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Being Small, Looking Big

Written by Eileen Parzek, © 2004

Time has shown that even the smallest, solo entrepreneurs, can have a huge impact in their industry, if they plan their business strategy towards looking big. There are dozens of ways that a micro business can conduct their marketing and communication to look big and this article will look at some of the decisions that can be made. Bear in mind that every business is different so, you should first look at your goals, the impact you want to make, the image you want to give, and results you want.

Communications

The telephone

Despite all the technology we have today, telephones are still the primary mode of communication for most of us. The general rule of thumb is to have a phone line that is just for your business, and always answer that line professionally. If you do only have one line and it is shared with the house, you must train everyone in your household to answer it professionally, day and night. Always answer the phone in three rings - and set your voicemail to pick up by three rings.

When you answer your business phone, kill the TV/Radio in the background immediately. If you have children at home while you are working, teach them the importance of the sound of the phone - and insist on complete and utter silence. If that is not possible, consider getting a babysitter during parts of the day that you will make phone calls, or create a child care co-op with other work-at-home parents in your neighborhood.

Creating a professional outgoing message

Write down what you want to say and practice reading it in a slow, warm, and conversational manner. Identify who has been reached, and your company. Make a decision to either use a generic message or update it regularly if you are away often. If you are going out, do not bother saying "I'm away from my desk" - that is obvious - but do tell the caller when you will return and when they can expect a return call. Strive to return all business related calls within 2 hours, and never more than 24 hours.

Snail Mail

If at all possible, have a mail box for your business, especially if your address is obviously a residential neighborhood. If you regularly deliver products or larger packages, get an account with one of the delivery services like Fed Ex or UPS. Having a postage meter for your business might make your outgoing mail look more corporate but this depends on the impact you want to make. A regular stamp will sometimes give your mail a personal touch that is appropriate, too.

Marketing

Marketing Collateral

The first impression a prospect gets of your business is usually you, and the marketing collateral you use. This is a critical investment towards the professional image of a business, and directly relates to your perceived 'size.' For this reason, it is better to not have certain pieces of collateral than use material that can hurt your business.

Yet, micro businesses usually have financial concerns when it comes to their marketing, and very often cut corners at start up phase. Do-it-yourself is risky business, unless you are certain that you have a good design sensibility and have gotten a lot of unsolicited feedback on previous attempts to design, layout text, fonts, and colors. It is not enough that your wife says, "That looks great, honey!" if the success of your business depends on it.

The best approach is to determine what your priorities are in marketing collateral, and budget for a phased approach. For example, having an appropriate and consistent image is usually the first consideration, and depending on the nature of your business, cards, web sites, brochures, and flyers can come later. As you develop a marketing plan and strategy, it will be clearer where you should invest.

If you have NO budget for marketing (never a good idea, but it is a reality for many micro businesses), then here are some low budget ways you can reduce the harm to your business:

  • Buy pre-designed paper designs, like those at PaperDirect.com and use Microsoft Publisher
  • Use an online business card service like VistaPrint.com
  • Look into clip art and stock photography services like clipart.com and photos.com
  • Barter what you can do with a designer
  • Contact local design schools to see if they are looking for "real life" projects for the students

In all of these routes, you will certainly still "get what you pay for" but for some, it is the only realistic alternative to doing it yourself.

Web Sites

Whether or not you need a web site depends on what your business model is, and your marketing plan, but if you do get one, the same considerations as marketing collateral come to play. Web sites have a few of their issues. A professional "big" business would never have free web hosting or a shared domain name - and considering how cheap annual domain registration and web hosting is now, there is no excuse to not have your own. Having your own web address with paid hosting eliminates the pop up banners, hit counters, and advertising that scream you are too cheap and small to get your own. And besides, big companies do not advertise anyone on their site except themselves.

As with all marketing, consider starting small, with a phased approach. Plan for growth of your site in advance, with a step by step project plan, and then start out within the budget you can afford, rather than having a site which may hurt your business. In many ways, it is always better to have none at all, than a cheap, poorly designed site.

Networking

When you are networking, your appearance and language are critical to how 'big' and professional you appear. Of course, much of this depends on the type of business you have and how important it is to you to look big - it is perfectly okay for soloists who are in lifestyle businesses to create an individual style of communication and appearance suited to their business.

However, if your goal is to stay small but look large, consider the impact that language has, as much as your professional appearance. Learn to say "we" instead of "I" if it is appropriate.

Here are some tips for using grammar in your business networking and marketing

  • Use first person, obviously, for direct one-on-one correspondence.
  • Second person is appropriate for instructional materials – for example, “you should avoid using this procedure…” Write as if you are talking to an audience, because although sight unseen, you are.
  • The usual opinion is to use third person in marketing materials, and only use first person for opinion and experiential writing.
  • Be cautious about sounding over inflated in your writing, when using third person grammar.
  • Try to step “outside” your self and write “as the business” would write.
  • Be consistent, whichever you use!

These are just a few ways your micro business can appear larger, which can result in bigger, more profitable clients. In many of these decisions, there is not a right or wrong way to do things. It really depends on the image and impact you want your business to have!

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Eileen Parzek is an award winning graphic and web designer providing digital and print graphic design and web design services. Always found at the intersection of information, creativity and technology, her business, Business Design Studio (www.businessdesignstudio.com) helps small businesses make a big impression.

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