If you’re trying to establish trust and credibility in your industry, your company may need to appear to punch above its weight. But where to start? Serial entrepreneur Vikas Shah shares his advice for success
I started my first business 25 years ago. I was still in school and began building websites to pay for flying lessons; my dream was (at the time) to become an airline pilot. It became quickly apparent, however, that this ‘side-hustle’ was much more than that. It turned out that I was one of the lucky few who had found their passion early. And it was for business.
The first few clients I won were, frankly, lucky breaks – the result of relentless cold-calling. However, it became clear that if I wanted to win more lucrative business, I had to seem a part of my prospective clients’ worlds – not feel like a freelancer or small business outside it.
The psychology of this makes sense. If you are procuring products or services, your job is to reduce the risk of that purchase and maximize the value for money that your business receives. For any form of procurement, some of the major risks center on delivery. Can this company deliver? Do they have the experience? Do they have the resources? Will they last? It is these questions that are most frequently deal-breakers, and which can be resolved by you – as an entrepreneur – looking at the image you project.
Let me be clear. This is not about misrepresenting yourself as bigger than you are, but about professionalizing your image and approach to put your customers’ minds at ease. Over the years, as my own businesses have grown (we now have a portfolio of ventures), when we are procuring, these same rules hold true and the people who get this right are the ones who make it through the layers of checks and onto the desks of decision makers.
Below are a few things that are easy wins if you want to look more like an established, experienced business.
You are here
Don’t obviously use a home address or mailbox. Plenty of coworking centers and virtual offices provide low-cost ‘correspondence’ services (meaning you can use their address). An address in the right location can change the perception of you completely.
Hi, my name is…
If you’re going to put a title on your card and materials, don’t oversell. There are plenty of business cards I receive where someone is the CEO of themselves! It’s fine to write ‘Founder’ or ‘Director’ – keep it simple.
Call me, maybe
If you’re going to use a phone number, try out services that can give you a geographic number near where your clients are located, rather than a generic cellphone number. Some even offer answering and message services (virtual PA).
Understandably, your digital presence is the most important window people now have into your business and it’s crucial that you think of it as a ‘digital estate’ and get it in order. You need a good website, and that needn’t cost the earth. There are lots of websites such as Upwork, Fiverr and others where you can get brilliant freelancers to help you for surprisingly affordable amounts. Your website is your shopfront and needs to have all the key information that sells your product or service as best as possible.
Get a domain name
Please, please, please don’t email a business from your Gmail, Yahoo or other personal account. For the $10 it costs, get a domain name (e.g. yourbusiness.com) – it looks infinitely more professional.
LinkedIn is very important. For many buyers, it’s one of the first places they look if they are researching a new approach. The rules here are simple – make sure you have a good, professional-looking photograph (not that one of you on spring break!), and make sure you go through your career history and really pick out all the key bits that sell you best in the industry you are selling to.
Social media, blogs and podcasts are a great way to showcase your knowledge and experience. A great starting point is to find experts in your field who are already doing this online, then spend time understanding what they’re doing that works and what doesn’t, and using that as your guide.
Closing the deal
One of the most important questions you can ask yourself when evaluating what image to project is: what does it take to close the deal? What are the things that you would want to see, if you were the customer, to reassure you? This isn’t just about size, it’s about experience and capability.
This might mean including logos of specific big-name clients you’ve worked with so far on your website; producing some simple (one-page) case studies on the kind of work you’ve done or could do; and asking your previous colleagues and customers for testimonials and reviews.
It’s easy to forget, but when we talk about selling to businesses, we’re actually talking about selling to people. Thinking in human terms about the motivation of your buyer can really inform you about how to improve your image to get the deal done.
Thought Economics: Conversations with the Remarkable People Shaping Our Century by Vikas Shah is published on 4 February 2021