From the March 2006 issue of Startups

Does the idea of competing with the big boys make you quiver in your startup boots? It shouldn't. As a small, growing startup, you can create an überprofessional brand that inspires confidence from potential clients--none of whom needs to know that you conduct conference calls from your home office while wearing your slippers.

"If you want people to perceive [your company] as bigger, you have to start from scratch with your corporate pieces--your business card, logo, letterhead, etc.," says Scott Deming, a professional speaker, sales and branding expert, and founder of RCI, a marketing company in Syracuse, New York. To present the image of a larger, more established company, you've got to produce professional and well-made marketing materials (read: no beginner's desktop publishing), and your website must be attractive, informative and easy to navigate.

Once you get customers interested, the key is to deliver on your promises, says Deming. This starts from the very beginning with how you and your employees answer the phone. It builds from there--deliver A+ service to show clients how dedicated you are to their every need. "[Satisfied customers] go out and start building your brand for you," says Deming. "People talk. You have to create the experiences that will create the evangelists."

That was just the sort of strategy employed by Matthew Smith, 36, Alexander Rusich, 38, and Jacob Rusich, 34, founders of LiveOffice Corp., a Torrance, California, web services company that focuses on the financial services market. While the trio knew their website had to be top-notch to attract clients, they also sent out impressive postcards via direct mail to court new customers. Smith recalls emulating magazine ads from more established companies--the spots, featuring few words and strong visuals, targeted the same niche. They also reached out to professionals who worked with other entrepreneurs so they could act as ambassadors for LiveOffice. The strategy worked, and the fledgling company immediately began signing clients. Since the 1998 launch, annual sales have grown to between $14 million and $16 million. Says Smith, "You're not immediately written off because you're small--you're written off because you act small."