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10 Tips and Tools To Look Like a Big Company (Even if You’re Not)

10 Tips and Tools To Look Like a Big Company (Even if You’re Not)

Let’s face it, if you’re a sole-proprietor business owner, or a freelancer operating on your own then, inevitably, some clients will not take you seriously just because.

In the 21st century, it seems that every other person has some kind of a business going. This makes the fact of being an entrepreneur not enough to make you look like a true pro anymore—even though you surely are one.

So, let’s even the playing field a bit and introduce some (sometimes tricky) methods and tools that you can use to make yourself look like a big deal.

Being the ‘front man’ vs. being the only man

To start with, I just want to say that the path I’m going to show you here isn’t about hiding yourself behind a business curtain of sorts. Being the front person of your small business is still cool. More than that, it’s actually a great way to give your business some personality.

On the other hand, if it’s clearly visible that you are not only the front person, but also the only person in your business, then it will always be a disadvantage that can put some clients off.

Let me give you an example of how to utilize a personal brand properly.

neil

    Neil Patel is the front man of QuickSprout. His personality drives the brand, the site, and everything that QuickSprout is. However, none of Neil’s clients or even followers get the impression that he’s alone in business (he’s not). He uses his personal brand effectively, without it impacting the overall appearance of his businesses.

    There are a lot of details that play a part in his case, and not necessarily the ones I’ll be presenting on my list. However, I’m mentioning him just to show you what we’re aiming for as our final goal.

    Onwards!

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    1. Have the right business structure

    This one’s quite obvious, but at the same time, it’s one of the best ways to make yourself not look like a one-man band.

    In short, depending on the country you’re operating from, there surely are different business entities you can use. And while every country has its unique regulations, they tend to be kind of similar on a wider scale.

    For instance, every jurisdiction has a version of the sole proprietorship, which stands for operating on your own as an independent contractor. While it is a good structure to get you started, it does make it obvious that you’re alone in the business. So, if you want to look like a big deal, you have to upgrade as soon as you can afford it.

    The logical next step up is your country’s version of an LLC.

    Then, once you have the right business structure…

    2. Don’t call yourself the CEO

    Nothing, I repeat, nothing screams sole-proprietor business like introducing yourself as the CEO of [Insert Unknown Company Name Here].

    The term CEO sounds good only if it’s followed by a fairly recognizable company name. Everything else works against you. There are two ways out of this, and while I’m not a fan of the first one, I’m listing it anyway just because it’s a fairly popular practice:

    1. Give yourself a mid-management title. For instance, instead of introducing yourself as the CEO, you can be a Director of ____, or a Manager of ____. I’m personally not a fan of this because it’s kind of a lie. After all, you’re suggesting that there’s someone above you in the business structure.
    2. Don’t use a title at all. As simple as this. Introducing yourself as John Smith of [Company Name] is really good enough.

    3. Use Grasshopper

    Traditionally, sole-proprietor businesses don’t use 1-800 numbers, or large phone systems with extensions and various advanced features. Back in the day, this was reserved only for the big guys.

    Not anymore. Grasshopper is a virtual phone system that brings you all that.

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    grasshopper

      The main benefit for you is that you can list a 1-800 number on your site that will greet the caller and then send them over to a specific department based on their tone selection.

      For instance, you can set the x1 extension to be “sales,” x2 to be “support,” and so on.

      4. Use Bidsketch

      Bidsketch is a client proposal tool. In lay terms, this means that you can use it to design, build, manage, and send good-looking client proposals.

      bidsketch

        Bidsketch has many cool features. Just to give you an example, the tool lets you know who viewed your proposals, when, and how much time they spent interacting with them. This is a great (and disguised) feedback mechanism informing you on the quality of your offer.

        Of course, you can still handle proposals the traditional way—by jotting stuff down in Word and then sending it manually via email. But then again…that’s how a sole-proprietor business would do it.

        5. Hire a virtual assistant (VA)

        Now, before you say that you don’t have a budget for that, just give me a chance to explain myself.

        Hiring a VA can still be affordable, but you have to think outside the box—or outside the U.S., to be more precise. For instance, a service called Virtual Staff Finder will help you hire qualified personnel from the Philippines.

        vsf

          How does this make you look like a big deal? Simple: if someone gets an email signed by “John Smith, virtual assistant of Your Name” it will always look good, very good. Apart from making you look good, they will also help you outsource some of the daily tasks you do.

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          6. Start using progress reports

          Clients simply want to know what’s going on with their projects. And while companies have a number of processes set in place to make sure that the client is happy (or at least seems like they’re happy), sole-proprietor businesses usually don’t.

          In the freelancing niche, for example, it’s common for clients to hear from their contractor only two times:

          1. the “negotiating the deal and describing the task at hand” email, and
          2. the “hey, I did the work” email.

          While mid-project communication is not always required, especially if a project is straightforward, it can really do a lot in terms of making you look professional.

          Progress reports are a simple way of handling just that. And the reports themselves don’t have to be anything fancy. You can go with a basic yet good-looking Google document with your logo at the top and a nicely designed list of the things that have already been done and the things that are still left to do. Focus on making it clear and readable.

          7. Use legal-proof contracts

          Contracts are one of the most boring things about being a business owner. But hey, we all need them to operate safely.

          The problem with contracts, though, is that if you’re not an attorney, you don’t have a way to know what a good contract is. And even if you have a good template, you don’t have a possibility to evaluate any changes that your client might have introduced prior to signing their name.

          The 21st century comes to the rescue because as it turns out, there is an affordable solution. Among its many services, Legal Zoom offers Legal Plan Attorneys’ help. Basically, for a monthly fee, you get an attorney to review your business contracts and other legal documents and also help you get them right.

          attorneys

            8. Use social proof and trust elements on your site

            This is what trust elements look like on a website:

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            trust

              Nothing fancy from a technical point of view, right? It’s just a set of company logos and website logos. This is a mind trick, so to speak. What it achieves is it showcases some big names that the business in question has worked with. This proves, to some extent, the business’s credibility in the eyes of every prospective client.

              A very simple yet very effective trick. Of course, making it a lie is out of question. You do need some nice entries in your portfolio to pull it off.

              9. Focus on design

              I’m sorry that I have to say this, but people really do judge the book by its cover. It’s just how things work with humans.

              That’s why nine out of 10 times, you will have a better chance at landing a deal if your solution/website/e-commerce store looks better than the competition’s.

              Don’t worry, though, because the best thing about the internet era we live in today is that good design doesn’t cost much.

              • For logo, flyers, business cards, book covers, and all other stuff like this: use 99designs.
              • For your website: use WordPress and a premium theme (Lifehack is running on WordPress, by the way, so the platform really is powerful).
              • For your e-commerce store: use Shopify.

              10. Use a real-time customer satisfaction solution

              Sounds fancy, right? What I mean is the following. If you’re running an e-commerce store, you will have a number of prospective customers having a multitude of questions about your products. However, if there’s no answer on your site, and no one to provide an answer in an accessible way, you will lose the sale.

              To help you with this, you can use a tool like Zopim. In short, it’s a live chat solution, but that’s an understatement. What it does, is it lets you reach out to your customers at the exact moment when they’re having questions. And if you’re not on your computer, you can set an automatic outreach message and then receive customer follow-up questions via a text message.

              Over to you

              In my opinion, using just two or three tools from the above list will already give you an advantage. Using all 10 will make it really unlikely for your clients or customers to ever think that there might be just one person running the business they’re dealing with.

              But what do you think, have you tested any of these yet?

              More by this author

              Karol Krol

              Blogger, published author, and founder of a site that's all about delivering online business advice

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              Last Updated on April 9, 2020

              5 Types of Leadership Styles (And Which Is Best for You)

              5 Types of Leadership Styles (And Which Is Best for You)

              It takes great leadership skills to build great teams.

              The best leaders have distinctive leadership styles and are not afraid to make the difficult decisions. They course-correct when mistakes happen, manage the egos of team members and set performance standards that are constantly being met and improved upon.

              With a population of more than 327 million, there are literally scores of leadership styles in the world today. In this article, I will talk about the most common types of leadership and how you can determine which works best for you.

              5 Types of Leadership Styles

              I will focus on 5 common styles that I’ve encountered in my career: democratic, autocratic, transformational, transactional and laissez-faire leadership.

              The Democratic Style

              The democratic style seeks collaboration and consensus. Team members are a part of decision-making processes and communication flows up, down and across the organizational chart.

              The democratic style is collaborative. Author and motivational speaker Simon Sinek is an example of a leader who appears to have a democratic leadership style.

                The Autocratic Style

                The autocratic style, on the other hand, centers the preferences, comfort and direction of the organization’s leader. In many instances, the leader makes decisions without soliciting agreement or input from their team.

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                The autocratic style is not appropriate in all situations at all times, but it can be especially useful in certain careers, such as military service, and in certain instances, such as times of crisis. Steve Jobs was said to have had an autocratic leadership style.

                While the democratic style seeks consensus, the autocratic style is less interested in consensus and more interested in adherence to orders. The latter advises what needs to be done and expects close adherence to orders.

                  The Transformational Style

                  Transformational leaders drive change. They are either brought into organizations to turn things around, restore profitability or improve the culture.

                  Alternatively, transformational leaders may have a vision for what customers, stakeholders or constituents may need in the future and work to achieve those goals. They are change agents who are focused on the future.

                  Examples of transformational leader are Oprah and Robert C. Smith, the billionaire hedge fund manager who has offered to pay off the student loan debt of the entire 2019 graduating class of Morehouse College.

                    The Transactional Style

                    Transactional leaders further the immediate agenda. They are concerned about accomplishing a task and doing what they’ve said they’d do. They are less interested in changing the status quo and more focused on ensuring that people do the specific task they have been hired to do.

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                    The transactional leadership style is centered on short-term planning. This style can stifle creativity and keep employees stuck in their present roles.

                    The Laissez-Faire Style

                    The fifth common leadership style is laissez-faire, where team members are invited to help lead the organization.

                    In companies with a laissez-faire leadership style, the management structure tends to be flat, meaning it lacks hierarchy. With laissez-faire leadership, team members might wonder who the final decision maker is or can complain about a lack of leadership, which can translate to lack of direction.

                    Which Leadership Style do You Practice?

                    You can learn a lot about your leadership style by observing your family of origin and your formative working experiences.

                    Whether you realize it, from the time you were born up until the time you went to school, you were receiving information on how to lead yourself and others. From the way your parents and siblings interacted with one another, to unspoken and spoken communication norms, you were a sponge for learning what constitutes leadership.

                    The same is true of our formative work experiences. When I started my communications career, I worked for a faith-based organization and then a labor union. The style of communication varied from one organization to the other. The leadership required to be successful in each organization was also miles apart. At Lutheran social services, we used language such as “supporting people in need.” At the labor union, we used language such as “supporting the leadership of workers” as they fought for what they needed.

                    Many in the media were more than happy to accept my pitch calls when I worked for the faith-based organization, but the same was not true when I worked for a labor union. The quest for media attention that was fair and balanced became more difficult and my approach and style changed from being light-hearted to being more direct with the labor union.

                    I didn’t realize the impact those experiences had on how I thought about my leadership until much later in my career.

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                    In my early experience, it was not uncommon for team members to have direct, brash and tough conversations with one another as a matter of course. It was the norm, not the exception. I learned to challenge people, boldly state my desires and preferences, and give tough feedback, but I didn’t account for the actions of others fit for me, as a black woman. I didn’t account for gender biases and racial biases.

                    What worked well for my white male bosses, did not work well for me as an African American woman. People experienced my directness as being rude and insensitive. While I needed to be more forceful in advancing the organization’s agenda when I worked for labor, that style did not bode well for faith-based social justice organizations who wanted to use the love of Christ to challenge injustice.

                    Whereas I received feedback that I needed to develop more gravitas in the workplace when I worked for labor, when I worked for other organizations after the labor union, I was often told to dial it back. This taught me two important lessons about leadership:

                    1. Context Matters

                    Your leadership style must adjust to each workplace you are employed. The challenges and norms of an organization will shape your leadership style significantly.

                    2. Not All Leadership Styles Are Appropriate for the Teams You’re Leading

                    When I worked on political campaigns, we worked nonstop. We started at dawn and worked late into the evening. I couldn’t expect that level of round-the-clock work for people at the average nonprofit. Not only couldn’t I expect it, it was actually unhealthy. My habit of consistently waking up at 4 am to work was profoundly unhealthy for me and harmful for the teams I was leading.

                    As life coach and spiritual healer Iyanla Vanzant has said,

                    “We learn a lot from what is seen, sensed and shared.”

                    The message I was sending to my team was ‘I will value you if you work the way that I work, and if you respond to my 4 am, 5 am and 6 am emails.’ I was essentially telling my employees that I expect you to follow my process and practice.

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                    As I advanced in my career and began managing more people, I questioned everything I thought I knew about leadership. It was tough. What worked for me in one professional setting did not work in other settings. What worked at one phase of my life didn’t necessarily serve me at later stages.

                    When I began managing millennials, I learned that while committed to the work, they had active interests and passions outside of the office. They were not willing to abandon their lives and happiness for the work, regardless of how fulfilling it might have been.

                    The Way Forward

                    To be an effective leader, you must know yourself incredibly well. You must be self-reflective and also receptive to feedback.

                    As fellow Lifehack contributor Mike Bundrant wrote in the article 10 Essential Leadership Qualities That Make a Great Leader:

                    “Those who lead must understand human nature, and they start by fully understanding themselves…They know their strengths, and are equally aware of their weaknesses and thus understand the need for team work and the sharing of responsibility.”

                    The way to determine your leadership style is to get to know yourself and to be mindful of the feedback you receive from others. Think about the leadership lessons that were seen, sensed and shared in your family of origin. Then think about what feels right for you. Where do you gravitate and what do you tend to avoid in the context of leadership styles?

                    If you are really stuck, think about using a personality assessment to shed light on your work patterns and preferences.

                    Finally, the path for determining your leadership style is to think about not only what you need, or what your company values, but also what your team needs. They will give you cues on what works for them and you need to respond accordingly.

                    Leadership requires flexibility and attentiveness. Contrary to unrealistic notions of leadership, being a leader is less about being served and more about being of service.

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                    Featured photo credit: Unsplash via unsplash.com

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