When people shop in their local neighborhood, they simply judge a business based on what they can see with their eyes. If you were to enter a big and fancy store, then you might assume that it’s probably doing well and it is a “big” company; if instead, you enter a super tiny shop where the decoration is old, there are not too many products, and it doesn’t look modern you’ll assume it’s a small company that might not be doing so good - Why haven’t they upgraded their store’s look you might ask. What’s my point? That people simply judge things based on their looks, in the same way, we judge people based on their appearance. People judge a company by everything they see, from your business card to your physical store, your employee’s presentation, phone greetings, etc.
The same is true when doing business online, people judge a company based on how it looks. Yet, the KEY difference is that when doing business online your company’s real estate is totally virtual: A website. One that can be accessed 24/7 by anyone around the world and which you have the power to design, develop and edit at a much more affordable price than re-building a physical store. It’s also much better than having a single store in your neighborhood because anyone can “Travel” to it online. It’s no surprise why the Internet has helped so many companies grow exponentially, while also creating a greater lack of trust from many websites that look suspicious, not very professional or real.
The fact that your window to the entire world is completely digital is a tremendous opportunity to showcase your company in the best way possible. You can build the image and brand of your business so that it appears as if you actually own the biggest, most modern and best quality company out there (Even if you actually have no physical store, work at home, have just a tiny office or maybe even a crappy product - let’s hope that the last one is not the case). Thanks to technology, the Internet, the continuously lower cost of online services and greater emphasis on the design on almost every industry it’s now easier to build a company and make it look super professional online - no matter how old it is, how many employees you have or if you actually own any assets.
Make your company look modern, bigger, better, and the best in your industry.
After years of working with small businesses from all types of industries, I’ve learned the tricks and tools required to make a company look professional, modern and trustworthy with very limited financial and staff resources. Here’s a list of the most important ones:
1. Build a brand, not just a company
Branding is much more than your company’s logo, colors, fonts or catchy phrase. Branding is best defined as the experience customers have when they engage with your business, so it extends to such things as how you greet people on the phone or communicate by email, how your employees dress and the trust perceived by customers. Your business might be small, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t think about creating a trustful brand.
2. Invest in building a professional looking website
This should be a no brainer, and it’s your most important tool to make your business look bigger than it really is. Your business website is likely to be the first interaction that many potential customers have with your company and brand, thus you want to make an exceptional great impression. Investing on a professionally built website - as opposed to using a “do-it-yourself online tool” - is worth the cost, as your visitors will immediately be able to tell that you’re a serious company based on the superb design and usability of your website.
Do-it-yourself website tools are great for those who are truly just beginning and have a super limited budget,(better than having no website at all) but they have many limitations and are very hard to outgrow. We’ve had several customers who were looking to move away from these types of sites when they realized they just couldn’t build the features they needed to look really professional and attract customers, so they hired our team.
3. Create multiple professional e-mail addresses
I’m sure that if you get someone’s business card with an @gmail.com or @yahoo.com ending you’re likely to think they’re a small company. Don’t be one of them, and set up a professional e-mail address ending with yourdomain.com. Ask your web developer for help or go to your hosting’s control panel. It’s very easy to do!.
4. Design creative and modern marketing materials
After developing your business website and creating a professional E-mail address you are ready to create some nice business cards. Your cards will now be able to include your new website domain and an email address that’s tied to it - you’ll for sure be looking professional so far!
Next, you should focus on creating highly attractive, professional marketing materials. Unless you know how to use Photoshop or Illustrator and have design experience, it’s probably better if you hire a graphic designer to produce your materials. Marketing materials could include flyers, catalogs, postcards, letterheads, envelopes, menus and much more, and they’ll be the “next” face of your company (other than your website and yourself). Again, having great materials is another opportunity to make your company bigger than it really is. When a potential customer receives your printed materials he’ll immediately form an image of your business in his mind, so make sure it’s a positive one.
I’m surprised every time I see so many small businesses who have really ugly business cards, a super old-looking website (if they have one), and marketing materials that give the impression that they are either super “old school” and don’t want to change their brand, too poor to hire someone to design something professional or simply don’t know or understand the power of having a professional looking business image. The worst is when these companies are actually very big, yet have really poor marketing and branding.
5. Design an auto-responder e-mail campaign
Many years ago I created a few automatic e-mail campaigns for one of my small business clients. It allowed the company’s small office staff of four people to save lots of time sending an email. Part of a good business model is to do some sort of post-sale follow-up or support with your clients, usually by making a call or sending an email - and that’s exactly what my client did. But prior to my work, e-mails were sent manually.
Instead of having to remind themselves to write an e-mail to each of their customers every few weeks after a sale was completed, I created an auto-responder e-mail campaign which automatically did it for them. I developed and wrote a series of 4-5 emails that would be sent at different intervals within a year. The first email was sent right after a customer purchased something, the second about 10 days after, and the others a few months apart. The content of the email was short and simple, had no images, and included the company’s owner name and contact info. Every time a sale was made, a staff member would input the customer’s name and email into a short internal online form and the e-mail campaign started (Day 1 was different for each client, based on when his info was inputted). The e-mail system then took care of the rest.
The success of this campaign was measured by how many people actually opened the emails, but most importantly by how many of them actually replied to the owner thanking them for caring about them as a customer and trying to help.
Many big companies have automated e-mail systems integrated into their company’s CRM, website or software product, but small companies can do it too as it doesn’t take to long to create 4-5 emails and copy/paste them into an e-mail campaign using friendly software such as MailChimp or AWeber. Want our help? Just let us know.
6. Setup a toll-free number and professional voice answering system
You’re now feeling confident your company looks big right? Good to hear! But wait a minute… what happens if someone calls you? Are you giving your cell phone number or home phone number to people? Not a good idea.
If you want to look like a pro and an established business, you can easily set up a complex phone system for less than $10 a month. No equipment is needed, no IT staff to set it up, and no phone systems experience required. You can get a local number or a toll-free number (800, 877, 888, which makes you look legit) and set up lots of virtual extensions (press 1 for sales, 2 for support, 3 for quotes, etc). Best of all, you can make all phone numbers and/or extension all ring on your cell phone. You can even request an international phone number and also forward it to yourself or your main line.
Thanks to the Internet and new technologies these phone services are super affordable. Check out services such as FlyNumber.com (Which our company uses), Grasshopper.com, Phone.com, or more expensive RingCentral.com. Make sure to compare features and pricing. Fax to email services with companion apps such as eFax is also handy.
7. Embrace technology
We’re in 2014, and the Internet is more or less 20 years old. This means that there are tons of different web-based services that can make your business life easier while making you look super professional and without having to spend lots of money. Let’s look at a few examples:
- Social Media: HootSuite.com and Buffer.com help you create and share content through multiple social networks at once. Both of them have a free version.
- Tech Support: ZenDesk.com allows a company to easily manage all sales or tech support related inquiries coming from your website, chat, or phone calls by creating online tickets.
- Facebook Apps: ShortStack.com helps you build great Facebook apps and “Fans-only” content. These may include sweepstakes signups, Facebook contests, sign-up forms, and much more.
- Office Apps: Google Drive offers great online documents apps that mimic Microsoft Word, Excel and powerpoint. They’re free, easy to use and always available.
- Appointments & Bookings: Checkout TimeCenter, BookFresh, CheckFront, and SimplyBook which offer free or very affordable monthly plans to help you and your users create and manage book appointments.
- Customer management: Insightly, Zoho, Highrise and Podio offer great CRM (Customer relationship management) tools that allow you to have an online database of all your contacts, customers, leads, projects, tasks and much more. it’s a key tool if you want to keep all your business information in one place.
- Project Management: Trello, Asana, Basecamp, RedBooth, and much other online software provide great tools to create and manage projects with multiple people.
- Connecting Online Apps: Zapier.com offers a free or super affordable way to easily integrate multiple web-based apps in minutes. Our company uses it to easily export customers from our CRM to our Accounting software (Freshbooks.com) or the other way around, as well as to export our contacts to our MailChimp account. This saves lots of time, and there are ZERO technical skills required - not a single line of code!
You’ll notice that most of these web-based companies, also known as SaaS (Software as a service) usually offer a freemium model in which you can get a free account with limited features and can easily upgrade later on based on your needs. Learn more at this blog post
8. Get a business physical address
Generally, not many people would take you seriously if you’re still working out of your house, even if you’re a true professional. Yet these days, no one has to find out, and there are affordable ways to overcome the obstacle of paying for a real office. Here are a few options:
- Most affordable: Get a membership at a coworking space, which allows its members to use a common facility with Internet access, lots of desks and lounges, conference rooms and usually a place to hold events. In San Diego, you could check out 3rd Space, Co-merge, Union North Park and PreFab.
- A virtual office: There are several “virtual offices” which offer various services for small businesses such as mail delivery, secretaries, on-demand meeting rooms, as well as part-time or full-time dedicated working space. Check out intelligentoffice.com and Alliance Virtual Offices.
- Fancier: Regus is a company that rents real office space, business lounges and conference rooms within business buildings around the US. Rent is higher than co-working spaces, but you get a real office with dedicated space just for you.
Once you decide to join one of these working spaces, you can usually use their address as your own company’s address - even receive mail!
Now your business is already looking much bigger than it might really be!
9. Build your social media presence and be active.
I’m sure you’ve heard it, but in case you haven’t created a social media page for your business NOW is the time to do so. It’s free, easy to set up and a great and easy solution to keep connected with your contacts and fans, especially if you’re business website is still under development.
Today, small businesses can create a page for their company within minutes, invite all of their friends to like it and start gaining followers. The most commonly used networks are Facebook and Twitter. Although easy to use, the trick to success is about constantly being active on your page, updating it with fresh and relevant content. If your social pages are always up to date people will know you’re an active business who is constantly looking for ways to grow. In fact, businesses that are active on social sites tend to create a better brand, engage more users, get instant feedback, adapt more quickly and can outgrow their competition faster. A few searches on Google can provide tons of tips and information on how to manage social media efficiently. Don’t have time to do manage your social media for your business, or time to learn all the tips and tricks to be successful? Contact us, we’d be happy to create and maintain your pages.
10. Integrate online chat to your website.
Finally, why not offer your online visitors the customer service they’re getting from the big companies through live online chat? As people get more and more used to typing on their phone’s instant messaging apps, email, Facebook and lots of other places it’s no surprise that chatting on a business website is just a natural desire for many people researching on the Internet.
When potential customers have questions while visiting your website, you want to make sure you’re there to answer them instantly. It’s just like having a sales staff present at your store when a customer walks in. In fact, you can let people chat with you, or be proactive and initiate a chat and ask “Can I help you with something?”. Many people today prefer to chat online than call a phone and wait until someone answers, as chat in many cases is answered much faster than calls. Check out Zopim.com, the chat company we’re using (See bottom-right corner, give it a try), it even offers a free lifetime account.
Integrating a chat into your website only involves adding a few lines of code, so it’s easy to do. You or your web designer can do it within 10-15 minutes. Trust me, you’ll look like a pro and a really big company if you have chat on your website!
Already feeling like a much bigger company?
Based on my experience with several companies, I’m pretty certain that if you follow most of the tips I recommend above your customers and prospects perception of your company will dramatically change for the better. A good website, good design, a real business address and phone number and good use of today’s affordable technology services will make your one-man-show or small business appear way bigger than it really is
Really want to look fancy? Then order business shirts with your logo embroidered and make sure you wear it to every meeting, tradeshow or industry event.
I’d love to hear your thoughts and ideas, so please share them with me by email or by leaving a comment below.
If your business needs a helping hand, contact me and my team of young marketers, strategist, and designers. We’re a very affordable marketing and design company in San Diego focused on helping small businesses. See our pricing.