There seems to be a theme to many of the conversations I’ve had recently with owners of small businesses – they’re wrestling with telling the whole truth about just how small they really are.

It sounds like this….

‘I’m worried this client, who is a large corporate, will find out that, actually, we’re just a small business – who don’t have a head office.’

Should a small business be worried they’ll be found out?

Having a Head Office building is not in itself proof that your business is sound. There are many high profile examples of this, particularly around the 2008 financial crisis!  What is important is to understand what assurances and security large – and not so large – customers are looking for in the suppliers they choose to work with:

So, how can you, as a small business provide this without the unnecessary costs of creating a physical corporate type space?

  1. Proven expertise
    Maintain accreditations from relevant and credible organisations.
    Collect client testimonials with valid results.
    Measure the tangible impact your services have on clients’ businesses – if this is possible in your field.
    Pilot what you do with the potential customer or provide a taster or sample.
  2. Insurance
    Professional Indemnity and Public Liability are standard requirements for consultants. However, the amount of cover you choose to have within the policies can be seen as an indication of your typical customer profile. As a provider of soft skills training to a major bank in the UK I was expected to have PI cover for £10 million. While this was excessive – and we agreed on a lower figure – it was an insight into the mindset of this particular Corporate. Insuring yourself for the lowest possible cover could undermine your efforts to be seen as a big player. Remember, if you have even one employee you will need Employer’s Liability insurance too.
  3. Communication and response times
    It doesn’t have to take an army of people to deliver good customer service. Clear processes, up to date finance records, an up to date CRM system and easily accessible client and product documents are just some of the ways a small business can have their finger on the pulse.Think about the different types of communication you are likely to have with your customer: processing and delivering orders, receiving and responding to queries or complaints and managing payments to name a few. Set out the customer experience that you promise in a series of steps and map these to the systems and people in your business.I wouldn’t want to underplay the work involved in doing this – but it’s not beyond the resources of a small business.
  4. Back up resource should you personally not be able to deliver
    Identify other individuals or businesses who you could outsource to if you became ill or overloaded with work. They would need to understand the service level commitments for your clients and the processes to support these – which takes us back to point no. 3! Large companies will often want to know what these back-up arrangements are. Having formal agreements that can kick in quickly if needed is a smart move. However, almost as important as this is maintaining the relationship and the communication with your back-up partners even when they are not needed.
  5. Environmental credentials
    In recent years we have all heard a great deal about businesses being expected to take responsibility for the impact they have on the environment. This is where smaller businesses can punch well above their weight. Minimal travelling, video conferencing and virtual teams are all great examples where you can demonstrate your environmental credentials. Don’t hide your eco light under a bushel!

Helping SMEs – business owners, managers and their teams – to build resilient businesses with happy and engaged teams.  Find me at …

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