Congratulations, small business owner. You’re a small fish in a very large aquarium. But just as little fish looks a whole lot bigger through the glass, some new technological tools can make your business seem bigger and more successful to prospective clients. With that end in mind, here are 7 ways to make your business appear bigger and, in the process, become more competitive and profitable.
1. Have a corporate looking website: So what if you’re flying solo and your corporate office is a broom closet. When it comes to marketing, it’s all about perception. Establishing a strong corporate presence on the web can go a long way to level the playing field or even give you an edge over your bigger competitors. Since first impressions really do matter, make sure that your website looks professional and is easy to navigate. If you resist the urge to cut corners and get it right the first time, your website will be one of the best business moves you’ll ever make in terms of ROI.
2. Automate your phone system: While Smart Phones offer an array of apps and options designed to help you run your business more efficiently, if you want to appear bigger and more successful than you are, it’s time to invest in an automated telephone system. From phone trees that receive and direct incoming calls, to systems that allow customers to go about the business of placing orders and making payments—all without your needing to actively participate in the process—automated phone systems are another high ROI investment. Again, simplicity and ease of navigation are crucial, especially since many big businesses have adopted nightmarish phone systems that can actually turn customers off. Although it may sound “corporate”, try to avoid using the “Please listen carefully to the following options, as our menu has changed” message which is overused and can really frustrate those on the other end. Also, as some of these phone systems are very expensive, make sure you shop around to find the system that best suits your needs without going overboard.
3. Use automated e-mail services: An acceptable customer expectation of big businesses is that initial e-mails are acknowledged with “canned” messages send by computerized answering systems. After all, large corporations have better things to do than assign people to personally answer e-mails all day. While the ability to field e-mails from prospective customers in a timely and personal manner can be an asset in the early stages of getting your business off the ground, there will come a time when you are too busy to provided that kind of consistent customer service. Before that time arrives you’ll want to start using an automated e-mail service. Among the most popular of these is MailChimp, which can not only send auto-respond e-mails but also send newsletters, post-purchase customer surveys and other specialized e-mails according to programmable monthly, weekly or daily schedules. Another valuable service that allows small business owners to effectively stay on top of e-mail in terms of what was said to whom and when is the web application known as Highrise. Using Highrise gives you command of facts and information that is current and relatable to specific clients, which helps you to serve them better and makes them feel more recognized and appreciated.
4. Use virtual scheduling: When you need to schedule meetings and conferences with clients, instead of saying, “hold on while I pull out my day-planner”, let a free calendaring tool do the work for you. With the ability to Interface with such programs as Google Calendar or Microsoft Outlook, management tools such as TimeTrade or Tungle.me show clients open times in your schedule without disclosing information about other appointments, or more importantly, the lack thereof. While saving valuable time for both you and your clients, these tools create the “big business” impression that you are busy and need to calendar your time in a time-efficient manner.
5. Be “big business” accountable: Sure you’ve got word processing software that can help you generate nice looking invoices. But when your customers receive them they’ve got “cookie cutter” written all over them. To avoid the perception of “smallness” when billing, you can utilize online programs like FreshBooks, to create and send professional quality invoices for FREE. By integrating FreshBooks with other programs that collect and digitize expense receipts for invoicing purposes, you can generate invoices virtually anytime from anywhere, at the click of a mouse or the touch of an iPhone.
6. Hire virtual assistants: Although you’ve gotten pretty good at flying solo through the proper use of technological tools, there will be times when you need real help from real people. Fortunately for you, many qualified individuals are currently promoting their services as virtual assistants. Unlike employees, virtual assistants work by the job and bill by the hour, giving you what you need only when you need it, along with a tax deductible expense.
7. Don’t let technology run you: With so many great technological tools available to help you make your business seem bigger, avoid the risk of becoming so overwhelmed by it that it actually bogs your business down. Ultimately, technology is only useful to the extent that it streamlines and simplifies business operations, allowing you more time to use your unique knowledge and skills to help your business become, not just bigger, but better than your Big Fish competitors.