How Small Companies Can Look Big
In the early stages of a new venture it’s not unusual for entrepreneurs to multi-task: they can be CEO, CFO, HR manager, IT trouble-shooter, receptionist, and bookkeeper all in a day’s work. But in doing so they can waste a huge amount of time on mundane tasks, time which could be better spent on business development, company strategy and attracting new talent. Entrepreneurs often fail to see the cost of using their time unwisely, but they do so at their peril: although resources for direct hires can be tight in the early stages, a whole host of mundane tasks can be affordably outsourced with infinitely better results, allowing leaders to focus their time and energy on the profitable and productive business of building a new enterprise.
Appearances and first impressions
Not only can outsourcing allow you to focus, it can also help create those important (good) first impressions, meaning you will appear professional, legitimate and established from day one. If your website keeps crashing, your email is unreliable, or your phone goes unanswered, how long before prospects conclude that they don’t want anything to do with your business?
But what should you be handing off to others, and what exactly helps your venture appear larger and more established than it otherwise might? Here we look at just five functions you can outsource to make you more efficient, and to create a stronger impression of presence, credibility and legitimacy.
1. IT, email and business continuity
Many entrepreneurs regard IT as an area for potential savings, but ultimately the costs of a poorly-performing IT system with only ad-hoc support can be much greater. Downtime is expensive: if your network or website crashes, you can’t work. Clients and potential clients may be unable to reach you and your primary branding instrument will be offline.
Industry data from the UK estimates that for an SME with 50 employees, the average cost of downtime is GBP 18,000 per annum with outages resulting in reduced productivity, reputational damage and loss of business. And if you’re trying to fix that yourself or with the help of an expensive freelance IT support contractor on an hourly rate, the costs can be high in both time and money.
Email is an important tool in your overall IT system, but its branding potential can only be harnessed with professional email addresses. Tempting as it may be to delay getting your own hosted domain for perceived cost reasons, the real price of relying on personal email in a professional setting is high: a personal email address will make you look unprofessional, part-time, amateur and potentially untrustworthy.
In a 2016 industry poll in the US, 75% of respondents said that a domain-based email address that matched a company’s website was an extremely important factor when it came to trusting small businesses. After all, it establishes you as an authority, builds trust and enhances credibility.
According to the survey, 35% said they would be more likely to research a company further if it used a personal email address for business purposes. And what if that research reveals a website that keeps crashing?
By letting somebody else take care of the worries of establishing a website domain and company email, you can dedicate more time to more profitable pursuits. Once you’ve decided on a suitable domain name, you can leave all your website hosting and email configuration headaches to an expert, letting you get on with your job in the knowledge your systems are supported by a dedicated team 24/7.
2. Brand consistency
Your visual identity can be a client’s first encounter with your brand, so the importance of that first impression cannot be underestimated. Creating a DIY logo from a free internet template is likely to have a negative effect on client perception: the limitations of the DIY approach will put similar limitations on your ability to get your ideas and USP across to potential clients. And if your branding struggles to gain traction, so will you.
Your logo and branding are simply too important to take on yourself. Plucking generic clip art from the internet will look cheap, it won’t be unique to your venture, and it may cost you brand equity.
As Richard Hooker and Steve Monas note in their book Shoestring Venture: The Startup Bible, a good logo will communicate a simple message simply. It doesn’t have to be a complex attempt to communicate multiple propositions, nor does it need to be symbolic of deeper truths, but it does have to grow with your business, so consider a logo’s suitability across a number of applications. ‘A logo’, say Hooker and Monas, ‘is like a tattoo on your face: it’s more than just an aesthetic of personal choice, it limits your options in the future.’ So it’s worth considering, for example: will it convey your message in both large and small formats, in both colour and black and white?
By entrusting your entire company branding to a creative and design service, your logo and brand will be assessed from every angle, for every eventuality. This will help build your brand equity and you can relax in the knowledge that brand consistency is looked after across all platforms, from logo design to print and video.
3. Virtual office
Perception is reality. It’s common practice in the animal kingdom for certain prey to puff out their chests. They need to look bigger than they actually are to scare off potential predators. In the world of startups, looking small can scare people off.
Businesses need to puff out to attract clients. As Jeff Scheinrock and Matt Richter-Sand state in their book The Agile Startup, ‘to be taken seriously, you have to look bigger than a couple of hackers in a garage’. To persuade clients to engage you, they need to trust you. According to The Agile Startup, ‘the name of the game in startupland is to create the impression that you are an established, trustworthy company’. And nothing tells a potential client that you’re small quite like an answer-phone message in the middle of the day or a phone that rings out because you’re in a meeting.
We’ve already discussed how leveraging information technology can both brand your venture and lend it an air of credibility. But you can achieve the impression of a larger organisation by outsourcing your receptionist function to a virtual office where outsiders will assume they’re all in-house. The right partner in this venture will be able to give you a designated 04 (Dubai) number, answer your calls in your company name and take detailed messages 24/7, so you’ll never lose a potential client and you’ll build your brand with every call that’s answered.
4. Mailing address
The prestige of a physical office, especially one with a prestigious address, leads to customer trust because it legitimizes your operation. If clients can physically mail documents to you –even if they actually end up emailing them to you– they will feel that your venture is sufficiently well-established and well-funded. And what’s more, you won’t have to send couriers all over the place to collect those documents. A mail service can enable the use of a premium mail address and PO box as well as collection, sorting, notification and storage services.
5. Visa admin and specialized assistance
How much time do you spend dealing with visa administration and the myriad documents needed, along with certified, translated copies of everything from salary certificates to marriage certificates? Is your time better spent on business development, strategy and hiring? With a growing team, you can be drawn into dealing with the time-consuming bureaucracy of your employees’ visa complexities, as well as those of their dependants. Working with company formation experts means a dedicated team specializing in visa renewals and amendments, as well as all licensing requirements, is at your disposal. And it frees up your time to do the things that you need to do to run your company.
Does my venture look big in this?
With affordable business support packages available to cover everything from brand consistency to mail collection, outsourcing them to a virtual network of support services dedicated to making sure your venture runs at full capacity 24/7 will offer credibility from day one. You won’t have to puff out your chest to look big or established any more– these business support packages can do that for you.
Neil Petch actively assists over 300 entrepreneurs and startups to conceive, plan, and build their businesses on a monthly basis.
After launching Virtuzone as the first private company formation business in the region over 10 years ago, Neil has led the company to set up more than 16,000 businesses, making it the largest, fastest-growing and best-known setup operator in the Middle East.
As the chairman of the holding company, Virtugroup, Neil also leads VirtuVest, an in-house angel investment vehicle; Virtuzone Mainland, a provider of directorship services, corporate sponsorship and facilitator of local Dubai and Abu Dhabi company setups; and Next Generation Equity, a citizenship-by-investment firm. Virtugroup has invested in and supported the growth of multiple companies and delivered passports in over 10 different jurisdictions. Virtugroup also enjoys partnerships with Dubai FDI, the Chamber of Commerce, Dubai Holdings (ARN), VFS, Regus, Etisalat, KPMG, Aramex and Beehive, and has received awards from Arabian Business and Entrepreneur Magazine, among others.
In addition to starting up businesses, Neil has held leadership roles in several companies. He helped establish ITP, the largest media publishing house in the Gulf, which he oversaw growing from two to 600 employees. At ITP, he spearheaded the launch of over 60 digital and print titles, including Time Out, Harper’s Bazaar, Arabian Business, Ahlan and Grazia.
As Managing Director of ENG Media, Neil launched the Coast FM radio station and numerous magazines, including MediaWeek. For the last seven years, Neil has also served as Chairman of GMG, the world’s first interbank financial brokerage based out of Dubai, with offices in DIFC and London. Due to his extensive knowledge and expertise, Neil has been appointed a member of the ‘Ease of Banking’ panel organised by the Chamber of Commerce.
Having lived in over a dozen countries and with a career spanning over 25 years in the UAE, Neil has the ability to merge astute cultural insight with fresh thinking, leveraging his seasoned business acumen, intuition and black book to repeatedly bring ideas to living, breathing success stories.
Neil has appeared in BBC (Dubai Dreams) and ITV (Piers Morgan) features on Dubai, as well as programmes on BBC World and Sky. He has participated as a judge on the radio programme Falcons’ Lair, an entrepreneurship reality show loosely based on the BBC production Dragons’ Den, as well as a similar TV competition hosted by MAD Talks. He now hosts Starting Up on Dubai Eye 103.8FM, the only national weekly show for the startup community in the world’s startup capital.
Neil also lends his in-depth market insight to fellow entrepreneurs and helps cultivate Public Private Partnerships as a Task Force Member of the Advisory Council, a coalition of key decision-makers and prominent movers of the UAE business landscape, led by EMIR and the Ministry of Economy.
He is also a regular speaker, panelist, and economic commentator, specialising in the SME sector.