KNOW HOW

Easy Ways to Fake It Til You Make It

You can--and should--shake your small-fry image as soon as you can. Here are three ways to do it.
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My company, WordStream, signs up several new clients every day, but it wasn't always that way. Early on, it was ridiculously hard to land even one client--it could take weeks or even months to sign up a customer. When you're small and not established, people are less inclined to give you a chance for that very reason: you're small and not established. It's a vicious cycle!

But if you don't happen to be as big as you would like (yet), you can still portray a greater image of your brand and instill confidence in potential clients. That's not to say you should ever misrepresent or lie--that never ends well. But you can and should shake your small-fry image as soon as you can.

Having recently crossed the chasm from a one-man show to relatively larger company, here are a few tips I used to make my small business seem much larger than it really was, and thus instill greater confidence in my prospective clients.

1. Use remarketing.

Remarketing is a relatively inexpensive display advertising strategy that allows marketers to tag website visitors with a cookie. This allows you to create an audience you can then target with display ads they'll receive even after they are browsing elsewhere.

Let's say a prospect goes to your website, but leaves to go watch videos on YouTube, to read news on CNN.com, or catch up on the latest updates on Twitter.

Remarketing allows you to reconnect with that prospect by displaying your ads in front of them elsewhere on the Web. Have you ever had the feeling ads were "following you around" online? That's remarketing, though done properly, it shouldn't feel creepy.

The cool thing about this is that when your prospective customer sees your ads showing up in the Wall Street Journal or other high-profile sites, it instills a lot of confidence. It makes you seem far bigger than you are. For example, one of my early hires said they chose to work here because they believed this was a really big company; our ads were showing up everywhere!

Similarly, friends, family and customers still regularly send me emails containing screenshots of my ads as they appear in major publications, accompanied by a note saying how impressed they are that I made it into the big leagues. In reality, it's pretty simple and cheap to do.

2. Google yourself.

If you cold-call or email a prospect to tell them about your product or service, I guarantee one of the first things they'll do if they're interested is Google you and/or your company name. It's essential that you do a Google search of your name and your company and figure out what shows up. Make sure your online presence instills confidence; nothing kills brand confidence like an empty search results page.

Ideally, when you search for your name/company name, it should be full of glowing reviews, customer success stories, and a variety of ways for prospects to learn more about you and connect. This seems daunting, but it's really not that hard to accomplish. For instance, you could write your own press releases, craft a few contributed articles at prestigious Web publications, or create a few compelling social media profiles.

If you can't afford the time and manpower to man them all as customer service channels, fear not. Simply establish a presence, ensure all social profiles are branded and let users know in the About section of each one how to reach your company.

Which brings us to #3...

3. Buy Twitter followers.

That sounds crazy, right? All the gurus are telling you not to buy followers; that you need to organically build a targeted following and connect with people who truly care about your business! Larry, what kind of Kool-Aid have you been into?

Trust me on this one, there is absolutely nothing wrong with buying followers to get you started and kick-start your social presence. It matters--if people see that you have five followers, you run the risk of being dismissed as a nobody. People judge a company's book by its over; it's sad but true.

Celebrities and politicians have been buying followers since buying followers became a thing, to appear more popular than they really are. Did you know that up to 70 percent of President Barack Obama's 30 million Twitter followers are fake? If it's OK for the president to buy followers to give himself some extra legitimacy, why not you?

Just don't go overboard. If you're more popular on Twitter than Britney Spears next week, you're not doing yourself any favors. The idea is to make yourself look more credible, not less, so go slow and stop when you reach a threshold at which you're confident your business doesn't look like a ghost town.

I never had to buy followers, since I've been using Twitter for nearly six years now and it was a lot quieter back then. I had time to grow organically, first by a dozen followers a week, then gradually nearly a hundred, which has added up to thousands over time. However, social has become so noisy and overwhelming for new business that I certainly don't fault an entrepreneur for trying to beef up their follower count, even if only for the purpose of not being written off as a small fry.

Ultimately, you still need to be awesome in order for your business to be successful--you can't ever fake that. Yet it's possible to make your small business appear less small than it really is and maybe even--if you're really lucky--like kind of a big deal. That perception, in turn, can help you grow so rapidly that you're out of small biz territory and running with the big dogs in no time.

IMAGE: Josh Heald/Flickr
Last updated: Jan 23, 2014




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