First, the spin: a new venture has offices in Sydney, New York, London and Paris. Its swanky website promotes the board, trophy clients, awards, and employees. A posh-sounding secretary answers calls. To an outsider, it seems a large, successful business.
Now, the truth: the Sydney firm is run mostly from the entrepreneur’s home. He uses a low-cost virtual-office service that provides overseas addresses and a virtual assistant. The advisory board is unpaid, the trophy client involved a small piece of work, and most employees are contracts.
Like all good ventures, it is trying to look bigger than it is. The entrepreneur is bending the rules rather than breaking them, and milking every advantage. Nothing wrong with that. Looking bigger than you are is useful for startups.
Every startup has to convince investors, suppliers, distributors or employees to back an unknown venture, when it’s easier to stick with a large, established firm.
Here are seven tips to help your venture look the part.
I once interviewed a small firm with offices in Sydney, Melbourne and Paris. Nearly all the staff worked in Sydney, but a global network of offices impressed. It’s not hard to build an offshore network: low-cost virtual-office services can help set up office addresses overseas, which helps ventures wanting to tap a global market from the start.
In addition to a virtual office, consider hiring a virtual receptionist and virtual assistant. Some virtual-receptionist services start at $15 per month and give the venture a 24/7 personalised phone-answering service. A virtual assistant who can follow up administrative issues with clients impresses even more.
Ask a few prominent people to join your firm's advisory board. Get their bios and promote the board on the website.
Piggyback on others
Ask a few prominent people to join your firm’s advisory board. Get their bios and promote the board on the website. It tells clients the firm has governance and makes it look more impressive. Also ask mentors if you can promote them on the website, which helps you leverage the reputation of others.
Walk down the red carpet
Many a startup milks its prizes, such as a ‘Top 50 Fast-growth Company’ gong. The truth is, some entrepreneurial awards run by magazines or websites give a prize to every firm that enters. Identify the best awards, enter them, push to win a place, and promote the award vigorously. It’s a good endorsement.
The trophy client
I love how startups mention their “current or past list of clients”, but never give any detail on the size or length of the work. Nothing is more powerful that promoting prominent clients on your website. Or, better still, a testimonial from them.
Getting involved in your industry association can provide valuable marketing opportunities and raise your venture's profile.
Develop your ‘owned’ and ‘earned’ media
From Facebook to Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube and your website: it’s never been easier to comment on industry developments in media channels your firm “owns”. Even better is supplying those comments to mainstream newspapers and business or industry magazines.
Build relationships with them and ask to write the occasional column or be interviewed for stories. Put links to any stories that feature you on the website. It will raise your firm’s profile and create kudos with key clients.
Join industry associations and professional bodies
Getting involved in your industry association can provide valuable marketing opportunities and raise your venture’s profile. For example, you join a working committee, present at an event, or participate in an industry roundtable discussion. It can be time-consuming, but promoting that you “led the working committee on topic XZY” for an industry can be marketing gold.
Tony Featherstone is a former managing editor of BRW and Shares magazines.