When first starting out, virtually every entrepreneur I know has suffered from an insecurity complex of sorts. Yes, you’re running a business, but it doesn’t feel like a real business because you find yourself staring at your CEO, board of directors and staff while you’re brushing your teeth in the morning and walk past your "world headquarters" as you make your way back to your bedroom to get dressed.
When you’re a business of one (or two or three), it’s hard to avoid that stomach churning anxiety compelling you to create a big-business persona to hide the mom-and-pop reality. But is the façade necessary?
I’m sure there are businesses and industries where bigger is better and creating a “big business image” is a key element of customer acquisition and ultimate success. However, that’s certainly not the case for many. In fact, my sense is that with the lightning pace of ecommerce solutions, virtual call-center support and other technological advances, customer expectations of the large, traditional brick-and-mortar businesses with a receptionist and tons of staff are dwindling. Instead, customers are more open than ever to smaller, leaner startups. So maybe the image makeover isn’t necessary after all?
Although I have and have had various part-time support for years, my business is essentially a one-person training company. Early on, I struggled with the typical “identity crisis” of sorts trying to figure out if I needed to “appear larger” to win significant business. Instead, I decided to be honest, leverage my strengths and project a professional image through marketing materials.
If you feel like you’re struggling with this issue as well, consider these points.
Ultimately, be honest.
No new business needs the bad karma associated with projecting an image that’s dishonest. It’s like padding your resume: Don’t do it. If you can’t confidently honestly represent your business, maybe you need to rethink it?
Embrace smaller as better.
In many environments having a smaller business can be an advantage: embrace those benefits. Possibly you can provide a one-stop shop for customer solutions and support, guarantee quality control (since you’re providing services directly) or provide more competitive rates due to your lean cost structure. Leverage and market these strengths.
Consciously build your personal brand.
If you have a service-based business like a law firm, tutoring company, consulting firm or similar business that’s heavily dependent on your personal brand, take the time and energy to build a strong one. Write articles and get them published by reputable outlets. You may also want to consider investing in a publicist who specializes in your area to help you get critical placement in media outlets that would be impressive to your potential customer base. Once customers are impressed with you (and want your services), they won’t likely backtrack to quiz you on your staff size or most recent tax returns.
Provide great service and value.
The reality is that some customers may be more skeptical working with a very small business. Instead of being intimidated by this, use it as motivation to compensate with amazing service and value. Ensure that the product/service you’re providing is better than what they’d receive from a larger company. Be relentlessly responsive to customer requests and extremely professional in all customer interactions.
Don’t fall victim to the temptation to severely underprice your services because you’re “just a one-person shop.” My proposals were rejected by a large federal agency for several years because they said my pricing was too low and not on par with the larger firms’ proposals. Magically, once I doubled my pricing (to a rate more reflective of the true value provided to the client), my proposals were accepted.
Partner if necessary.
If you determine that you’d be more competitive being perceived as a larger company, consider strategic partnering. Possibly you can list a team of resources that are contracted support, part-time support or other strategic partners. Consider networking with other small businesses in the same industry who might be willing to partner with you to help execute on larger contracts -- a potential win-win opportunity.
Consider hiring a virtual assistant.
If you feel that having an assistant would significantly enhance your image and marketability and you can’t afford a full-time receptionist, consider hiring a part-time assistant or using virtual assistant services. If you do hire someone, certainly fully utilize them to ensure that you’re fully leveraging your investment.
Sometimes the hardest barriers to overcome are the ones in our own minds. As small-business owners, it’s so tempting to focus almost exclusively on the “small” and forget about the “business.” Remember that prospective clients will likely feed off your energy, so present your business with confidence, energy, and passion.