

loyalty, and free publicity.

Barter for business.

Offer at least one feature more than the competition.

Approach advertising cautiously. Don’t try to go toe-to-toe

with competitors through advertising, says Traverso, but focus on

reaching your market personally and directly. When you decide to advertise,

remember the key is consistency — presenting the message over

and over in the right medium.

The bottom-line, says Traverso, is cultivating a perception

of strength, until eventually it becomes second nature. By thinking

like David, you become a Goliath.

— Melinda Sherwood

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