If your company is small or just starting out, how can you get potential customers and investors to look as you as a credible company they will want to deal with? And when does creating a positive perception, or making your company appear larger, cross the line into deception?
Norm Brodsky is one of my favorite business columnists, and he addressed this question in his Street Smarts column some time ago. He says there are two rules: Don’t lie. And don’t do any harm. Beyond that, you can take a few liberties to create the image of your company you want others to see.
Brodsky gives the example of a new service company trying to get its first clients. Clients want to see references, but how can you get testimonials and references when you don’t have clients? One suggestion is to provide free service to a few clients on a trial basis. If they are happy, you get them to sign a contract to continue the service. In the meantime, once they have tried your service, you ask if you may include them in your list of references.
He also shares some ‘tricks’ he used to make his company appear larger and busier than they actually were when they seeking their first clients. You can read the full article at Inc.com.
Other companies have created phantom ‘employees’ to make it appear they were larger. Or used recordings of office sounds in the background during calls to give the impression of a large, busy staff. I wouldn’t be comfortable doing these things, but I don’t know that I would consider them unethical.
It may not matter to your customers if you are a one-person shop running out of your basement or a large corporation. But if it does matter, you can find ways to give the impression of great size without being dishonest. First of all, always operate professionally. Don’t let your five-year-old answer the phone. Have an attractive web site. Use quality letterhead and other printing. Be certain that proposals and other materials are free of grammar and spelling mistakes. If you don’t have a staff, you may be able to hire contractors when help is needed, or ask a friend or your spouse to make calls or handle other ‘staff’ tasks.
Some of the things that businesses do to appear larger may not be right for you, and you may find them inappropriate. Whether or not you choose to try some of the more outrageous things done in the name of creating the right perceptions, it is never wrong to be professional and put your best image forward. It is the very least you can do.