In the business world, it’s never easy being the little guy. Not only can the goliaths in your industry beat you in price just about every single time; they also probably have first-quarter marketing budgets 10 times your annual revenue.
One of the biggest advantages, fair or not, that the big guys have over small businesses is assumed credibility. They’re big, so they must know their stuff, people may speculate.
Let’s face it: Most of us would probably like to support a small, local business over a big-box corporation, but for a lot of people, it’s still going to be a little scary trusting a company that operates out of a spare bedroom over a company with a nice, flashy office in Manhattan.
How do you, the small-business owner, face this challenge?
Do what the frilled lizard does. Pretend you’re bigger. The odd little lizard from Down Under is famous for its large ruff of skin that flares out when it feels threatened, making it look bigger and fiercer than it really is.
In order to compete with the big guys, don’t be afraid to do a little pretending yourself. Here are three easy ways that your small business can be like a frilled lizard.
1. Get a phone line with business features. If you don’t want clients to necessarily know that you run a one or two-person shop, having a business phone line with a recorded message and menu options will give them a sense that you run a much bigger business.
I know you’re thinking that you can’t afford an elaborate business line. Well, maybe you can.
If you own a cell phone—and I’m guessing you do, because a recent survey suggests that one-fifth of small-business owners feel they could not survive without their mobile devices—why not put it to work as your business line as well? For example, there’s an application for the iPhone called Line2. Line2 has a variety of features for the small-business owner, as described in an article in The New York Times.
If you don’t own an iPhone, you still have options. Google Voice offers flexible features like do not disturb, call forwarding, call screening, transcribed voicemail, and more. Google Voice will be supported on most Android handsets (you may need to check with your wireless carrier to be sure it supports Google Voice, too). If you don’t use an iPhone or Android, you may want to consider a virtual office or phone system service, such as Grasshopper, which offers toll-free and local numbers, unlimited extensions, forwarding, and voicemails by email.
2. Move beyond PayPal. In the early days of the internet, the idea of using a credit card to buy something on the internet felt like playing Russian roulette. Then PayPal came along and helped us get more comfortable with the idea of buying online.
These days, shoppers regularly use credit cards online. Ecommerce sites are more secure, and most credit cards now have built-in protections for online purchases.
As such, it’s probably time for your business to move beyond PayPal. Don’t get me wrong; PayPal is still popular and convenient for some shoppers—but it’s no longer the standard payment option offered online. If anything, most reputable ecommerce websites that accept PayPal offer it in addition to other payment methods.
You might be thinking, “How can my small business qualify for a merchant account?”
Although it’s easy to obtain a PayPal merchant account, you’d be surprised at how easy it is to get a real merchant account, too. You might want to check it out.
As an additional tip, be sure to use a dedicated SSL certificate when setting up your ecommerce site. Although a shared certificate and a dedicated certificate will both encrypt transactions effectively, there’s a notable difference. With a shared SSL, the URL will change to a different address (the address the shared SSL is assigned to) when a shopper enters the secured area of your site. That is a huge red flag for savvy online shoppers, and they may think twice before entering their payment information.
3. Get fancy with your email address. A couple of years ago, around the time Brett Favre “retired” from the Green Bay Packers, I went online to see how much it would cost to get a signed Favre jersey. I found a sports-memorabilia shop in Florida that had one I could afford.
I’ve never been to Florida so I didn’t have any expectations of hearing about this shop before, but the website was nice and it appeared legitimate. But I had some questions about the jersey, so I went to the “about us” page to get an email address. The email address was a Yahoo account.
That scared me off, and I didn’t buy the jersey.
If you’re running your own business, nothing will reek more of small time (or worse, not credible) than having an email address from a free email service provider. If you have a website for your business (if you don’t, that will also come off as small time) check with your hosting company or webmaster to see how you can get an email account. Services like Gmail also have options for you to use your own domain name.
Here are some more frilled-lizard tricks you might want to consider regarding your business email account:
• Create an auto-response email to inform senders when you’re unavailable. It will set an expectation about the length of time it will take you to reply to the senders.
• Create email addresses, or alias addresses, for different roles (e.g., sales@, support@, feedback@).
• Add a professional-looking signature to all emails, including all replies. It should include your title, business phone number, and email address.
If you’re a small-business owner, let us know about any tricks you use to appear bigger. For everyone else, let us know what you think. Is it important to you to make your business appear bigger in order to be considered credible? Let us know in the comments below.