Every small business owner knows how hard it is to score your first few clients. Just being a small business is enough for some prospective partners to automatically dismiss you, and getting your foot in the door isn’t an easy task.
But even though your company might be classified as a small business, there’s no reason you have to act like one. The more you make your business appear bigger than it actually is, the more likely you’re going to be accepted by prospective clients.
SmartCompany has interviewed a number of experts who believe that no matter how small your business is, there are always ways to make it seem bigger. Getting the attention of bigger clients is always hard, but businesses using these techniques will be on the front foot.
1. Build a fancy website
One of the first things a bigger client will investigate when checking out a prospective business partner is a website. It’s so easy to make a quality website for little money now, and if yours isn’t up to scratch they won’t be impressed.
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Reseo chief executive Chris Thomas says spending money on a good website is one of the best investments you’ll ever make.
“Spend a lot of money on a new website. If you have a limited budget and want to make your site look good, hit up a site like Template Monster and look for a really flashy-looking one that will make your site look good.”
“You can also use sites like 99Designs to get a site done really well. There really isn’t any reason why you can’t have a good looking website now, there are just too many opportunities available.”
Thomas says combining your website with some SEO optimisation will put it at the top of any Google search, which will only help.
2. Develop your social media presence
Having an established social media presence doesn’t only help businesses connect with customers, it actually makes your start up appear older and more experienced. James Griffin, chief executive of online reputation management group SR7, says having social media profiles in a number of different areas will give an impression of experience.
“I think that if businesses consider social media as another outpost for their business on the internet, social media can go a long way in increasing the amount that can be found about that business, which suggests they’ve been around for a longer period than they actually have.”
“They also have a more significant presence in the media than they have compared to competitors. If you have a lot of followers it creates a sense of age, and it goes a long way to enhancing image and brand which will get these businesses good attention.”
Having a solid presence in social media also allows businesses to control feedback, Griffin says. By doing this, businesses are able to solve problems in a public manner and gain a good reputation for doing so.
“When people are searching for content, they assume that a business with a lot of material online has been there for a long time. That goes a long way in making a business look bigger than it actually might be.”
3. Talk yourself up
Brett Saunders, chief executive of air conditioning service firm Hiflow, says businesses might be small – but they need to use “large” language. You might be the CEO, the accounts payable person and the cleaner, but slipping in a comment about the other “directors” might be a good way to present an image of a bigger company with an established structure of authority.
“This was an issue I found, that we were too small to get noticed. So I just marketed the business differently. I didn’t sell myself as a director, I sold myself as a sales guy.”
“People would assume there were staff higher up than myself, and even though the final decision came back with me, I would often say I would have to ‘check with my other managers’ to finalise the decision. I just made the whole business appear bigger.”
4. Do some public relations
It’s one thing for you to get out there and talk to clients, but if you’re a business marketing yourself directly to consumers, how do you get heard above the crowd?
Caroline Siler, director of Keep Left PR, says hiring a hand to help out with public relations work can often get your small business in the spotlight.
“If you have someone helping you out with your profile, doing things like securing a speaking opportunity or whatever else, then that is definitely going to help.”
While Caroline says small businesses may not be able to afford a dedicated PR representative, there are definitely ways to get around
“There are freelancers that will be able to do things cost-effectively. You’ll just need to make sure you have a solid brief and definite goals, like getting five topics in a trade publication or whatever else. You need to elevate your profile, but also have something valuable to say.”
5. Get a good address
Many businesses start up in a bedroom or garage – for some entrepreneurs, it’s even a badge of honour. But your clients might not think it’s so charming, and for that reason, finding a cheap office in a respectable part of town is a sure way to make your business appear credible.
Caroline says she hired an office in Collins Street, Melbourne, even though she could have run the office from a cheaper area.
“I used a Collins Street address. It wasn’t a serviced office, but I sublet it from a business that had too much office space.”
“Working from home isn’t necessarily going to present a type of professional credibility. If you can sublease small office space from a company that has too much, and is looking to make a couple of bucks, then this is something simple you can do.”