It’s a sad fact of life that people are willing to make snap decision based on very little information. That means many smaller businesses don’t get the chance to impress potential clients – many people wrongly think that if a business is small, it won’t be able to deliver the results they need. Fortunately, there are a huge number of things that small business owners can do to make sure potential clients see past their size.
This isn’t about trying to con people into thinking that you’re a multinational corporation when really it’s just you in your study. It’s about ensuring that you present yourself in the best possible way, so clients don’t care whether you’re working from a 15-floor office or a terraced house. Presenting a professional image will make sure people don’t concentrate on superficial flaws, but instead concentrate on your abilities and the work you can do for them. Here’s how you can do it.
Running a business from home is fine. Meeting clients there can be a little trickier. You don’t have to shell out for a top floor office, but it does help if your clients don’t cross paths with your personal life when they contact you. Here are the areas you need to consider.
Do you deal with clients on the phone? If so, what kind of impression do they get when they ring? If you don’t have a dedicated business phone line then the chances are, potential clients are going to pick up on this. Maybe they ring and your spouse answers and then shouts across the house to get your attention. Perhaps they call and get your answer phone and have to listen to the “comedy” message you recorded to amuse your friends.
If you’re dedicated to your business, then your business should have a dedicated phone line. At the very least, you should have a business mobile. However, a landline number will add extra credibility.
There are services which will allow you to rent a landline number and have it redirected to your mobile. Other alternatives include just shelling out for an actual landline, or using a Voip package. These options will be vital if you’re based somewhere with poor mobile phone reception.
Also bear in mind that some clients will prefer video chat to telephone calls. There are a range of options here, including Skype For Business, which is included in Office 365, and Google Hangouts.
Location, location, location
Many view leasing an office as a natural part of a business’s growth, while others feel they can run things quite comfortably from home even as revenues climb. But if you ever need to meet clients face to face, a chat over your kitchen table, or in a busy coffee shop won’t always cut it. Here are some options.
Leasing an office
If you’ve got the cash to spare and feel like it would be a sound move, consider leasing your own office. This is the ultimate solution to many of the problems we’ll consider here and it can also allow you to think about taking on members of staff. However, only do it if its right for you and you’re certain the money wouldn’t be better spent on other areas of your business.
Coworking is when several self-employed people share the same workspace. This is ideal if being stuck alone in a home office isn’t really what you want from work. It tends to be cheaper than renting your own office and often there are meeting rooms that can be booked, allowing you to chat to clients in person and in private. However, coworking isn’t yet well established, so unless you live in a big city, you may struggle to find a suitable space.
Meeting room leasing
Alternatively, you can look into leasing meeting rooms on an ad hoc basis. This is a great choice if you need to hold an important client meeting, but don’t have access to a suitable location.
If your address is a dead giveaway – for example you’re working from home in a residential area, when your clients expect to do business with someone based in a commercial property then consider a virtual office. Essentially, this is a boiler plate address, so while you won’t be able to hold meetings, it will mean that potential clients won’t be put off by the home-based nature of your business.
The power of the brand is one of the way large businesses become so dominant. Fortunately, many branding techniques can be implemented even if you have little or no money to spend.
If your business name ties to you a certain product, location or service it may hinder your progress – especially if you’re trying to expand into new areas. Equally, you may find that if you’re operating under your own name bigger businesses might be reluctant to do business with you. It’s nothing personal, it’s just that large corporations often prefer to do business with other businesses, rather than sole traders. If you can give the impression that you are a large business, then you won’t be filtered out of the selection process early on and will have a better chance of winning business. Take a look at successful businesses in your sector and make a note of the naming conventions they use. Don’t kid yourself into thinking your business name is working for you, be brave and make a change if it’s needed. You can learn more about what makes a good business name here.
Shelling out for a good logo is possible one of the most important things your business will ever do. Why? Well, think of any major brand – anywhere you come into contact with them – whether it’s a website, social media profile or physical shop you’ll find its logo. A logo is your business’s identity in a glance. A quality logo gives a strong first impression to people who are encountering your company for the first time.
If networking and attending events is one of the ways you generate leads, then a high quality business card is a must. Even if your first impression is good, a low-quality business card can dent your image further down the line. Even if you lack design skills and don’t have the money to pay someone to design one for you, services like Moo.com mean you can buy high quality business cards without breaking the bank.
If you want to learn more about branding in general, then watch our webinar on the subject.
The web presented small businesses with opportunities that were once reserved for their larger competitors. However, you need to ensure you do things the right way if you’re to compete against big business. Here are the things you should look at.
Sell your product from your own site, rather than relying on third-party services such as eBay or Etsy. By selling direct, you’ll look more trustworthy and it’ll be easier for people to find you again. If you provide a service, then ensure your website has clear and simple lead generation forms.
Finally, don’t expect to be taken seriously if you use a free website service. If you don’t own your own domain, the vast majority of customers are going to be put off right away.
The other benefit of owning your own domain is that it can be used to set up a professional email address. Contacting clients from a webmail address just won’t cut it. An address such as firstname.lastname@example.org is infinitely better than JoeBloggsCopywriting@hotmail.com. A professional email address will also allow you to engage in email marketing.
Proper use of social media can also help give the right impression. Discover which platforms your audience is likely to use and create profiles. Use your logo as discussed in the branding section and share content that your audience will be interested in. You can learn more about creating a social media action plan with this guide.
You might also want to consider setting up a business page on LinkedIn. By creating a profile, you’ll have somewhere to share your firm’s achievements and be able to connect with existing and potential clients. You have to commit to regular content updates, otherwise the effect will be lost. You can set up you company profile here.
Finally, don’t be tempted to lie about any aspect of your business. The things we’ve looked at above are aimed at creating a good impression – not a false one. Don’t claim to have 100 employees when it’s just you. Don’t claim to have worked for clients when they haven’t even heard of you. Don’t use stock photos to try and make it look like you’re running a huge business out of a huge office. The lies you tell will catch up with you sooner or later.
What are you tips for making your small business look professional? Tell us in a comment below.