Dear Jeff,

We’re a start-up struggling to gain traction against a few major industry players. They have well-developed systems in place we can't match. How can we develop similar systems when we don't have the resources? – Name withheld at request

You probably can’t. So stop trying.

Instead of trying to “be” another company, decide—and it is a decision—to use the fact that you don’t have comprehensive systems or widespread automation to your advantage.

For example, you probably don’t have a customer relationship management system in place. That’s okay: Just call new customers and say thanks. Pick a few at random every week to call and see how things are going. Use a spreadsheet to track leads and sales calls.

CRM systems can do a great job of managing hundreds of customer and sales relationships, but many companies rely on those systems to drive customer relationship activities. Now, while you’re relatively small, you can drive those relationships by making them a lot more personal.

The same is true with payment systems. I know companies that spent significant time and money designing robust payment systems before they had their first paying customer. For a small company, Paypal works fine and can be set up in minutes. Put your resources into things that help you land customers so someday you will need a robust payment system.

Instead of focusing on what your competitors do that you can’t do, think about what you can do that your competitors can’t. You can take on smaller customers; your administrative costs are lower. You can experiment with different product or service offerings;  you don’t have to worry about negatively impacting product line synergies or whether you will create turf issues between departments.

You can provide what customers really want, rather than what the weight of your systems forces you to provide.

Stop comparing yourself negatively to your competition. Focus on what you can do that the competition cannot or does not. Even if some of the things you decide to do can't scale, that’s okay. Get customers now, and worry about scalability when you need to.

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