There are times when being small can give you an advantage, but there are others when appearing to be larger than you actually are is a wiser strategy. But how can a small business create the illusion of being bigger?
1. Build your brand
Branding is much more than your choice of corporate colours, typefaces or catchy strapline. Branding is best defined as the experience customers have when they engage with your business, so it extends to the way your greet customers, how you answer the phone or communicate by email, how you keep your promises to customers and how you deal with complaints. Your business might be small, but that doesn't mean you should have limited ambitions. Having a brilliant brand can help you to punch above your weight
2. Consider your name
Changing your trading name isn't a decision to be taken lightly because it can have serious implications for the reputation you have established. But having a trading name that screams "sole trader" or "small local firm" could hamper your ambitions. Changing your sole trader business name is easy enough, but the hard (and costly) part can be making sure existing customers remain loyal. Changing the name of a limited company isn't difficult or expensive either, but you need to pick a name that makes you appear to be a bigger business.
3. Create a better website
When potential customers want to find out more about you, the first thing they do is search online; this is where you can come unstuck if your website looks like a basic DIY job, with poorly chosen typefaces, terrible imagery or badly written copy. If you want to appear bigger, now is the time to improve your website or (budget permitting) get a brand new one done. You might be a small business, but there's no reason you can't have a website that makes a big impression - often for a fraction of the money spent by bigger rivals.
While you're at it, make sure your email address looks the part, too. People who work for larger businesses don't use free webmail addresses (eg Gmail, Yahoo! or AOL) for work emails.
4. Use a virtual receptionist
There's nothing wrong with being the owner-manager of a one-person-band business, but it means you have to take care of all tasks, including answering the phone. If you are struggling to answer calls that could turn into sales, it's well worth paying a monthly fee for a virtual receptionist service. Someone will answer all your calls promptly and professionally, and then notify you by email or text. As well as freeing up your time, it can create the perception of a bigger business with administrative staff.
5. Get a more impressive address
Including your address on your website could immediately show that yours is a home-based business (eg 'Flat 2, Acacia Avenue, New Town'). Even if it's not obvious, potential customers can search online to find your location, and if that's in a residential area, they're likely to work out you're a small home-based business. Paying for a PO Box address can provide a solution, or you could rent a trading address. There's nothing wrong with being a home-based business, of course, but bigger companies aren't usually operated from someone's home.
6. Incorporate your business
Being a limited company can make your business look bigger. Incorporation (ie forming a company by registering with Companies House) can be a quick, cheap and relatively easy task - it might even enable you to pay less tax and take more out of your business. Working out whether you would be better off as a limited company is simple enough to do, although you should seek tailored advice from a qualified accountant before making definite plans to change the structure of your business.