Last week we looked at words to avoid that make your business look small.
But you can’t get where you want to go just by avoiding errors. Let’s look at some basic moves to look like you’re already big and successful, even though you are living entirely on 2-Minute Noodles.
First remember there’s a fine line between creating a big impression, versus just being a liar. Making shit up will come back later to bite you.
It’s OK to: give your one-person basement business a grand name and a logo with a prestigious-looking lion / serif font combo.
It’s NOT OK to: tell people others have already invested $5M in your business when that number is $642. Or to tell people Apple is a client when in fact you once worked nights in a call center that did business with Apple.
Once you start with small lies, you think you can get away with it forever, and it snowballs until you become Fyre Island guy.
You may not end up doing 6 years in Otisville (side note: America really does have the best prison-town names) but your industry will know that you are a lying scumbag and people will wait decades for the chance to take painful revenge on you.
I’ve done that and my God, the satisfaction.
1. Steal From Big Brands. I Mean, Study Them
Study big brands that you like, preferably outside your own industry, and adapt their style. Their graphic design approach, their writing tone, their packaging, the sort of photos they use.
Obviously don’t copy them directly, but invest time in analyzing their style, in the same way that the young Bruno Mars watched a ton of James Brown videos. Then steal their moves.
Bruno Mars is massive, other than physically, and nobody calls him a James Brown impersonator.
2. Stay Consistent
Just having a style puts you ahead of most. Enforce it, brands are built on years of visual consistency.
In most businesses, when the new graphic designer or marketing manager comes in, they usually want to put their individual stamp on it, i.e change everything.
If your logo is OK, a new one will not take your business to the next level.
Brands are basically a personality for businesses. Fiddling with your brand all the time gives it a multiple-personality disorder that makes customers nervous and uncomfortable.
Mercedes-Benz has used the same font since forever. I’m sure they went through decades of designers telling them: serif fonts are so out, we need to freshen up the brand. Wiser people in those meetings said: shut up hipster, this is one of the great brands of the world, do not mess with it.
That long-term reassurance is the reason they’re so profitable.
3. Fewer, Better Photos
If I had to pick just one tip to make your brand look bigger, it’s using one big picture instead of lots of little ones, in any medium.
Don’t try to jam stacks of icon-sized images into one screen or page. Each image has no impact and viewers remember nothing.
Find the image that tells your story the best, and give it room to breathe. Don’t bury it in text.
Spend money on photographers. If you don’t have much money, get them to spend the time on getting a few great shots instead of insisting they shoot everything.
Pros give you better composition and lighting that customers notice on a subconscious level. They can also give you the color consistency that makes your social feeds work better.
You get a lot of mileage out of a quality photo. It’s your web site home page. It’s the cover of your proposal documents. It makes magazine editors more likely to run your press release.
You can’t do it yourself. It’s not about the equipment. A pro will get better shots with a phone than you’ll get with a $10,000 DSLR, because you can’t see light like they can.
4. Be Like Your Parents: The Reassurance of Landlines
Old-school though it is, have a landline phone number and an actual office address. Sure, the landline will divert to your mobile and the office is a virtual one you never visit, but it shows substance.
The cost is basically nothing. Put multiple locations in there if you think it’s something that will impress your clients.
It’s basic risk management – without these details, clients sense you’re a sole trader who may disappear at the first signs of trouble.
5. Use Larger Invoice Numbers
So many suppliers, particularly creatives, send invoices with numbers like 17. So clients go “oh my God, they have literally only done 16 pieces of paid work, I can ‘t trust them with that major project.”
6. Don’t Be Available Immediately
If a new client gets in touch and you say: sure I’m free for a meeting right now, they know you have no work on.
So you’re not very successful. Or in demand. Scarcity creates value. It’s like the nightclub they can’t get into. It makes them want it soooo bad, a centuries-old carny trick.
A consultant I know is the nicest guy ever. He is even named Nigel, the universal name of nice guys that clients can push around. He works in a field full of egotist blowhards, who get all the respect and exorbitant daily rates from clients.
We discussed having his assistant refer to him only as “Mr Wilkinson”.
“Mr Wilkinson is very heavily booked at the moment, but he has a free day in five weeks do you want to lock that in?”
The end of Nice Nigel marked the beginning of Higher Fees Nigel.
7. We, Not I
There are two benefits.
First, if it’s just you, saying “I” is a strong signal that it’s just you and your laptop.
Secondly, as your business grows, you don’t become an I-sayer. We’ve all worked with them: I did this, I did that, my groundbreaking innovation, I had a vision, sayings that claim all the success for yourself with no acknowledgement of the people around you, who think you’re an insufferable dick.
8. Do Anything To Land A Name-Brand Client
Clients, particularly in B2B, are nervous herd animals. They want all the reassurance in the world, so if stuff fails they have a plausible blame-cover story to tell when the scapegoating starts.
Evidence of working with big-name clients is reassurance gold.
Our old events company was a moderate-sized outfit, then we picked up some Microsoft gigs including a Bill Gates tour when he was still hands-on. From that moment on, clients would ask us our credentials and we’d just show them a picture of Gates on stage, and they’d go: OK good enough.
Do whatever you have to do to get a name client, then sell the hell out of it with smaller ones.
9. Invest In Comms Professionals
You can’t do it on your own. I’ve written before on the long-term profit value of quality design: A Business Owner’s Cold, Detached Look At Design ROI.
Hire business writers and graphic designers. The collapse of print media has left the market awash with great writers and designers who are remarkably affordable.
They’re heaps cheaper than accountants, and all accountants can do is say “your revenues are too low”, while comms professionals can help fix that situation.
10. Check That Bigger Actually Is Better
Don’t just assume this stuff is universal gospel. Sometimes people want small. Small is endearing.
I spent last week in New Zealand, a magical place where you can sometimes have the Prime Minister take your phone call. Where you can ask a cab driver if he’s free for another fare later on, and he says sure just call the cab company and “tell them you want Noel”.
They take the reverse approach to everything in this article and it is the most likeable country on earth.
There are plenty of businesses that customers prefer small, because they get worse with size. Multiple restaurants from the same chef. Dental practices, staffed by aggressive sales-dentists. Breweries. Book stores.
Either way, choose your role models and go for it. Sweet as.
Postscript: I checked to see if there was a real Pinnacle Partners and yes there is, with a logo that is in some ways a pinnacle, and yet in as many ways … a toupee. Sorry about that.
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