With an estimated 4.9 million small businesses in the UK, there is enormous pressure to stand out from the pack and convince prospective customers that your offer is the right one for them.
It should go without saying that the quality of the product and service is of the utmost importance, and that it needs to be competitively priced for the target market. However, these factors are often not enough to guarantee sales. Another crucial ingredient required to attract the desired clientele is consistently presenting the right image. Here are four factors to consider:
Consider every touchpoint
Each time a customer sees the name of a business, meets one of its employees or visits its offices, their impression of that company is affected. For that reason, it is worth considering every possible touchpoint that a customer may encounter, and make sure that each one reinforces the brand.
The office itself is a very clear signifier of success, and scruffy reception areas with downbeat reception staff send a negative message to prospective clients. For that reason, high quality office space is crucial in presenting the right image. Even for small operations with few employees, there are a number of ways to present the polished image of a larger business. James Caan, former Dragon’s Den entrepreneur, famously worked from a Pall Mall broom cupboard in order to obtain a central London mailing address. Fortunately, there are other options these days. A Virtual Office service covers many of these touchpoints for smaller businesses: in addition to a professional phone answering service, many packages include access to meeting rooms and the opportunity to use a mailing box at a prestigious postcode.
Be your brand
The most significant touchpoint is, of course, the employees of a company. There is no greater reflection of a business’ quality and potential than the conduct of its employees. Each networking event, business meeting or social occasion is an opportunity to create a good impression: both individually and on behalf of the company. People are keen to do business with others who are engaging, open and friendly, and who can speak about their own business fluently and with expertise. For these reasons, it is very much worth investing in ensuring you and your employees are best representing the brand.
The spread of social media has increased the reach and immediacy of interactions with potential customers, and is an opportunity that many proactive businesspeople have embraced. It allows brands to inject some personality and honesty to their communications, and is an excellent (and free!) tool for small business owners.
Become a media expert
In any industry, customers seek expertise in a supplier; be that a plumber of 20 years’ experience or a hedge fund run by an Ivy League business scholar. However, unless a customer actively seeks this information, it may be quite difficult to communicate.
One way that business owners can show potential customers that they are knowledgeable and experienced is via social media such as Twitter. LinkedIn and personal company websites can also be excellent platforms for self-publishing well informed, interesting blogs. Another route, and one that can be very effective, is by contributing to the traditional media: websites, newspapers and magazines. Either through using a PR agency or good old fashioned networking, it is possible to contact journalists writing about issues that relate to your company and industry and eventually be able to provide quotes and insight to that journalist. Customers are invariably impressed by expert opinion in reputable publications, and this forms a key part of the marketing strategy for a large number of businesses across the country.
The idea of asking customers to publicly share their impressions can be a daunting one for some businesses. However, this is what people do every day when speaking with friends and contacts. In a digitally connected world, many prospective clients will search for your company online before committing to doing business, and a lack of reviews or feedback can be just as off-putting as criticism.
Testimonials and reviews can reassure prospective clients, and be a powerful business generation tool. Sites such as TrustPilot are transparent and well-established, whilst also giving business owners a right of reply if the feedback is unfair or unrepresentative. A more controlled way of sharing positive sentiment is by asking trusted clients for a testimonial or case study of working with your business, which can be hosted on your website or shared via social media.
By utilising these tips, you can set your business on the path to building a brand: a company that transcends products and services to become memorable, trusted and purposeful; and stands out from the competition.