What a Frilled Lizard Can Teach Us About Business (3 Easy Ways to Make your Business Look Bigger & More Credible)

image courtesy of Flickr user fotographix.caWe all know that in the business world, it’s never easy being the little guy.  Not only can the Goliaths in your industry beat you in price just about every single time, they probably have first quarter marketing budgets ten times your annual revenue.

But one of the biggest advantages the big guys have over small businesses (fair or not) is assumed credibility.  They’re big, so they must know their stuff.

Let’s face it, most of us would probably like to support a small, local business over a big box corporation if given the option, but for a lot of people, it’s still going to be a little scary trusting a company that operates out of a spare bedroom over a company with a nice, flashy office in Manhattan.

So what do you do when faced with this challenge?

Do what the Frilled Lizard does: pretend you’re bigger.

image courtesy of Flickr user Ryan Somma

If you’re not familiar with the odd little lizard from Down Under, it’s famous for its large ruff of skin that flares out when it feels threatened, making itself look substantially bigger and more fierce than it really is.

So in order to compete with the big guys, don’t be afraid to do a little pretending yourself.  Here’s 3 easy ways your small business can be like the Frilled Lizard:

1.  Get a business phone line with business features.

If you don’t want clients to necessarily know you’re a one or two-person shop, having a business phone line with a recorded message and menu options will immediately give them a sense that you’re a much bigger business.

I know what you’re thinking, I can’t afford a fancy business phone line.  Well, maybe you can.

If you own a cell phone—and I’m guessing you do as a recent survey suggests that one-fifth of small business owners feel they could not survive without their mobile devices—why not put it to work as your business line as well?  For example, there’s a fantastic new application for the iPhone called Line2.

The New York Times described the business benefits of Line2 best:

Line2 offers a raft of features that are intended to help a small business look bigger:  call screening, Do Not Disturb hours and voice mail messages sent to you as e-mail.  You can create an “automated attendant” – “Press 1 for sales,” Press 2 for accounting,” and so on – that routes incoming calls to other phone numbers.

As an iPhone app, you can manage your second phone number all through your iPhone. The best thing about Line2 for small business owners:  it’s only $15 a month.

If you don’t own an iPhone, you still have some great options.  Google Voice, which will be widely available to the public soon, offers flexible features like do not disturb, call forwarding, call screening, transcribed voicemail, and more.  Google Voice will be supported on most Android handsets (you may need to check with your wireless carrier to be sure they support it, too).  For non-iPhone or Android users, you may want to consider a virtual office or phone system service, such as Grasshopper.com, which offers both toll-free and local numbers, unlimited extensions, forwarding, and voicemails by email.

2.  Move beyond PayPal

In the early days of the Internet, the idea of using a credit card to buy something on the web felt a little like playing Russian roulette.  Then PayPal came along and helped us get more comfortable with the idea of buying online.

These days, of course, using a credit card online is pretty much second nature.  Not only are ecommerce websites more secure, but most credit cards now have built-in protections for online purchases.

As such, it’s probably time for your business to move beyond PayPal.  Don’t get me wrong, PayPal is still popular and convenient for some shoppers, but it’s no longer the standard payment option offered online.  If anything, most reputable ecommerce websites that accept PayPal offer it in addition to major credits card.

But you might be thinking, How can my little business qualify for a merchant account?

Well, although it’s fairly easy to acquire a PayPal merchant account, you’d be surprised how easy it is to get a real merchant account, too.   So you might want to check it out.  Unfortunately, by only accepting PayPal in 2010, you run the risk of coming off as “small time.”

As an additional tip, be sure to use a dedicated SSL certificate when setting up your ecommerce site—using a shared SSL will also reek of small time.  Although a shared certificate will encrypt transactions just as effectively as a dedicated one, there’s a notable difference.  With a shared SSL, the URL  will change to a different address (the address the shared SSL is assigned to) when a shopper enters the secured area of your site.  This is a huge red flag for savvy online shoppers and may make them think twice before entering their payment information.

3.  Get fancy with your email address

A couple years ago, around the time Bret Favre “retired” from the Green Bay Packers, I went online to see how much it would cost to get a signed Favre jersey.  I quickly found a sports memorabilia shop in Florida that actually had one I could afford.

I’ve never been to Florida, so I didn’t have any expectation of ever hearing of this shop before, but the website was nice and it appeared legitimate.  But I had some questions about the jersey, so I went to the “about us” page to get an email address.  The email address was a Yahoo! Account.

This scared me off, and I didn’t end up buying the Jersey.

Unfortunately, if you’re running your own business, nothing will reek more of small time (or worse, not credible) than having a email address from a free email service provider.  If you have a website for your business (and if you don’t, that, too, will come off as small time) check with your hosting company or webmaster to see how you can get one.  Services like Gmail also have options to use your own domain.

Here’s a couple more Frilled Lizard tricks you might want to consider regarding your business email account:

  • Create a nice auto-responder to acknowledge that you received their email, and to set an expectation on how long it will take for you to get back to them.
  • Create email addresses, or alias addresses, for different roles (i.e. sales@, support@, feedback@, etc.).
  • Append a professional-looking signature on all emails, including on all replies.  This should include your title, business phone number, and email address.

Well, there you have it.  Looking bigger couldn’t be easier.  If you’re a small business owner, let us know about any tricks you use to appear “bigger.”  For everyone else, let us know what you think.  Is it important for your business to appear bigger in order to be considered credible?  Let us know in the comments below.

You can reach Will Rose at wrose@newtektechnologyservices.com

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