As the Elite Eight basketball teams prepare to battle it out on the court during the next several days, I stare at my four different March Madness brackets, wondering how it all went so wrong with Kansas. As PsPrint Facebook fan Jen put it, “Holy bracket-buster, Batman!” No. 1 seed University of Kansas losing in the first weekend of NCAA championship action did give me some perspective: Don’t underestimate the little guys.
That’s something all small businesses can take to the bank. Coming out of the Sweet 16 are a number of scrappy teams: a No. 10 seed, the St. Mary’s Gaels, which are nearby PsPrint headquarters in the San Francisco Bay Area; No. 11 seed Washington; No. 12 seed Cornell; and, of course, No. 9 seed Northern Iowa – the team that took down the mighty Kansas Jayhawks. That all those schools are moving on to face the likes of such basketball powerhouses as Kentucky and West Virginia shows that the conventional way of thinking – that the big dogs always prevail – is a mistake. There are a few things small businesses can take away from March Madness: Use the element of surprise. The first weekend of the NCAA championships is often considered a warm-up for the top teams. They face off against No. 15 and 16 teams, so naturally, teams like No. 3 seed Georgetown and No. 2 Villanova are favored to trounce their opponents. I’m not saying the players were asleep on the court, but both of those teams didn’t make it past week 1, with Georgetown losing in the first round to No. 14 seed Ohio. The lower-seeded teams have less to lose, so they came out at full force, catching their adversaries by surprise. Small businesses can do the same. While the big boys use the same ol’ marketing, you can come up with clever, shocking and attention-grabbing campaigns. Practice, practice, practice. With fewer resources and sometimes fewer naturally gifted players, the smaller teams have a lot to make up for. They need to come up with unexpected moves to throw other players off. They just all around need to try harder. The same is true for small businesses. There's a reason that entrepreneurs put in way more than 40 hours per week into their companies. They need to be able to wear all the hats – know the ins and outs of the industry. Perseverance really can pay off. Feed off local support. Everyone can use a cheering squad, and there’s something about rooting for the underdog that feels so much better than going for the more obvious Duke or Syracuse. Don’t think the little teams don’t feel it, either. The same goes for supporting local, smaller businesses. You see exactly where your money goes, and in turn they might reciprocate the favor. Just as fans hold viewing parties to watch their local teams, you can gather up customers to support yours and your neighbors’ businesses. Turn it into one big networking party. March Madness provides inspiration for business in that it’s easy to get caught up in the excitement. Take a cue from the basketball action to develop your own “Marketing Madness.” And how much longer can these underdogs hold out? I’d be thrilled if they could wreck my brackets even more and beat my predicted champion of West Virginia.