Thursday, August 2, 2012

3 Tips to Make Your Small Business Look BIG

Nowadays it is important for beginning entrepreneurs to look bigger than they are. A number of large businesses are weary of entering into a contract with a lone ranger - a lone consultant who works out his or her home. Most businesses want to feel like they are working with a team of multiple players. Well, even if you do not have an office space or an expenses PBX system, you can still look like you do. Here are 3 simple tips to make your business look bigger than it really is.

1. Virtual Office Address

I still know consultants who list their home as their business address. This may have been okay several years ago but there is a service which we all love that makes this a horrible idea today - Google Maps. When you list your home as your business address you can bet the procurement manager or CIO who never heard of you will look up that address on Google Maps, even Street View. If your front yard comes on the screen it is game over. You may think it is no big deal because you know you can do a better job than your much larger competition, but it is not about what you think. It is about what your customer thinks. Visuals are important, which is why we go through the trouble of having fancy websites.

A cost effective solution to this problem is a virtual office space. No, not a UPS store box and certainly not a PO box. For a few dollars more per month you can have a mailing address in a posh office building, access to a conference room on an as needed basis and a live receptionist. When people walk into the office building they will see your company's name on the directory. Most importantly, when customers look you up on Google Maps Street View, they will see a real office building, not a picture of you raking the leaves in your front yard.

These services exist all over the country mostly in major cities but the locations are spreading rapidly. For example, before we moved into a physical office space over four years ago, we looked for a virtual space. Though none were available in our area at the time, we have a couple of good ones in our town today. Perform a Google search for "virtual office" and enter your city.

2. Virtual PBX / Attendant

It is not enough to have someone call and hear your cell phone voice mail message. Instead, there are a number of excellent virtual attendant services on the market such as Ring Central, which I use for my own company. There is also Phonebooth, which I recently learned about. A virtual attendant prompts the caller with multiple options during the call such as, "Press 1 for sales, 2 for technical support," etc. The calls can then be routed to different cell phones according to the rules you set up.

Ring Central Mobile for example, costs $9.99 per month if you pay up front for the year or $14.99 on a month by month basis. For an extra $5 per month you can have a dedicated fax number or you can use their internet faxing service, which allows you to send faxes from your email program.  Either way, a fax machine is not needed. Received faxes get converted into PDFs and emailed to you.

Phonebooth has one really cool feature that I wish Ring Central offered. Your voicemails are transcribed and emailed to you. One weakness of Phonebooth however, is their lack of a faxing service. This feature will eventually be added according to Phonebooth.

Some will point out that Google Voice is a free alternative to paid services. However, Google's service has one glaring flaw - lack of a virtual attendant. Calls simply get automatically forwarded to different numbers according to rules you set up. If you are a small consulting group or a lone consultant, why not pay a small fee to have a PBX system on par with your larger competition. Your customers will love it and you will come across as professional and impressive to prospective clients.

3. Google Apps Standard Edition

For goodness sake please drop the Yahoo, Hotmail and AOL email addresses. I am shocked to find so many beginning entrepreneurs still using these services. I know an entrepreneur who handed his business card to a contact, and the contact handed it right back to him. Why? She took one look at his Yahoo email address and said, "I can't take a business card with a Yahoo address to my boss." Why is this such a turn off? Because it requires very little effort to have an email address with your company's domain name. In fact, it is free.

Google Apps Standard Edition offers company email, shared calendars, company intranet and shared documents free for up to 10 employees. If you need it for more than 10 employees or need other services such as shared video, you can upgrade to Google Apps for Business for a "whopping" $5 per month per user. We switched from a very costly hosted Exchange solution a couple of years ago to Google Apps and never looked back. It even integrates seamlessly with mobile devices, including the iPhone. Google licensed Microsoft's ActiveSync technology, which Microsoft Exchange uses for push email.

Like or not, we do judge a book by its cover. Do yourself a favor and spruce up of your cover by getting a real business address, a virtual attendant and Google Apps Standard for email. You will be shocked by how your customers respond.

Godspeed and I look forward to seeing you in The Players Lounge.

See Also
1. The Beginning Entrepreneur
2. 3 Tips to Help Beginning Entrepreneurs Increase Revenues
3. 3 Questions to Answer Before Starting Your Business

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