3, 2000 -- You've got the skills, the products and the services to make
you stand out in a crowd. But you compete against companies with more
money, more personnel, more name recognition and more clout. Fortunately,
with the right technology, the right attitude and the right image, your
clients never need to know that corporate headquarters is a walk-in closet.
Here are 10 ways
a small office/home office (SOHO) can look, feel and act a lot bigger
than it is. Some require cash; others just demand a commitment to professionalism.
Together, they're an investment in the success of your business.
Get a real phone system.
it comes to telephones, associated equipment, and services, it's time
to splurge," says Debra Koontz Traverso, author of Outsmarting Goliath:
How to Achieve Equal Footing with Companies That are Bigger, Richer, Older
and Better Known. "Buy or lease the best system or service
you can justify."
The phone system
for Drapkin Technology in New York includes a company directory that you
can dial by name. Every extension on the system goes directly to the desk
of Michael Drapkin.
"When a client
calls, the first impression is they're dealing with a company," says
Drapkin, who also is chair of Columbia University's e-commerce track.
"I'm still a company; I'm just the only employee. A $3,000 to $4,000
system gives you functionality of a system that 10 years ago cost $50,000."
If the thought of
plunking down three grand gives you hives, there are plenty of affordable
options. At very least, you need more than one phone line.
'amateur' like having to say, 'Call me before you send a fax,' "
says Atlanta-based professional speaker and communications consultant
Separate lines for
home and business are the best arrangement, Koontz said. A residential
line is cheaper, but only a business phone will get you into the business
listings in the phone book.
If that's not in
the budget, ask your phone company about getting more than one number
on the same line, with distinctive rings. That way, you know when the
kids can get it and when you need to answer the phone with a formal business
Also, look into voice
mail because answering machines don't work when the power goes off.
Polish your presentation.
Whether it's a Web site or your business cards, your message should be
polished and professional. Stever Robbins, president of Massachusetts-based
seen the benefit of investing in the look and feel of both his site and
his printed materials.
"I went out
and bought a font that I use just for this one thing," Robbins said.
"At first I thought, 'Wow, I just spent $500 on a font. How stupid
is that?' But I've been uniformly told my package is among the nicest
people have seen."
Among the most common
mistakes home-based companies make, Robbins said, is using Web sites and
printed materials created with cheap template programs. This is a job
have external reason to believe otherwise, you're not a designer, you're
not a writer, and you're not a user interface designer," Robbins
said. "Those are the three things people think they're good at, and
they're not. I've developed a lot of respect for professionals who do
their jobs well."
Many SOHOs stay organized with the help of Palm Pilots; and application
service providers (ASPs) such as HotOffice.com
help small companies access the high-cost technology that often gives
big companies the edge.
a client calls, the first impression is they're dealing with a company.
I'm still a company; I'm just the only employee."
don't have IT or MIS people," says Mickey Freeman, senior vice president
of marketing and sales at HotOffice.com. "Software is expensive to
buy and install. With a Web-based service, you can rent or lease it. It's
leveling the playing field for companies that would have had to plunk
down $15,000 to $20,000 to set it up."
Michael Britt, president
of Computer Clown in Virginia, sells computers and peripherals, provides
software training, designs systems and sets up small offices. He's also
a professional clown. Among other things, he uses HotOffice.com to access
documents and PowerPoint presentations from the road.
"The more professional
I can make my business look, the better my opportunities will be,"
he says. "If I'm in the field and don't have a price list with me,
I pull up HotOffice and say, 'I can get that for you.' If I need to create
a business letter, I can make myself look good."
"YourBiz Inc." carries more weight than simply "YourBiz,"
Robbins says. It also cuts out 1099 processing, which signals that you're
a sole proprietor. If you don't want to deal with separate income tax
returns and quarterly reports to the IRS, unemployment fund contributions
and annual registrations with the state division of corporations, at least
use a DBA.
The right address is everything.
If you have an address that sounds professional, use it. If, however,
you live on Pleasant Hill Road or Periwinkle Lane, you might want to consider
renting a post office box or a box at a mailing service company. In any
situation, Traverso suggests adding a suite number.
Use the royal 'we.'
Always use "we" when referring to yourself in discussions with
your clients or prospects, says Tanya F. Hilleary, president of Virginia-based
Riverbyte Communications. Also, never make big decisions on the spot.
If they say, "Well you're the president, can't you make the decision?"
say, "I need to consult with my executive committee on these matters,"
and let it be that. "The executive committee may be your pet spaniel,"
Hilleary says, "but at least you're not getting bullied by a client
because you're a small shop."
Meet on their turf.
Unless your space offers some unique advantage for a meeting, don't meet
clients at your office. Go to them, or borrow space at an office to meet.
If you take a client to lunch, Mobley suggests using a corporate charge
card to pay for meals with clients. It's more impressive and makes your
expenses easier to track.
Accept credit cards.
People don't expect that from a sole proprietor. Besides, if you're doing
business on the Net, you're dead in the water if you don't.
Consider a toll-free number.
It says you want people to inquire about your company, to the extent you'll
pay for the inquiry, Mobley said.
"Answer their questions before the question is even asked,"
says Eliza Taylor, president of Eliza.com, a Web company that sells unique
art and gifts. "We have live, online help, email and an 800 number
to do orders. Our key message is customer service, making sure each time
they come, it's an experience that's a positive one and one they can pass
along to their friends."
Pat Curry is
a free-lance writer based in Georgia
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--Posted: July 3, 2000