Every business starts out small, which may make it difficult to attract the attention of investors, clients and others without the staff and resources of a larger company. So what’s an entrepreneur to do? Once, when Sarah Crossman Sullivan was still running her business from home, she turned on her shower while talking with a prospective investor on the phone — to make it sound like she was in a busy production room, rather than in her bathroom. Other business owners who work alone often refer to their “teams,” which may consist of a patchwork assortment of contractors but not actual employees.
“There is nothing wrong with packaging yourself or company in a professional fashion that projects a bigger, more established organization,” says Karen Post, a branding expert and author of “Brand Turnaround.” “Perception is reality. Smart buyers are more concerned with the ability to produce results than the size of your staff and office. Smart sellers understand how small details can imply credibility, experience and confidence — all superseding one's size.”
Today, Sullivan and business partner Jamie Pennington don’t have to pretend anymore: SeeItFit, their Atlanta-based “virtual dressing room” company, isn’t huge yet, with 12 employees and a dedicated office space, but it has partnered with major market brands, like Under Armour, Banana Republic and Ann Taylor, to allow users to see clothes on themselves while shopping online.
In their case, SeeItFit needed the attention of large brands to make its business model work, so it was important to overcome the stigma of a micro-company with few resources. At the same time, while making a big impression may bring positive attention to a small business, entrepreneurs must be careful not to take it too far. “Be careful not to exaggerate or lie because it could come back and bite you,” says Patrice Rhoades-Baum, a small business marketing and branding consultant.
Here are five tips for conveying the competence of a larger, established firm without losing your authenticity:
1. Go on location. Sullivan advises scheduling as many pitch meetings as you can with potential investors and clients, and always offer to meet at the client’s office to save them commuting time. “No one needs to know [that] a meeting in your office would be around the kitchen table,” she says. “The client is honored by your effort and will see your passion and authenticity.” If it’s not always feasible to meet at the potential partner’s office, Post recommends joining a business club and holding important meetings there.