How To Set Your Local Service Business Apart From National Brands

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Mark Snell, owner, and founder of Polestar Plumbing, Heating & Air Conditioning is a third-generation plumber and HVAC technician.


When it comes to small business versus big business, trust is key. It’s the foundation for what makes a prospect or client want to work with you and continue working with you over time. If they know that your product or service can meet their needs and deliver the results they want, they will remain loyal customers for the foreseeable future.

I believe trust is the big equalizer that makes any company effective, no matter its size. It’s the primary tool any smaller company can use to compete with a larger company that has a larger marketing budget.

As a locally owned plumbing and HVAC company, we at Polestar have experienced success in the Kansas City metropolitan area for nearly 40 years. Meanwhile, the majority of our competitors are widely known national brands with enormous marketing budgets. Nevertheless, our small business remains trusted among the community.

So, how do you create trust and stay competitive as a smaller company and get the attention of your market? I’ll share some tips that have helped my company retain lifelong customers and become a household name for a new generation of homeowners.

Leverage the advantages of running a small business.

One of the first advantages of a small business over a big business is the ability to provide personalized, in-depth support. With fewer clients, a small business is naturally equipped to give a personal, direct approach to making sure a client’s needs are fulfilled in a way a larger business simply can’t do.

With more clients and (usually) smaller margins, I find that larger businesses often aren’t able to deliver the level of care and personal support a small business can. When a small business is able to deliver personalized support for a client’s project, this is the first way to make your small business look big. A happy client is the first step toward a successful company and puts a company in the best possible position.

Your small business also has a home-field advantage. Large companies with locations across the country are often forced to provide more universal offerings, but the needs of some regions are vastly different than the needs of others. For example, homes in some locations might be more susceptible to mold due to humidity, while those in other regions might need more help improving air quality due to a higher volume of allergens.

Therefore, your small business can cater to your area’s needs better than a national brand. Evaluate the unique concerns that you and your neighbors experience, and establish services that can better serve your community’s needs.

Earn consumers’ trust through your marketing.

But, what about marketing? First, it’s important to clear up some potentially misconceived notions you might have about marketing. If your small business is trying to compete with larger businesses, remember that marketing is not about finding ways to match their advertising dollars or gain their online or TV exposure.

Marketing has much more to do with understanding and then reaching the exact kinds of clients you need. From there, it’s easier to keep building momentum as your team’s stellar workmanship earns you even more valued clients. Here’s how you can get started:

1. Gather customer testimonials. Understanding and building trust with potential clients is where marketing starts, not in your social media budget or your advertising connections. If your small business is leveling up against bigger competitors, the most important brand asset you have is one very happy client. In other words, if you are able to do a fantastic job for one client, that should matter more than crafting the perfect social media post or the perfect 15-second local commercial spot.

Once you’ve done a great job going above and beyond for your client, it’s important to use that story to push your message through (if the client is willing). Don’t worry about how many people you can potentially reach with your first marketing campaign. Instead, focus on reaching your targeted audience via success stories from people they can relate to.

2. Share your brand’s success on all of your networks. Once you’ve created a great case study or testimonial, use any resource and platform available to you to share this testimonial. You can accomplish this outreach effort via email, social media, small business meet-ups, your own network and much more. You might only see a little bit of interest at first, but keep going.

3. Maximize word-of-mouth referrals. While you’re following the steps above, ensure you’re also actively using word-of-mouth as your new marketing tactic. If you’ve made a client happy, treat them like a king or queen and ask them to provide referrals. If you’re lucky enough to get a handful of phone numbers or emails, go through the same process you went through for your first satisfied client, and collect referral information from your new satisfied clients once the job is done.

I’ve found this can have an exponential, compounding effect that creates a word-of-mouth movement. The best part is that word-of-mouth is an absolutely free way to market yourself (outside of the time involved).

Price your services below competitors’ levels—within reason.

When you’re crafting your message for a broader digital audience, it’s important to remember that in the service industry, price is king. If you can’t compete with the big players on price, make the focus of your offering the personal touch the big players can’t give. But if you can compete with the larger company on price, exploit that advantage as much as you possibly can.

As a smaller company, it can be tempting to keep your margins big in order to offset risk, but if you’re able to operate with thinner margins, you might be able to expand your company’s reach. In the service industry, I find price is often the ultimate determining factor for customers considering one offering over another.

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