It’s the ideal of mobile business: a picture of a guy sitting on the beach sipping some drink with an umbrella in it and “working” from a laptop. But the real picture of running a business when you have no place to call office, often looks far from that. Business people on the go have to work harder at finding unified, professional communications, and building up trust and credibility takes more effort.
Lessons Learned from the UK Traveling Communities
My telecommunications company has spent years working with the Romani Gypsies and Irish Travelers living in the UK. For those of you who are unfamiliar with this group, they have a pretty rich culture and history. But one of their most distinguishing qualities is that they dedicate their lives to traveling around to different countries, never staying anywhere for too long. Today about half of the community in the UK still abide by this lifestyle, while the other half have static homes and live relatively conventional lives. We work primarily with those who are still committed to living a mobile lifestyle.
While working with these people, we experienced first hand several difficulties that can arise when starting up a small business on the go. Issues such as deciding on modes of communication, finding ways to build up familiarity and trust, and putting up a professional front, can be difficult goals to achieve from the road. A whole lot of focus (and our work) was on building trust and opening the lines of communication.
Though these traveling communities may represent an extreme example of “business on the go,” many of the issues they face are common to mobile companies of all stripes. Here are five secrets to mobile business that not everyone is aware of.
The Secrets to a Successful Mobile Business
1. The importance of a universal, “professional-looking” phone number. If you’re business involves leaving the office often, remember not to present two different phone numbers (mobile and landline). You want customers to associate you with one number as much as possible to remain memorable, referable, and professional. Have one business number that can be directed to both your landline and mobile devices. Most telecommunications companies give you the option of changing your target number online whenever you want.
2. Different types of phone numbers appeal to different types of people. Believe it or not choosing the right type of phone number runs parallel to defining your customer demographics. This is because different types of phone numbers tend to appeal to different types of people. Location is an important aspect. So, for example, if your customers are locally based, then a local area number would make them feel comfortable calling and it will help your company develop a local presence. However, if your audience is nationwide then a toll free number may be the way to go. Lastly, if you work with international clients as your primary method of business, then an international toll free number would likely be the best option.
3. Make sure your phone number is portable. It seems like a no brainer, but it is surprising how often the value of number portability gets overlooked. If you frequently change mobile phone numbers or contracts, then a portable business number is crucial. You always want your business number to stay the same, for the sake of promotional material (posters, fliers etc.), and the more people remember your number the more likely you will get recommendations.
4. Set up your virtual office to look like a real one. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of giving your customers the impression that your business has a physical location. Your potential clients will “decide” a lot of things about your company before they have even done business with you. Having a location your business can be associated with is an important aspect in projecting a professional, reliable, and legitimate operation. Also, for your own privacy and security, you don’t want business mail going directly to your home address.
Having a virtual office is a popular solution to the location problem- especially for mobile businesses and those that run out of a home. There are many virtual office companies and solutions to choose from. Typical services include: registered office addresses, call forwarding (your “office” phone number gets directed to your mobile or landline), access to a virtual secretary, and mail and fax forwarding.
5. Credibility should be a main goal of your online and physical appearances. One thing that you need to understand as a mobile business entity is that by not working from a physical location, you automatically lack a significant source of credibility. People are not walking by your store or office. They don’t see you sitting there day after day investing your time and attention into the business. This affect exists even if you have a virtual office, and it really is an issue for any exclusively online business.
Because of this, you have to make an extra effort to prove your credibility, experience, and skill set. This means that your website should highlight things like your credentials, examples of work you’ve done for other businesses, and media mentions. You also need to up build social proof- encouraging satisfied customers to leave reviews, to write about their experiences with your products/services, or to otherwise engage your company via social media.
And, where possible, try to make physical appearances in trade shows, fairs, community events, or create an “event” yourself, like an online or off-line hangout.
In closing, mobile businesses can be successful. They can even compete with physically-located businesses. But to do so, they have to know how to play the game.