In the early days of starting a new business — particularly if you're operating a solo venture sans employees — it's a classic chicken-and-egg conundrum: How can you attract big bucks business to grow when you're only one person running the whole show?
Instilling confidence in prospective customers that your business can indeed deliver on the promised goods or services is critical, especially if you’re looking to command premium prices or fees. When it’s just you, possibly working from a tiny corner in your home, that can be challenging. That's where it pays to, as they say, “fake it ‘til you make” — i.e., find ways to project a bigger more professional brand image when you're still a scrappy startup.
By the way, there’s no shame in this game. According to a recent survey of small business owners by 99designs, over half (56%) admitted they had used tricks to help make their business look bigger than it really was.
The good news? There are a few easy insider tricks to polish up your professional image and, let’s face it, look bigger than you are just yet:
1 – Invest in updating your logo.
If you’re like many people, you probably found a friend or relative with some rudimentary “art” skills to throw together a logo quickly without giving it a ton of thought. However, consider from a customer’s perspective, if you can’t invest the time and energy into a professional logo design, why would they think you’d invest the time and energy in delivering professional work?
Now’s the time to take a hard look at your existing logo. Is it accurate, compelling and an attractive representation of your business? Sometimes even just a few small tweaks to your brand colors, typography or composition are all you need to update the look. Or perhaps it’s time for a full overhaul. Either way, it’s best to put your logo design in the hands of the professionals, working with an experienced designer to bring your brand to life in an impactful way.
If you’re still wavering on making this investment of time and resources, remember that logos are for more than a business card or your website. For example, if you want to look like a legit business, you can’t be sending generic invoices in Word or Excel, or plain vanilla proposals in a generic Powerpoint template. Instead, ideally all forms of communications to customers and business associates should be consistently branded with this logo to establish trust with your audience, even down to your email signature.
2 – Get paid professionally.
Part of looking professional is billing like a professional. There are many automated, low-cost apps or software programs designed specifically for small businesses and freelancers such as Invoice2go or Freshbooks, all of which offer the ability to electronically send professional-looking invoices branded with your logo. Note that in a recent survey of Invoice2go customers, those whose invoices were branded with a logo collected a whopping 83% more in online payments than businesses without a branded invoice.
3 – Focus — and go deep — on the social channels that matter most for you.
One of the first places customers go to determine your credibility are social channels such as Linkedin, Twitter or Facebook. Creating, managing and creating content for multiple branded social media channels is time-consuming, so start with just the channels most directly relevant to your business. For example, focus on updates and engagement in industry groups and with peers on LinkedIn if you’re offering a professional service, or spend time on really striking visual content on Instagram if you’re selling fashion accessories or beauty products. Also be sure to update all of your own personal profiles with links to your new business.
4 – Beef up your “staff”.
Chances are you’ll be wearing more than a few hats when you first start out, but your customers and prospects don’t need to know that. Consider creating some email aliases to create the appearance of a fuller staff, for example “firstname.lastname@example.org” or “email@example.com.”
5 – Prioritize collecting and publishing references, reviews and testimonials.
Word of mouth is critical to growing any new business venture – but don’t rely on this just happening organically. Happy customers and clients are also busy with their own lives and often need a friendly nudge from you requesting a review or testimonial. Make it as easy as possible for them to leave a recommendation on your social media pages or business listings, being sure to check in by email with an easy link to the area for posting if possible. At the very least, collect names and phone numbers of satisfied customers who will be willing to vouch for you when contacted.