Sole traders across the country rely on modern technology and a few tricks of the trade to pretend their business is bigger than it actually is.
After all, you don’t necessarily want your customers to know your business is a small operation that’s perhaps even based from home if you’re going to land the big clients you’re after.
But there are ways to make your business appear bigger than it really is.
Fleur Madden launched Red PR Group 10 years ago and has since grown to a national PR firm with multiple offices. Whether big or small, be realistic about what you do and doing it well, she says.
“If you’re small and starting out, my first piece of advice would be to invest in branding and design. Without a strong brand, you will never appear credible to your audience,” Madden says.
The biggest mistake she sees small businesses make is not investing in their website, she says.
“It will be most people’s first introduction to you. You don’t need to over-sell, you just need to have a well-designed, functional, easy-to-use site that represents what you do well.”
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Also make sure you get your branding and messaging consistent across all platforms and touch-points to build trust, she says.
“Don’t go to market until this is perfect, or you will end up having to rebrand before you know it.”
But remember that credibility and size are two different things, she says.
“There are cowboys in every industry and over-promising and under-delivering will quickly ensure you are a small business that doesn’t survive. Be proud of being small, own it, do what you can do and outsource what you can’t to the experts,” she says.
If you are keen to make your small operation appear bigger than a one-man band, here are seven ways to do it:
1 Get a virtual office
If your start-up isn’t big enough yet or you can’t afford an office, consider getting a virtual one. They’re available in all cities, including most regional centres these days.
These increasingly trendy co-working spaces charge around $120 a week, and the perks can far outweigh a home office set-up. Landlords are dangling various incentives to lure bright young business minds, including access to a shared receptionist, yoga classes, IT support, social functions and even free kayaking.
The marketing manager of DesignCrowd, Jo Sabin, says a shared space means you can reduce costs while maintaining professionalism.
“Basically you pay a set monthly fee and use a space when you need it. You get a good location, there’s a receptionist that can take messages for you and you have access to meeting rooms when you need them,” Sabin says.
2 Hire a freelancer
If your needs are a little more extensive or in-depth, hiring a freelancer can be a great option. There are heaps of freelancer options in all industries, so either ask around for a referral, do a Google search or use one of the numerous websites that channel freelance services, such as oDesk or elance.
Sabin says this gives you expertise and talent and you only pay for them when you need them.
“You can freelance or outsource almost anything like content, designs, imagery, photography, customer service, admin, social media, marketing and more,” Sabin says.
3 Make technology work for you
You may not always be sitting at your desk waiting for an enquiry to come in. Getting tech savvy means you can always be available when you’re asked to quote, for more information about your business or you need to access details on your computer to send to a prospective client.
Maureen Shelley, chief operating officer of copywriting firm The Copy Collective, also subscribes to Debtor Daddy, which will chase accounts on your behalf which frees you from hours of paperwork and improves cash flow for $19 a month, she says.
“Also make sure you use all your apps on your mobile so you can quote, invoice and follow up customer queries on the fly,” she says.
4 Change your number and email
Having a mobile number is a dead giveaway to the fact that you’re a sole trader. Instead, consider a service like diverttomobile.com.au or trade to a 1300 number, suggests Michelle Wright, founder of a national physical training franchise.
“Mobile numbers are a dead giveaway. It’s OK to route the call to your mobile or use a dedicated landline, but not a home phone number,” Wright says.
Also make sure you have a decent email address, she adds.
“Something @yahoo or @gmail or, God forbid, @hotmail, just screams sole trader,” she says.
5 Own some virtual real estate
Nothing says small fry more than a poor website. Make sure you update it regularly with new content, that the design is of good quality and navigation is easy.
Also, register your business name, own your domain, have your own space on the internet and think global when you consider the best way to approach your marketing, suggests Leticia Mooney, content and communications strategist at Brutal Pixie.
“If you’re in business in 2013, you exist in a global market, so you need to act like you command it,” Mooney says.
6 Look offshore for talent
You may not be financially ready to hire staff, but you can afford it if you’re prepared to look offshore. There are companies around that will take care of the hiring process for you, making it an easy process.
Kevin Mallen is the sales and marketing director of Virtual Coworker, which sources skilled people based in the Philippines for Australian companies, conducting a full screening process on their behalf. Accents are often minimal and skills are high, he says. Australian businesses are hiring these people as personal assistants, for data entry, social media, CRM, web development and graphic design for as little as $6 an hour, he says.
“When you’re just starting out, it can be hugely beneficial for a business to have cheaper staff on hand who are based overseas. It also gives your business an office in Manila, ” Mallen says.
7 Talk yourself up
Your business might be super small, but use language that doesn’t tell the world, recommends the founder of Slim Secrets, Sharon Thurin.
“For the first four years at Slim Secrets I was running it on my own. However, when I spoke to others, I always spoke about ‘we’ not ‘I’.
She also outsourced the marketing aspect of her business and would always reply to advertising opportunities that she would need to speak to her ‘marketing consultant’.
“Always portray as a strong unit and this will give confidence to those wanting to do business with you. We have won a number of awards now over the years and happily display them on our website, on the signature of my email and anywhere else we are able to,” Thurin says.