Fighting your Goliath: Five lessons from the Art of War that will help you battle the big guys

Fighting your Goliath: Five lessons from the Art of War that will help you battle the big guys

Author Becky Sheetz-Runkle has always sympathised with the plight of the little guy.

As a small-statured but technically-gifted young martial arts student, Sheetz-Runkle frequently found herself up against much stronger opponents in the sparring ring.

No matter how hard she worked and trained, her technical proficiency was no match for their greater strength and size.

The dilemma led her to a realisation about strength.

“The little guy can’t use the same tools and the same strategies as their larger adversary,” she tells SmartCompany from a hotel in Boston.

It was this David and Goliath idea that fascinated Sheetz-Runkle, and she says it is this notion that is at the heart of her new book, The Art of War for Small Business: Defeat the Competition and Dominate the Market with the Masterful Strategies of Sun Tzu.

For those who are not aware of the ancient Chinese military manual, Sun Tzu’s The Art of War is commonly understood to be the definitive work on military strategy and is often cited as essential reading for business leaders.

Sheetz-Runkle says, at its core, the Art of War can be a winner’s manual for ambitious, innovative, and savvy small business owners. It is the slingshot that will help a small business-David take down a big business-Goliath.

“That was Sun Tzu’s intention; he took the smallest state leading into the warring state period in China, and made it into the most powerful state,” she says.

A small business owner herself, Sheetz-Runkle explains it further in the book’s introduction:

 “Small-business leaders must be smarter and stealthier than their larger, better-established adversaries. They’ll fail if they try to match the big players tool for tool and move for move. And they’ll wither on the vine if they just attempt to weather storms.”

“Strategy, positioning, planning, leadership–all play equally significant roles, making Sun Tzu’s teachings perfect for small business owners and entrepreneurs entrenched in fierce competition for customers, market share, talent . . . for their very survival.”

Sheetz-Runkle says Tzu’s teachings have been applied in the Eastern business world for generations, but innovative companies in the West can use the text to outwit their adversaries by thinking outside the Western business box.

“If we’re all looking at problems and solutions in the same way, then we’re really not going to have any advantage,” she says.

Sheetz-Runkle points out five key strategies from Tzu’s writing, which are outlined alongside many others in detail in her book, to help SmartCompany readers take down their own Goliaths.

1. Using the few, out-strategise the many

Sheetz-Runkle says the only way to defeat the big competitors is to use superior strategy.

“Small business can’t afford financially to hold back and wait and see where things go, they have to be very proactive and strategic, always thinking about opportunities,” she says.

“With the Art of War, people often think, OK, so the objective is to fight in every instance and go into battle without any foresight? Well that is not the case.”

Sheetz-Runkle explains in one well-executed battle at a time, Sun Tzu used smaller armies to defeat larger forces, and small business owners must do the same. She says one of the best strategic moves is to remember the power of alliances, as a small business’ strength will be a sum of these parts.

“Small businesses need more friends than anybody,” she says. “Our potential partners and allies are everywhere.”

Think of your friends, your customers, your suppliers or vendors—everyone you meet can be an ally, according to Sheetz-Runkle. Then to dominate, she says, you need to leverage these combined forces.

2. Think growth

Successful business leaders know that they can’t expect to achieve aggressive growth goals if they simply opt to hold ground, says Sheetz-Runkle. They always have to think about growth and not just take a defensive position.

“Bringing money in and keeping revenue flowing is very, very important, but it’s not a strategy for being dominant. It’s a strategy for existing, but the Art of War is never about just sitting by,” says Sheetz-Runkle.

Your business must take the most advantageous position, according to Sheetz-Runkle. For Sun Tzu, a good position was high ground, on a sunny spot, with the supply line that is well guarded. She says ideas like this have a practical application for your business.

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