As a young startup speaking to customers for the first time, there are some questions that are best avoided. If you’re a team of three, for example, with a bank account just skating above overdraft territory, questions around company size or funding are generally best preempted by some skillful positioning.
This is especially true for startups selling to enterprise customers, who often expect a vast pool of resources from their vendors. When we started SevenRooms, a hospitality platform for restaurants, nightlife and hotels, we did everything we could to give the appearance that we were larger and more established than we were. It turns out, we were pretty good at it. Our big company aura enabled us to sign some serious enterprise deals early on, without navigating questions around our headcount or funding. Six years later, we can now call many of the largest names in hospitality our clients.
Here are some of the tactics that we recommend employing in the early days to give off that global conglomerate vibe:
1. Get a business phone number.
You might be working out of your mom's basement, but no one needs to know that. At the most basic level, Google Voice is a great option. It’s free and allows you to operate your business from your own phone, but with a unique number. If you have a larger team, Grasshopper is an even better bet. The small fee is worth it to ensure that no customer feels creepy for calling an employee’s cell phone. On a related note, no CEO should ever answer the company’s general line. Sorry CEOs and co-founders, but you might have to pretend you’re the office manager every once in awhile.
2. Invest in things that customers will see.
Go ahead and work off of Ikea desks while eating ramen noodles. But if you plan on putting presentation materials in front of prospective clients and partners, they better look polished. And if you plan on presenting those materials in-person, you better look put together.
It’s more than worthwhile to pay a freelance graphic designer to put together simple, branded PowerPoint and email templates. If that still sounds like it would eat into too much of your ramen budget for the month, try a design student at a local college or look for a remote designer on a marketplace like Upwork or Fiverr. They’ll often be willing to work at a lower rate so they can showcase your project in their portfolio.
“Dress for success” might be a worn out adage, but there is nothing that screams “amateur!” like a poorly-dressed sales professional. Find the budget to make sure that you and your team look spiffy for sales meetings, no matter what. Showing up to meet customers underdressed is a great way to feel like an idiot.
3. Prioritize your website.
Your website is the face of the company and the first place prospective clients will look to vet your legitimacy. Luckily for you, it's easier than ever to build a professional looking site on the cheap. Get an account on Squarespace or Wix, add a little copy to one of their readymade templates, and voila -- you've just created your own professional website while saving thousands of dollars on software development.
Maintaining your own site through one of these services also allows for much-needed flexibility as your company changes its offering and positioning, which will inevitably happen during early days. Just don’t forget to change the browser icon when you’re finished.
4. Be social!
Neglecting social media was one of the biggest mistakes that we made in during our early days. People inevitably use social media followings as a proxy for size, and why shouldn’t they? Use social media to show the world that you’re bigger and badder than you actually are -- clearly your Instagram followers must know something!
Every day, companies, celebrities and civilians use social channels to paint a pretty picture of themselves and their brands. Your company should do the same while working to attract a relevant following. Make no mistake, you are being judged by the number of followers you have. Work hard to establish strong partnerships and invest in engagement. The investment will pay off handsomely as you scale up your business with a loyal army behind you.