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How to look like a bigger business

Little boy in a man's suitCustomers can be apprehensive about small firms, fearing they lack the skills, capacity and experience to perform as well as bigger operations. Tom Whitney finds out how to persuade customers that you are a credible proposition

Being a small firm can sometimes be an advantage, allowing you to play on the quality and exclusivity of your service. But your size can also deter potential buyers. It is up to you to persuade them that you are at least as professional as your larger competitors.

"Small firms, particularly those working from home, can be susceptible to image problems," explains Ben Harris, managing director of marketing agency New Brand Vision. "However, many successful small businesses are run from home, yet project the image of being much bigger firms. It's about looking as credible as larger competitors."

Look the part

"There aren't many places customers can go to establish your credentials, and all these points of contact need to look professional," stresses Harris. "If a customer looks at your website and it's poorly put together, it puts doubts in their mind.

"People look to these communications for validation," he continues. "If it doesn't look and feel right, it's much harder to impress them."

According to Harris, small firms need to spend that bit extra on their marketing if they are going to compete. "But even if you only have the marketing budget to do a few things, the key is to do them really well," he adds.

Contact strategies

"If you can't play on the fact that you are a small business, you should be trying to cover it up in the most efficient way," Harris insists. This includes your contact information - for example, if you are concerned that giving customers your residential address does not look very professional, consider using a PO Box or renting an address from a redirection business.

"If you want, you can then give the impression you are based in a city even if you are actually in a country village," explains Harris. Equally, you can shift attention from your location, and size, by using an 0845 number. You should also try to avoid diverting your calls from your main number to a mobile phone, as this is often a sign of a smaller firm.

Website and stationery

If you are online, have a professionally designed website and your own domain name. It can be another indication that you are a small business if your email address is johnsmith@aol.com rather than johnsmith@cityplumbing.com.

Get your written materials designed and printed professionally, whether this is stationery, brochures, business cards or signage. "Often when you meet small-business owners while networking they talk a good game, and you get a good feel for their business. Then they hand you a home-made business card and it really doesn't look very professional," Harris remarks.

"Little things like having your cards done properly are not going to create business for you, but they are going to help prevent you from losing customers," he concludes.

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