7 Ways to Make Your Small Business Look Bigger

We live in an age where the empowered consumer constantly agonises and deliberates how to use and spend their cash. Businesses must stand up to increased scrutiny during austere times where prospects are harbouring real or imagined excuses to not do business with you.

Lack of confidence in the economy means some people are chasing a deluded paradigm of the perfect business offering the greatest value at the lowest prices. For this reason being a small business is not always considered a good attribute.

There is only one chance to make a first impression and is usually what makes or breaks a sale. The following tips offer a few thoughts to improve the perception of your small business and deal with some of the objections people subconsciously have.

1. Register for VAT

Although you are not required to register for VAT until you turnover more than £77, 000 in the previous 12 months, some companies register voluntarily and prematurely.

This may seem counterproductive because the business would be artificially inflating their prices by 20%. However, the opportunity to have a VAT number on business cards, websites, invoices and letters suggests a high turnover and can actually encourage potential customers to make a purchase decision. Just be careful not to price yourself out of the market.

2. Increase the customer invoice number

This idea is a bit sneaky but likely widespread. Getting people to admit they do it may be rarer. When I started my graphic and web design business, the first invoice I issued had a reference code followed by a digit denoting what number invoice it was. For each invoice issued for every completed job the number increases by one digit. The customers see this on their invoice and notice their project is assigned a job number.

My tip: when you are issuing invoices in the beginning or early days of your venture, start at, say, 100.

It's only a little thing but giving the appearance of having served lots of other customers adds credibility in an offhand manner. If you're worried about honesty here, don't. In a world of corrupt bankers, tax dodgers and corporate criminals, I'm sure karma will turn a blind eye to your invoice shenanigans. Try it.

3. Get an "office" address

Some businesses hire virtual offices so they can use the address and postcode on their marketing materials, instead of a residential address where operations are conducted. If you can list your Google Places map location under a nearby city postcode such as (for instance) W1 (Central London) or NG1 (Nottingham) you may find this gives your business the posture it needs to attract new clients.

When former Dragon's Den entrepreneur James Caan started the Alexander Mann recruitment agency in 1985, he rented a tiny windowless office on Pall Mall but conducted interviews in the local coffee shop, telling candidates the office was full. In reaility there was only one small room just large enough for a table and one chair. The business thrived and he eventually was able to afford premises fit for purpose.

4. Get 0800 or 0845 call forwarding

National telephone numbers point to any landline or mobile number and add a veneer of professionalism. The 0800 numbers are free to call and are not region specific.The downside is that you have to pay and could very easily have telemarketers wasting your time and money. Think about your profit margins before taking on this cost. The 0845 numbers are similar except the customer pays, though not much. It is up to you to think about your marketing campaign (if you initiate one), who your likely customers might be and whether they will pay for a call.

You may find it helpful to know it's possible to divert national numbers to a SkypeIN number. I puchased a landline number through Skype (actually an I.P. address masked by the landline number) and will be able to answer calls placed through an 0800 or 0845 number. It's useful to be able consolidate your telecommunications like this as well as saving money through the Skype package.

5. Use a professional email account

Whenever I see someone using gmail or hotmail for business purposes I imagine all the sales leads they have likely lost. It doesn’t put me off that much because I have made this same boo-boo in the past despite my earnest attitude. But other customers (who have never been in business themselves) are less forgiving and more judgmental. Most customers are conditioned to favour a polished looking business before parting with cash.

Think of this: would you want to pay a deposit to someone just using a hotmail address? Do you trust an untested or unknown PC repair person who only ever uses gmail? If you are sincere about serving the public you need to send the message that you are serious by at least purchasing and using a professional mailbox associated with your website URL. This gives the added bonus of customising the sign off email signature and being free of any ads.

6. Present yourself as part of a team

Are you a soloprenuer or organisation? Do you want to be known singularly or collectively? Think what would serve your niche best. Does your marketing spiel use “I” or “We” to communicate with prospects? In my business affairs I pitch as an individual, but you may be better off presenting as a team of people with experience. There isn’t anything wrong with telling a harmless fib – you may indeed expand to fill a demand you have created because of good posture.

I paint and design things and this suits me as a sole trader. You on the other hand may wire houses and plumb pipes, in which case coming across as several people could give credibility. When you turn up to a customer’s house you can merely remark, “I was the only one available today.” This makes you appear as a fully functioning company with whom it may appear more attractive to do business with.

7. Use consistent branding

Although it's an obvious point, it's surprising how many small business pay no attention to their design and branding. Many seem to think branding only applies to corporations or larger businesses but it really starts at a basic level. Business cards, logos, letter headers are all important pieces of your arsenal but that is all they are. Branding is as much about customer service, attention to needs, how you keep your promises, your dialouge and points of difference to competitors.

When everything comes together it conveys a professionalism often missing from start ups or first time business owners. By the same token, it doesn't have to be perfect; just as good as it can be for your customers.

Useful links

Register for VAT - HMRC guide to registering for VAT.

Google Places - Register your physical business address. You can register a virtual office if there is a mail forwarding facility and have a city office listed on Google Maps instead of a suburban location.

Get an 0800 or 0845 number - A quick Google search shows lots of possible providers

Skype - Get a SkypeIn number. You can direct national numbers to your Skype line.

Get an email address - GoDaddy offer a free email inbox with every URL registration. I buy my domains through GoDaddy and always get the free email address. Forwarding addresses are free and can point to your main inbox. This is especially useful for creating the illusion of different departments within your business.