A story from a client of mine…
“5 years ago, I was in search of an IT consulting firm in North Carolina. With much luck, I ran across one within my budget with the skills that I was looking for. The initial meeting and presentation went quite well as we were having a meeting in an immaculate board room overlooking the city. The receptionist welcomed us in as if it were her own home and directed us where to go. In my mind, I was hoping to have this same office setup one day.
After 2 years, we started having a few issues with customer support. I decided to take a trip back to the company to find out that they were no longer there. The contact information that they gave at the desk was the same information that I had. Upon leaving a voicemail to the owner of this company about my trip to Charlotte and my disappointment in the work that they had done, I got almost an immediate call back. The owner gave me the directions to his “new location” and I made my way in that direction.
Once my GPS stated that I was about 2 minutes away, to my surprise, I am driving through a neighborhood with no building in site. ‘You have arrived at your destination, on left’, says my GPS as I pull over to a 2 bedroom white house probably built in the early 80s. Well, here goes nothing….
After some digging, I felt bamboozle by this company. Their primary location had always been in their home…a 2 man operation! They had rented the office space 2 years ago, paid for a Virtual Assistant to make their appointments, and invested in all of the low cost marketing that money could buy. After being so angry about it, I started thinking that this was a genius idea! These men had planned for big business and used cheaper alternatives to portray themselves as such. The backing that they had with their services were provided by other small businesses as well, so they had a “team of associates” ready to provide me with the services that I needed (unfortunately they did not in the end).”
Besides the perception of quality going down, this company represents what almost every entrepreneur is told to do before they make it big. FAKE IT ‘TIL YOU MAKE IT! For start-ups with little to no financial resources there are many things that you can substitute for high overhead expenses like office space and staff until you have the ability to afford them. Here are some things that you can do in order to plan for big business on a small budget:
Get a business number for free
Google Voice provides the luxury of having a phone number than can be forwarded straight to your mobile device. You can call or receive calls pretty much free of charge. Some stipulations do apply. Voicemail is another key feature with Google Voice. A great tip is to have someone you know with a great speaking voice to create the message for you. Hearing another voice (especially a professional one) will help to create the great first impression of your business that you want.
Virtual Assistants (Vas) are the best thing for businesses since the 3-piece suit! Virtual Assistants are usually freelance or stay-at-home workers that will do paper work, answer your phone calls and emails, accounting, data entry, build presentations, plan travel and a host of other tasks leaving your time free to handle the demands of the business. The biggest benefit is that you do not have to provide office equipment or benefits which can be a huge expense when you’re just starting out.
Marketing your business can be expensive or inexpensive depending on the route that you take. Don’t be afraid to start small with DIY marketing materials. Microsoft Office provides a lot of great templates that you can customize and have printed at a printing shop or on your own high quality printer. Don’t use your own printer if it does not provide quality prints. Make the investment to buy a better printer or go to a store that will print your material. Online websites also provide templates that you can utilize as well. Other inexpensive marketing ideas include starting a Facebook page, a Twitter account, a Linkedin profile, a website, and purchasing generic business cards for easy networking. Networking is perhaps the easiest way to market your business. Joining large organization for which you have an earnest interest and find ways to link your business endeavors with your personal passions. Fraternities, Toastmasters, and your local chamber of commerce are all great organization with which to associate yourself and your business.
Building a Team
Building a Team does not always have to involve hiring employees. Temporary employees can be great, but why not team up with other small businesses in the community. Forging strategic alliances can help your business can grow quickly and may also help to mitigate marketing expenses. Participate in community service by sponsoring events, setup banners and company tables. Community service programs can also be a fun team building exercise, and it can be an activity that includes everyone’s family.
Another way to build a supportive team is to find friends and business associates who are willing to lend their talents, pro bono, to helping your business grow. IT experts can help with getting computer infrastructure set up; an associate with a legal background may be willing to help you review legal documents for partnerships and incorporation. When utilizing these relationships for business be sure that expectations for compensation are clearly stated and be sure that when the opportunity arises for you to repay their efforts you do that as well.