We live in an age where the empowered consumer is spoilt for choice and ever more discerning about the providers they choose to deal with.
Businesses must stand up to increased scrutiny during austere times where prospects are harbouring real or imagined excuses to not do business with you.
There are a few creative ways to use technology and resources to improve the perception of our operation. We can apply a more professional veneer.
It’s fair to say most of us would like to flex our business muscles once in a while and give off a bigger, better image.
1. Register for VAT
Although you are not required to register for VAT until you turnover more than £77, 000 in the previous 12 months, some companies register voluntarily and prematurely.
This may seem counterproductive because the business would be artificially inflating their prices by 20%. However, the opportunity to have a VAT number on business cards, websites, invoices and letters suggests a high turnover and can actually encourage potential customers to make a purchase decision. Just be careful not to price yourself out of the market.
2. Register an Office Forwarding Address
Some businesses hire virtual offices so they can use the address and postcode on their marketing materials, instead of a residential address where operations are conducted.
If you can list your Google Places map location under a nearby city postcode such as (for instance) W1 (Central London) or NG1 (Nottingham) you may find this gives your business the posture it needs to attract new clients.
When former Dragon’s Den entrepreneur James Caan started the Alexander Mann recruitment agency in 1985, he rented a tiny windowless office on Pall Mall but conducted interviews in the local coffee shop, telling candidates the office was full. In reality there was only one small room just large enough for a table and one chair.
The business thrived and he eventually was able to afford proper premises fit for purpose.
3. Get 0800 or 0845 Call Forwarding
National telephone numbers point to any landline or mobile number and add a veneer of professionalism. The 0800 numbers are free to call for customers and are not region specific.
Studies have shown that national phone numbers can generate three times as many calls. It looks more professional than a mobile phone number or a landline so if you run ads in the local press, you might want to use a professional looking enquiry line.
If you move office, you take the national phone number with you since it is only forwarding to your phone.
- The 0800 numbers are free for customers to call but you are charged 2 pence per minute.
- The 0845 numbers are not free for the customers but you do not have to pay anything to receive the call.
- The 0844 numbers are not free for customers to call and can generate revenue for your business.
It is up to you to think about your marketing campaign (if you initiate one), who your customers are and whether they will pay for a call or not.
If you’re offering consultation over the phone, and you’re talking for hours every day, an 0844 number could be an earner for you.
You could very easily have nuisance telemarketers or general time wasters running up the bill if you’re paying to receive calls.
Beware the time you spend answering the phone if you’re paying to receive an 0800 enquiry: it’s reasonable to say you’ll need to know when to put the phone down if the conversation is not approaching profitable territory.
You may find it helpful to know it’s possible to divert national numbers to a SkypeIN number. These Skype phone numbers are pretty cheap (about £50 annually) and there is no line rental because this VoIP number runs entirely through your internet connection.
In 2012 purchased a landline phone number through Skype (actually an I.P. address masked by the landline number) and will be able to use that to answer calls placed via 0800 or 0845 number.
When your Skype rings you answer either with a USB headset or one of the Skype handsets available.
Alternatively, you might get yourself a cheap mobile phone handset together with a free SIM card. You could use that for receiving forwarded calls placed through a national phone number.
4. Use a Professional Email Account
Whenever I see someone using gmail or hotmail for business purposes I imagine all the sales leads they have likely lost.
It doesn’t put me off that much because I have made this same boo-boo in the past despite my earnest attitude. But other customers (who have never been in business themselves) are less forgiving and more judgmental. Most customers are conditioned to favour a polished looking business before parting with cash.
Think of this: would you want to pay a deposit to someone just using a hotmail address? Do you trust an untested or unknown PC repair person who only ever uses Gmail?
Okay, maybe the issue is not trust but if there’s a competitor who outclasses this person with good, proper marketing and a shiny professional email inbox you might favour that business instead.
If you are sincere about serving the public you need to send the message that you are serious by at least purchasing and using a professional mailbox associated with your website URL.
Remember to use a customised sign off email signature.
If you have yet to purchase your website address, shop around for a good registrar that also offer email plans. GoDaddy offer a 50GB email account under their Office 365 package. There is also 123-Reg, a UK based registrar who offer a much more basic email system as part of a URL purchase.
5. Use Consistent Branding
Although it’s an obvious point, it’s surprising how many small business pay no attention to their design and branding.
It’s a little annoying to see a business with completely different logos on their materials and this is could diminish the confidence your customer puts in you. Maybe not by much, but enough that all other things being equal, you might be making your competitor look better by comparison.
Many seem to think branding only applies to corporations or larger businesses but it really starts at a basic level. Business cards, logos, letter headers are all important pieces of your arsenal which at a glance lets your customer know they are dealing with the same company or person.
When everything comes together it conveys a professionalism often missing from start ups or first time business owners. By the same token, it doesn’t have to be perfect; just as good as it can be at the time and you can develop the identity of your business.
Is Bigger Better?
Depending on your demographics and target audience, posturing as something you’re not could be damaging. Some small businesses are very anti establishement in the sense that they mistrust the guy who’s gotten too big for his boots. I don’t know if that’s a British thing (possibly) but you might want to temper your image and brand identity.
Many customers enjoy buying local and from smaller concerns. The point is not to start copying corporations just because you think other people equate “big” with “success”.
Consider the 7 tips and use them with finesse and in the right way to improve the perception of your small business. Deal with some of the objections people subconsciously have and make sure you’re taken seriously as an excellent product/service provider.
If you have anything you would like to share in the comments, it’d be great to learn from you!
Google Plus Local – Register your physical business address. You can add a virtual office address if and have a city office listed on Google Maps instead of a residential location.
Get an 0800 or 0845 number – A quick Google search shows lots of possible providers
Skype – Get a SkypeIn number. I pay about £50 annually for mine. You can direct national numbers to your Skype phone number line.
Get an email address – GoDaddy offer free email inbox with purchased URL and cPanel hosting or you can but the Office 365 email and Microsoft tools package. Forwarding addresses are free and can point to your main inbox. This is useful for creating the image of different departments within your business – e.g. [email protected].