Not everyone has the advantage of building a Fortune 500 business from something into nothing overnight – a.k.a. Silicon Valley Tech startups. Most of us have to work at it a bit. Starting from scratch, making mistakes along the way, gaining client after client through hard work and referrals – and waiting for the right ones to stick…
It’s a tough game out there when it comes to standing out from the competition. Size, prestige, power – or the illusion of any of the above inspires confidence and will attract more lucrative deals that can help catapult your startup to the next level.
Perception allows you to get your foot in the door…
Let’s look at a fictional scenario, where “Richman’s Investing Co.” is looking for a hot new marketing agency to promote their company to rich global investors.
YOU have just created a startup called “Best Damned Marketing Agency Ever”.
This big fish can catapult you into the major leagues, but they don’t deal with unestablished companies. They’ve learned from past mistakes that taught them startup agencies are often disorganized, lose them tons of profit, and generally cause more trouble than they are worth.
Richman Investing Co’s VP has decided to allow an impromptu “casual” meeting with you at his Rockingham Boulevard estate, to see if you’re even worth looking at more closely.
Would YOU rather:
A. Wheel up to the meeting on your kid’s ten speed? Knowing you’ve got the moxy and know-how to woo this guy, regardless of any first impressions he might have.
B. Roll up in your 2005 Kia with a big ol dent in the rear quarter? Again, you know how to talk to these types and marketing and brand promotion is your specialty!
C. Drive up to the meeting in a cherry Mercedes C-Class Coupe (of any year)?
If you answered C: At least you’re honest! At least you understand that both A and B would have done little to inspire the VP to thinking that you’re an established, successful professional whose worthy of promoting their international investing firm!
So perceptions matter, no matter what sort of startup you are. The owner of a new specialty ice cream startup will have fewer hurdles to jump over with respect to how they need to represent themselves than the marketing firm in the example above, but people generally want to do business with people who have an air of success about them.
We’ve all heard the phrase “fake it til you make it”:
1. Create the illusion of a proper office (even if you don’t really have one!)
Get an office!
No, seriously that’s such clichéd advice right? If you had the money to do it you probably would have already. Instead, consider dressing your “home office” up to look the part for Skype calls, etc. Deck it out like an actual office space: computer monitor and multi-line telephone on the desk, degrees and other designations all over the wall, and throw up a big whiteboard with names, dates and tasks all over it.
If the above idea isn’t useful to your situation, consider using a virtual office service. Most of these services offer you a virtual secretary, toll free business number with incoming calls transferred to your cell or home phone, and professional meeting rooms all over the world you can book on-the-fly for important business meetings. Virtual services like this will even rent you international addresses to make you look like you’re spread across multiple continents!
A professional website that’s easy to navigate, telling customers about your company, with “real” testimonials, and access to your contact information will go a long way. I say real testimonials because if you don’t have them, it’s probably not a good idea to fudge this one. If the visitor can’t look the person up online, the jig will be up on you in no time!
WordPress is just as good as anything else out there. If you don’t know much about tweaking and customizing the themes. There are tons of affordable options, from finding a local designer to using sites like 99designs or crowdspring.
3. Dress to impress!
You don’t have to go over-the-top carrying around a Gucci man-bag and wearing $500 loafers. It’s probably not a smart idea to wear shorts and a t-shirt to your first meeting or two with a client. A nice pair of leather or pleather dress shoes, khakis and a fancy golf shirt are better than a wife-beater or tube top and a pair of Nike shoes.
4. Rent Space
If you’re not using a full-on virtual service like I suggested in #1: rent a conference room for all your serious meetings with clients. There are tons of affordable ways to do this, from popular companies who specialize in renting conference room/meeting rooms for business; to hotels, universities, etc.
Many new business owners try to do everything at once. Spreading themselves into multiple niches, and trying to hit up every networking function they can.
Instead, focus on one area and make sure you hit up all the events in that niche market you can.
If you’re a web designer: specialize in building websites for doctors and dentists – then go to each and every event you can where those people will be.
If you’re a car customization expert: specialize in classic cars or street-tuners – then go to every event you can where that target market will be.
Pretty soon you start to stick in people’s minds as a go-to guy or girl, because everywhere they go, they see you pitching your service and offering advice.
Share Your Thoughts
What’s the secret to making your startup look bigger than it really is?