When you first start out there’s often the worry that no-one will take you seriously because of your size. Although that’s not always the case there is some truth in it and it usually doesn’t harm your likelihood of success to make yourself look bigger than you are (that’s one of the advantages of buying a franchise – you may just be starting out but you have the franchise name behind you so people consider you to be something bigger). I’ve put together here a few things that me and some of my past clients have done to give the impression of being a bigger business.
If you’re starting a small business from home then one of the big things that will help is to get a commercial address. Don’t go for a PO Box number as that’s almost as bad as ‘Rose Cottage, Willow Street’. There are a number of companies that will allow you to use their address (for a small price) or, alternatively, ask your accountant or someone similar if you can piggy back on theirs. Also, look out for a local business center (such as Regis) or similar where you can hire out rooms for client meetings as this is better than trying to find a local hotel or similar.
Local small business centers will also have mail forwarding facilities and may also be able to help out with another thing that is useful – a phone answering facility. Chose these carefully; some are very good and will sound very professional and make it seem like you really have just left the office or gone into a meeting. When you phone others the background noise level and their general ambivalence quickly makes it clear that you are using what amounts to a phone answering call center.
The reality is that more people will probably visit your website than your office and these days getting a website that looks grand isn’t too difficult or expensive. Spend some time getting the branding right to suit your image and, if possible, use a copywriter to do the text for the site; don’t leave it to the tech guy who’s developing the site as they rarely have the skill set to do both properly.
Other external things that people are going to see are your car, the way you dress and your stationary (business cards etc). Again, make sure these match the overall image you intend portraying. Getting the right car can be difficult – too grand and people think you will be expensive; too old and people get the wrong impression. I had one client who purposefully got himself a classic car so that he got around the issue and, at the same time, had a talking point to start the conversation if the client saw it. Whatever you chose, make sure you keep it clean and tidy – inside and out.
Finally, think carefully about how you will bridge the gap between image and reality when you’re finally facing the client. They’re going to find out at some point so make sure that you have a plausible story about your business – perhaps even focusing on the benefits of getting a more personal service from the small guy than from a big corporate!