There’s something very liberating about running a small business. Free of corporate shackles, you’re able to steer the ship in your own direction, paying scant regard to concepts like human resources and employee appraisals. After all, are there really any employee issues that can’t be solved with a cleverly worded, passive-aggressive email? I think not.
Of course this relatively admin-free way of life comes along with its own share of problems, particularly when your goal is to grow your business (something that experts agree is a rather important element of any entrepreneur’s existence). You see, what you might find quaint and charming, blue-chip clients are likely to find equally terrifying, not having ever before seen a hand-typed invoice, hastily cobbled together in Excel and entirely devoid of aesthetic value.
Naturally, any business takes time to find its feet. I’d merrily been calling myself a ‘Director’ for a good six months before I found out what VAT even stood for, let alone that I needed to apply for it. In fact, I must get on that. Nonetheless, just because you’re only slowly evolving from entrepreneurial infancy doesn’t mean you need to play in the client paddling pool, simply accepting any old work that comes your way.
You see, just because you’re a relative small fry doesn’t mean you can’t take on big work and do it well. Whereas large agencies and firms tend to get wound up in their own red tape and charge extortionate rates to cover their overheads, you’ve got the benefit of being flexible and hands-on, two attributes worth their weight in gold in today’s dynamic digital era.
The problem is, of course, that you can’t tell potential clients that. To people raised on memos and agendas, systems and processes are like catnip, offering up a comforting sense of reassurance that things are on track, despite this seldom being true.
What corporate clients ACTUALLY need is someone who’s going to do the work, rather than someone who simply talks about it, hiring minions to expound upon this in written form until they overwhelm said client with words, and remain no closer to meeting the deadline in question. But do they know this? Probably not.
So while your long game is undoubtedly your ability to just get on with things, no matter the unreasonable deadlines and demands thrown your way, your short-term goal is to sell your offering as if it came with a staff of 100, gently coating it with generous euphemisms in order to get your foot in the door.
Yes, it’s time to take a leaf out of the estate agent’s guidebook, and reposition your ramshackle roadside shack as a quaint and rustic cottage, equipped with all the necessary amenities. The bottom line is that, in the world of business, appearances do matter, and your ability to dazzle your potential new client will be largely contingent on your capacity to put on a show, rather than to nail the job.
Now, as someone whose Powerpoint skills would frankly appall even a 10-year old, this was a bitter pill to swallow. Ask me to come up with a content strategy or execute a complicated digital advertising campaign and I’m your man. But ask me to put together something that doesn’t make your eyes bleed and I’m woefully out of my depth. Of course, I forged ahead anyway, resolute in my ability to actually, you know, DO the work, but was met with rejection time and again.
Eventually, I realised that as much as we business owners want to be associated with top brands, so too do the clients we seek, who earn a certain caché by collaborating with highly regarded suppliers. There’s no glory in supporting the underdog – it just makes you look cheap and/or difficult to work for. Reputation is everything.
And so the plan was duly tweaked, and people with skills were brought in to varnish the battered windowpanes of my business. Embossed cards were printed, a slick credentials document was created, a website took shape. And suddenly, the clients came knocking. Nothing changed in any real sense of course (aside from the financial impact of said corporate makeover), but suddenly it felt like a business people could be a part of, one that wouldn’t bring shame upon the family. It’s truly amazing what a well-designed Powerpoint can do.
So if you’re looking to grow your fledgling business and score some snazzy new clients, here are 4 things to bear in mind:
- Fake it till you make it. There’s no shame in a little elaboration here and there.
- Hire experts to help you. Much as you might fancy your presentation skills, your Word Art isn’t going to cut it.
- Be confident. Remember, you’ve got flexibility and hunger on your side.
- Dress to impress. Even if flip flops are a mainstay of your daily wardrobe, you might want to invest in a suit of sorts for those all-important presentations.