As a new business owner you’re bound to go through a fair share of growing pains, and one of the hardest of those pains is drumming up initial interest and sales. When you are just starting out, you don’t have a reputation to draw on (unless your business is attached to another established person or entity), and you don’t yet have a captivated audience of current and potential buyers, either.
Many new small business owners make the mistake of just jumping right in, often on their own and with no real road map, hoping that over time they’ll generate enough interest in their products and services and enough social proof to sustain and grow their businesses. If they indeed have time to spend, they are not totally dependent financially on the revenues of the fledgling business, and they are persistent, then they may actually succeed.
But what if you are not one of those lucky few? You don’t have so much time to spend, and you need your new business to start generating a net income within the first year?
One way to influence and maximize your company’s sales performance right at the beginning is to make your fledgeling business look like an established company. Why would this matter? It matters because your business’ reputation and image are very real assets- ones that matter more these days then they did ten years ago. Consumers are making purchasing decisions based on a whole bunch of cues, some of them very subtle. If you understand what these cues are then you can align your business with them and essentially create the image you want from scratch. Doing this may require a bit of work and investment, but it is not as hard nor as expensive as you may think.
The tips mentioned below can help you present your new business in the best possible way and give you a leg up on establishing trust and credibility, building social proof, and extending your market reach as far as possible.
Set the stage. If you are maintaining any kind of business presence online (and the majority of businesses these days should be), then your number one goal should be to start building up an online following. This doesn’t mean that there aren’t other goals online for your business (some of them I’ll discuss below); it just means that this should be on the top of your priority list. One of the reasons to do this is social proof- if new potential customers come to your business website or social media account and see a lot of social activity and engagement, it acts as “proof” that your business is producing desirable products and/or services. If the community is sizable then it suggests that your business has also been around for a while; it’s not some fly-by-night operation.
Bottom line:in the first few months, don’t focus exclusively on converting traffic to sales. You want to spend a majority of the time cultivating an engaged audience, building your subscriber list as well as a select few social media accounts.
Realize that you are important and act that way. I’m not talking about being a know-it-all. Attitude is everything. If you recognize and are confident about the value of what your company has to offer, regardless of how long you’ve actually been in operation, and you focus on professionalism when dealing with your customers, then you can make your company seem more established.
Get some necessary props. If you want to give the impression of an established company, then invest in your phone system and setup. The great thing about the phone is that you can’t see what is happening on the other end. The picture that customers will generate of your business, is thus dependent on the audio cues they receive. You can take advantage of this fact by implementing some or all of the following strategies:
- Sign up for an online virtual phone service. Signing up for a virtual phone system can literally save your business thousands of dollars. Basic plans often start at an affordable $10 a month, require no hardware purchases, and come with an impressive assortment of features including: professionally recorded greetings, extensions, call forwarding to a land line or mobile number, and a toll free or local number dedicated to the business.
- Hire a virtual assistant to answer phone calls. If you want a human touch then consider hiring a virtual assistant to receive your calls and then forward them to you.
- Get a personalized toll free number. I know there’s some debate out there about whether having a toll free number is even necessary these days. My feeling is that for many businesses, it’s still needed- especially if you have customers throughout the country or even in different countries, or if you are not providing an online chat service yet customers need instant answers to their inquiries. In the US, numerous online services sell custom toll-free numbers, in the UK you can get a City Numbers 0800 number.
If you are giving the impression that you’re in the office, then you will also need to be able to access relevant customer and business information on the fly. You can do this in any number of ways via a slew of online services. You can use an online file sharing service like Dropbox, or you can choose to work with a full Customer Relationship Management (CRM) service online for free or low-cost with apps such as Daffodil CRM, ConcourseSuite, and vtiger.
Develop strategic partnerships. If you want to get somewhere with your business as quickly as possible, then you need to make some kind of an effort to partner up with other businesses or influential people. Doing so can significantly extend your reach and help build credibility. You can go about this in several different ways. You can piggyback on other people’s influence, such as using an established business or platform to help promote your business. You can create a working list of quality people and groups you can turn to when you need to subcontract out part of a job. This team can also cover you when there’s a backlog of work. Finally, by partnering up with other businesses or professionals, you may be able to pool your resources and access products and services and/or discounts typically reserved for bigger, more established companies.
A put-together image. If you want your customers to think they are dealing with a credible, established company then you’d better make sure that all of your printed material, your logo, and your web presence looks as modern and professional as it can be. Just a side note here: “professional” usually means using stock images sparingly. If your website looks like a stock photo portfolio, then visitors will trust your business about as much as they trust the plastic smiles of the overjoyed models you’re forcing them to look at. You will need to invest in a premium website theme or a website builder platform, and consider hiring someone to to help you in with your logo and printed materials.
In short, if you make it a point to focus on the areas above in your new business from the beginning, then you can make your business look credible and established in the eyes of your customers- and that is a very powerful asset you can leverage to ultimately increase your reach and your bottom line.