5 Ways to Move Your Small Business into the Big Leagues

Last Updated May 5, 2011 8:46 AM EDT

Almost every startup and small business wants to appear bigger and more established. While "go" is always more important than "show," the right kind of show can make all the difference to potential customers.
My learned BNET colleague Michael Hess recently shared six ways a small business can dress for success; now let's go a step farther. A further way to appear bigger and more established, especially when you are running your own show, is to dramatically improve how you handle requests from potential customers.

Here are five practical ways to make your business appear bigger by improving the speed and accuracy of response:

  1. Create proposal and contract templates. Balancing multiple tasks is understandably tough when you work in as well as on your business. Still, the longer it takes to create and develop a proposal the less efficient and established your business appears. Develop a proposal template including standard language, terms, specifications, benefits, etc. That way you can change instead of reinvent your particular proposal wheel. While each proposal should then always be tailored to the individual needs of a potential customer, in most cases the bulk of what is included in a proposal should be fairly standard, allowing you to focus on differentiation, not creation. The same is true for contracts.
  2. Develop detailed pricing schedules. Pricing for service businesses is at times art and science, especially if a customer asks for a blend of services you don't normally provide. Try to develop as many "What if?" scenarios as possible, then develop solid pricing schemes for each situation. Not only will you be more responsive to requests, you'll also be less likely to make knee-jerk pricing decisions you might regret.
  3. Keep samples on hand. When applicable, samples help establish credibility and provide the proof in the pudding. Just about every business can create some type of "sample." If you're a consultant, share a previous deliverable (with proprietary information stripped out, of course.) If you're an architect, have photos, blueprints, etc. on hand for easy distribution. Same with any service- or product-based business. The quicker you respond the better you establish credibility to keep a potential sale moving forward. Never put yourself in the position of having to say, "Um, let me see what I can dig up..."
  4. Build a list of references. The same is true with references. Talk to a number of past clients ahead of time to get their permission to be contacted. Again, never put yourself in the position of having to say, "Um, let me see if I can line up a few people for you to talk to..." Have a list available at all times; saying, "References? Absolutely: Here's contact info for several past clients..." is powerful.
  5. Prepare responses to common questions. You know all the answers, but your employees may not. It's always appropriate for employees to say, "I can't answer that question; let me get you an answer." But your business will make a much stronger impression if employees are able to answer common questions, confidently and with authority. Create an internal FAQ and update it regularly. Your employees will be glad, and so will your business.
Related: Photo courtesy flickr user asrusch, CC 2.0
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    Jeff Haden learned much of what he knows about business from managing a 250-employee book manufacturing plant. Everything else he picked up from ghostwriting books for some of the smartest CEOs and leaders in business. He has written more than 30 non-fiction books, including four Business and Investing titles that reached #1 on Amazon's bestseller list. Follow him on Twitter at @Jeff_Haden.