12 Low-Cost Tips to Make Your Small Business Look Like a Big Time Enterprise

Want your "small fry"small business to look more like a Fortune 500 company? Follow these tips to make your small business look big even if you are operating on a shoestring budget.

Why it Would be Appropriate to Make Your Small Business Look Bigger

I want to preface this post by saying I debated whether or not to write it in the first place because there is a very fine line between trying to present professionalism to increase your competitive advantage and deceiving your customers outright. Typically, I recommend that business owners take a sincere approach to doing business. So if you are running a small operation, instead of focusing on your company's smallness, you would just focus on those qualities that make your company unique.

But I did write this post in the end because the reality facing the smallest business owners today is that customers have come to expect a certain level of professionalism and "flash" and somehow this flash has become equated with credibility. Just think about your own train of thought upon landing on a simple-looking, clearly unprofessional website or blog. Even if the content is good, you may have a hard time getting past the appearance. Bottom line: following some or all of the tips in this list just helps to get your small business in the door.

12 Tips to Make Your Small Company Look Big When it Isn't

1. Act big. Attitude is everything. If you recognize and are confident about the value of what your company has to offer, irregardless of its size, and you focus on professionalism when dealing with your customers, then you can make your company seem bigger.

2. The phone system charade. The great thing about the phone is that you can't see what is happening on the other end. The picture that customers will generate of your business, is thus dependent on the audio cues they receive. You can take advantage of this fact by implementing some or all of the following strategies:

  • Sign up for an online virtual phone service. Signing up for a virtual phone system can literally save your business thousands of dollars. Basic plans often start at an affordable $10 a month, require no hardware purchases, and come with an impressive assortment of features including: professionally recorded greetings, extensions, call forwarding to a land line or mobile number, and a toll free or local number dedicated to the business.
  • Hire a virtual assistant to answer phone calls. If you want a human touch then consider hiring a virtual assistant to receive your calls and then forward them to you.
  • Get a personalized 1-800 number. Several online services sell custom toll-free numbers. Purchasing such a "vanity" number can increase the volume of sales inquiries and help to build build brand awareness.

3. On-location... virtually. For small companies that conduct a lot of business without meeting their clients face-to-face, then a virtual office provides an unbeatable combination of live off-site receptionist services and a virtual address that allows small businesses to have a high profile mailing address in well-known metropolitan locations. Often included in the package are mail forwarding services and on-site meeting space. Though the "rent" can get pricey depending on where you chose to locate yourself, it's still much cheaper than renting out a real space.

4. King of your domain. Many small business owners already recognize the value of registering their own domain and spending a few dollars a month on hosting services. In addition to the .com url extension, .net, .biz, and most recently .co extensions are also gaining in popularity. Moreover, avoid using free email services, such as Gmail, Yahoo, or Hotmail for your business communications. For a small business, head over to Google Apps where you can get an email connected to your domain for free.

5. The royal We. People like teams. When there's a group of designers, a collection of writers, or a sales team, the perceived group effort makes the whole operation seem more professional. Therefore, get in to the habit of using the word "we."

6. Get good pinch hitters. Create a list of quality people and groups you can turn to when you need to subcontract out part of a job. This outsourcing team can also cover you when there's a backlog of work.

7. A polished image. If you want your customers to think they are dealing with a big company then you'd better make sure that all of your printed material, your logo, and your web presence has a distinctly professional look. In most cases that means you will need to invest in hiring someone to create these things. To keep costs low, you might want to consider crowdsourcing the job any of the popular freelance outsourcing sites.

8. McData. If you are giving the impression that you're in the office, then you need to be able to access relevant customer and business information on the fly. You can do this in any number of ways via a slew of online services. I personally use the online file sharing service Dropbox. But you can also choose to work with a full Customer Relationship Management (CRM) service online for free or low-cost with open source apps such as, OpenCRX, vtiger, and Opentaps.

9. What's in a name? If you are a sole proprietor or run a very small business then you should consider filing for a Doing Business As (DBA). A DBA allows a person to legally do business under a fictitious name, without having to create an actual business entity. With DBA, you are able to advertise, accept payments and represent yourself under this new name. Filing for DBA is both inexpensive (usually no more than $50 dollars) and easy to accomplish. Check with your State Agency for more details. In certain cases, you might even want to incorporate. But this can include increased paperwork and fees, so do your research beforehand.

10. Plastic accepted here. Nothing spells small fry more than not being able to accept payment from a major credit card. If your budget is limited, and you conduct transactions online, by fax, mail, or over the phone, then your best and cheapest option would be to go through Paypal.

11. Just charge it. If you meet with clients over a meal, then make sure you have a corporate credit card on hand to pay for the tab.

12. Space when you need it. If your business requires you to physically meet with clients, you have a few options. You can try to conduct business meetings with clients, potential investors, or business partners over lunch or you could rent a meeting room in a local hotel. Alternatively, you could rent office space by the day or hour at a virtual office or business center. You could start your search with Regus Business Centers which has an extensive network of business hubs throughout the US.

In short, small business owners can utilize the above tips to give their companies a professional face, so that potential customers may be more motivated to look their way.

Update added Feb 21: I just came across this site today, and figured it would be good to mention it here. Small and home-based business owners should check out SohoOS- an impressive cloud-based suit of business management tools and services including: CRM, accounting functions, payment processing, VOIP, and social media marketing/networking. Everything is integrated into one system, and best of all, it's free...