I do a lot of freelance work that I run through a separate business entity, and I’ve been a lot more sensitive to how start-ups and small businesses portray themselves to the public and on the Internet. I completely understand that small businesses should act and look as professional as possible to potential clients and other businesses, but there is a difference between acting professional and trying to look and act like something you are not. I’ll give you a few examples of what I am talking about:
Falsely Misrepresenting Client Work
Let’s say that Joe Smith is a franchise owner of a McDonalds and he hires a small graphic design firm to design some creatives for flyers and business cards. The graphic design firm is looking to build up their portfolio so they list one of their clients as “McDonalds” and they write a big blog post about how they have “partnered” with McDonalds for all of their graphic design needs. This can be a little misleading to other potential clients since they may think that this graphic design firm does the graphic design for the corporate marketing campaign of McDonalds. The point here is to definitely boast about adding a big name to your portfolio, but be specific about the work you did and that you did it for one individual franchise, not the corporate headquarters.
Creating Big Titles For Yourself
I laugh when I see this every time. My favorite is one that I just recently saw. It was a marketing firm that I know for a fact is not a large firm. One of the titles for an employee or owner was “Chief Creative Officer & Strategic Consultant.” What the heck does that mean? When I see titles like that, I immediately think that company is 2 or 3 people. For some reason, small start-ups love to give themselves big, long, creative titles. When speaking with a potential client or representing yourself on your website, a simple title like “Owner,” “Co-Owner,” or “Partner” is fine. Don’t reveal to people how small you are unless they ask. They might ask because they want to know if they think you’re capable of handling the job. It’s so tempting to lie in these situations and act like you can handle a huge job, but sometimes you really can’t handle it. I’ve already learned that it’s better to turn down huge jobs and be honest than it is to accept it, not meet the project deadline, and burn bridges with a well-connected client who will not talk highly of you to peers and colleagues. Think about that the next time you’re quoting a job.
Creating Too Much Overhead
A good example of someone who might create too much overhead for themselves in the beginning is an attorney. Attorneys want and need to look professional to get hired for work, but some attorneys that decide to go solo will go overboard on their expenses without the income to back it up. If an attorney opening up his own firm rents out a high-rise office, hires a secretary and legal assistant, buys new office furniture, and leases a nicer car just to show potential clients that he’s “professional,” he’ll never make it past a few months. When you’re a start-up or just starting out as a professional on your own, it’s okay to show a little bit that you’re just starting out. What matters most to potential clients is your customer service, your knowledge and command of the subject matter, and if you are honest with them. Honesty will take you a long way when it comes to starting a business, because people hate getting false promises and being painted a picture that’s not reality.
Seriously, stop acting like you’re a $100 million dollar company. Not all people are scared away by small businesses and start-ups. Some actually prefer it, because they know that you’ll work really hard for them and go the extra mile to satisfy them because your reputation means so much to you when you’re first starting out. Be professional, act professional, but stop trying too hard to LOOK professional.
( photo credit: 1up )