When entrepreneur Creel Price was pitching for a contract with a major bank a decade ago he needed to convince them that his start-up company was big enough to do the work.
His Blueprint Management Group had already lost potential clients who’d visited the office and been put off by the cheap secondhand furniture.
So Price spent the direct sales company’s last $3000 on hiring office furniture, a boardroom table, computers, plants and even staff “to make it look a little bit snazzier”.
“We ended up getting the business, but it took us a couple of years before we ‘fessed up to the client that we’d done this Hollywood set-up, but they said they’d pretty much figured that out, because none of the good stuff was there when they came back,” he says.
Even if you have the best priced products customers won’t always make a decision based on products alone, says Price. “You need to look the part, because first impressions really count,” he says.
An employee at a large organisation such as a bank, for instance, will need to be confident that a small enterprise is competent and reliable, and will be around in the future before they do business with the enterprise.
“The big bank or the large company’s not buying you; the individual within that company’s buying you, so they’re looking at the risk first, and then the upside second,” says Price.
Here are seven tips on how to make your small business look bigger:
1. Consistent branding
So make sure all of your businesses’ branding looks professional and is consistent across everything the business does. “At every touch point of your business, from your website to the invoices you send out, you need to have a very strong brand, because that screams small or large,” McKenzie says. “If you’re looking amateur, people will see you as amateur.”
Make sure your invoices feature your branding and logo rather than being torn from a generic invoice book. Also, ensure that your website domain name and email addresses are specific to the business, and not generic.
We ended up getting the business, but it took us a couple of years before we ‘fessed up to the client that we’d done this Hollywood set-up.
2. Use virtual offices
For a relatively small fee, virtual offices can supply you with a CBD mailing address as well as a receptionist who can answer the phone to put the call through to you or take messages. Other companies can supply your business with a 1300 number.
3. Professional websites
There’s no excuse for having an amateurish website. Chris Dale of MarketingHQ says “really good” website templates are available for a little over $1000 and for about $3500 you can get a custom designed website.
“It doesn’t have to have war and peace on it, but you need more than a couple of pages on your website to look legitimate,” says Dale. “It should include testimonials and a fair bit of content about what you do.”
4. Multiple email addresses
Even if you’re a one-man band, you can look as if you have more staff by creating multiple email addresses, says Dale. For instance, you could create an firstname.lastname@example.org and use that for all account emails. Your website could contain an address such as email@example.com.
Other business advisors have suggested using different numbers for different “departments” of your business that all route back to you. But unless you’re a very good actor, you risk getting caught out.
5. Form alliances
If your businesses’ name isn’t well-known in its industry, then form an alliance with a larger company to lend it credibility, says Creel Price. It’s a strategy that’s often used in the tech sector, with some companies saying, for instance, that they are a “Microsoft preferred supplier”.
“Putting Microsoft in the same sentence as your company is a good way to build credibility,” says Price.
6. Use clients
If you have well-known clients you can also (with their permission) use their names in your marketing to demonstrate the capability of your business. And, says Price, they don’t necessarily have to be paying clients.
“For instance, if you’ve got a new product or service you want to get off the ground, approach one of the large organisations and ask them ‘if we can do it for free, would you be a case study’,” says Price. “That really elevates your company a lot because you’re saying ‘we’re already doing this, for example, for IBM’.”
7. Make sure you can deliver
Nyree McKenzie has one final tip: invest in the basic infrastructure needed to handle any pick up in business.
“If you’re going to put yourself out there as a big business you must have the infrastructure and the resources to pull that off,” she says. “Because once you’re out there as a big business you then have volume inquiries, you get solicitation from suppliers, you get approached for sponsorship, you get CVs across your desk, and you’ve got to be able to manage that.”
Some large clients will want to conduct audits of your business processes, so you will need supporting documentation.