Starting a small business can have many challenges for any entrepreneur. Getting the word out about your business, getting your website created or completed, finding clients, having the means for your clients to contact you, office space, (deciding is it necessary), hiring , book keeping and everything else just further complicates the start-up process. It’s endless and makes starting a business seem like such a daunting task. But just because you have or are starting a small business, doesn’t mean that you have to look like one.
There are many ways to enhance your small business, making it look bigger, at relatively inexpensive costs. Everyone has to start somewhere, but think about things from the customer’s perspective. Think about a time when you were searching for businesses that you wanted to work with for personal use. Did you choose the smallest entity you could find, one that did not have a website or even have a business card to give you? Probably not! Chances are you decided to look a little further to find someone you felt was more “experienced” in their field. If that’s something you’ve done, then chances are your small business may lose customers for the same reason. Starting a new business can be a very expensive venture. Following are some fairly inexpensive suggestions that you can execute in order to make your small business look more like an established corporate entity.
What better way is there to let people know how to contact you than with a business card? In the business world, it is a given that you will have a business card. When you meet knew clients, business colleagues or prospective investors, more often than not you will be asked for your business card. Although cards can be expensive depending on the design, card stock and colors you use, you can get free business cards for the cost of shipping through VistaPrint.com. This is not meant to be a permanent solution, as you have limited designs you can choose from, but it’s a great remedy for small businesses just starting out. Make sure you carry your business cards with you at all times. You never know when the need to have one will arise.
This is one area that you probably never thought about. When you open your business checking account, make sure that the checks you order start with a number no less than 1000, preferably 2000 or more. When you have checks numbered under 1000, it appears as if you have been in business for a short time. Even if you have, there’s no need to advertise that with your check book! The entity you choose to bank with will often ask you what number you would like to start your checks with. But if they don’t, then you should ask them. Most banks offer this benefit. Bank of America, M&T Bank (East Coast) and Wachovia (East Coast, TX and CA) are a few banks in the US that give you this option.
If you have a website, it’s important to consider using your company’s website name in the domain part of your email address. For example, if your small business was IPWatchdog, then you could have your email be either your name or a user name followed by “@IPWatchdog.com.” If you do not have a website yet, you may want to consider looking for and purchasing the domain name you will use when you are ready to create a website. You can search for and purchase available website domain names from GoDaddy for as little as $1.99 per year for a “.info” domain name. You really should try and stick with “.com” domain names, but those can be acquired for as little as $11.99 per year.
Many people choose free email or reasonable priced email addresses such as with Yahoo, Hotmail, AOL and Juno. I do not recommend doing this, because again, it gives the appearance that you are just starting your business and that your business is in an immature stage. Some of the free e-mail address you can acquire, through Yahoo for example, are notorious for receiving large amounts of Spam mail and so they tend to have overactive Spam filters. Weeding out Spam is fine, but weeding out e-mail you really want to receive can be a disaster.
There are many options that you can choose from in order to send and receive email once you’ve decided on your domain name. Again, you do have the option of using free email accounts, but I don’t recommend that. Once you’ve chosen your domain name, you need to set up a place online where you can send and receive your email. One choice you have would be to host your e-mail through GoDaddy. They offer up to 10 e-mail addresses, unlimited storage and access through smartphones for as little as $2.99 per month. GoDaddy also offers other solutions starting at $1.19 per month. Yahoo! Business Mail also offers similar functionality. For $9.95 per month, you get to use up to 10 of your own email addresses and unlimited storage. Check out both of these websites to see what else they have to offer for your email needs. A third option that is available to you is Google Mail which provides much of the same functionality and is free.
The benefit of using business solutions like these is that you can access your email on their servers from any computer no matter where your travels take you. You are also sending e-mails through their servers, which is important for the traveling business person. If you hook up your computer in your hotel room and access the Internet you might well be accessing from an IP address that has been characterized as that of a spammer, meaning the e-mails you send might not be received.
If you travel on business, carry a laptop when you are away from home, or simply need to use someone else’s computer, you can still have access to your email, with the ability to send and receive simply by signing into your e-mail account that is remotely hosted. Your being away from the office will be transparent to your clients thus making it appear as if your business is not just a small start up business.
Professional Telephone Service
Do you want to give out your home or cell phone number to prospective clients? Probably not! Otherwise you’d never “get off work.” It does not take much to set up a professional telephone service. One thing you could do is to get a phone line through your local phone company. For small businesses, this is not often advantageous; especially if you don’t spend much time at your desk. Instead consider setting up a Virtual Telephone System. Grasshopper is a company that we at IPWatchdog recommend because we have successfully used their services for years. Grasshopper gives you the option of having multiple mailboxes or extensions with unlimited voicemail storage and it offers night after hours modes as many corporate entities have. You do not need to have a separate business line, because you can have your business calls forwarded to your home or cell phone. The call will come in with caller ID, and you can set it up so that when you answer the phone, you are given the opportunity to either take the call or send it to voicemail. This brings up the next point.
It’s time to throw away that old answering machine. Virtually all telephone companies offer free or inexpensive voicemail services. Whether you choose to have a dedicated business telephone line , or you set up a Virtual Telephone System, your voicemail should be both professional and personal. Personalized voice-mail boxes not only demonstrate efficiency. but also convey an impression that yours is a sizable, established business. When you set up your voicemail, ask a friend to set up your “voice messaging system” in a voice other than that of the owner or CEO of your business. Again, this will give clients the impression that your business is professional, well established and bigger than a small start up business.
Most large businesses have the ability to send and receive faxes. Having a fax number on your business cards and website will certainly give the impression to customers and clients that your business is not just a small start up company. Some new businesses opt to use the same telephone number for both inbound and outbound telephone calls as well as for sending and receiving faxes. This is a red flag to clients and customer that you are small entity, so I don’t recommend it.
With current technology, you don’t need to purchase a fax machine or an All-In-One printer with faxing capabilities. Nor do you need to be concerned about needing a dedicated telephone line for a fax machine. Instead I recommend that you consider utilizing the professional services of Send2Fax.com. Send2Fax provides you with a personal fax number that receives faxes from any fax machine and delivers them directly to your email inbox as soon as the fax is received. You can also set your account preferences to have inbound faxes delivered to up to two separate email addresses, at no extra cost. Inbound faxes will be delivered to your email and/or web inbox as a PDF or TIF file attachment (based on your preference). You can then save the fax, print it out, delete it, or forward it to someone else. They have 2 plans to choose from starting at $8.95 per month which allows you to receive up to 150 inbound/outbound pages per month.
So there you have it. I’ve given you some great ways not only to make your small business look more like a sizeable established business but by utilizing these suggestions you will also make your business more efficient.