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.
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."
6. Make sure your promotional materials are up to scratch
Don't skimp on the flyers. Michel Hogan of Brandology says businesses need to appear professional, and that includes putting a decent job into things like stationery, flyers and any type of promotional material.
"There are a lot of businesses that don't put much effort into this area, and it shows. Making all of your materials look good, and consistent, will make your business appear a lot more professional and larger than it actually is."
"It doesn't mean you have to put thousands of dollars into it, you can even make this stuff yourself. But make it as though you were paying someone to do it."
7. Develop a values statement
Many companies dismiss value and mission statements as hokum, but Aussie Farmers Direct chief executive Braedon Lord says giving your business a definitive vision and an overall theme, will make clients respect you.
"If you think about what we do at Aussie Farmers, we have a solid foundation that we only have Australian food. That has enabled us to open doors, appeal to consumers and get into their heads."
"The values statement has to be an overall vision for the company. As you grow, you should be able to stick to that promise. That plays into our word-of-mouth strategy, because people are more likely to recommend you to others."
8. Take a virtual office
Chris Thomas says setting up a virtual office is a good way of providing your business with credibility if you can't afford a full-time receptionist.
"Having someone to answer the phone when people call gives a really good impression," he says.
9. Make your vehicles a moving brand statement
Getting around and visiting clients is essential for a small business. These experts say using a company-branded vehicle is a good way to make your business appear respectable and professional – just don't go over the top.
10. Brag about your clientele
If you want to get the attention of some bigger potential clients, then you'll need to brag a little, these experts say. Once you've been able to obtain a few large contracts, you need to use those to leverage some more business.
The more attention larger businesses give you, the more chance you have to brag about that attention. Saunders says once SMEs start working with their bigger clients, they need to show it off by either mentioning them in meetings or putting them up on a website.
"Absolutely get your marketing right from the very first day. Don't scrimp out on that, really work hard to secure at least one major client, and then once you've got them, leverage off them as much as you can because you need to establish credibility, and quickly."
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