When you start a business, you almost always face the reality that it takes money to make money. Yet that idea sparks a common question: "What if I don't have any money?" The default logic is to assume that you must raise millions from name-brand VCs and make some big splash. While that helps, it's not common for most early stage startups.
Intrepid entrepreneurs find a way to make their own success before they have the money. One way they do this is by acting as if they already have it, or the success that comes with it. While this idea sounds like "fake it till you make it," it's actually rooted in fundamental concepts about consumption, perception, and scaling.
Here are some ways you can appear stronger, more successful and better funded than you might actually be.
1. Boost the appeal of your products.
One of the simplest and most impactful ways to improve the perception of a company's success is to make its products appear luxurious and high-quality. If the items themselves look like something someone would want to buy, logic follows that people will buy them -- and people want what others have.
We applied this principle at my company by investing in higher-quality photography. When consumers are unable to physically handle your company's goods and assess their weight, comfort, sturdiness, durability, or softness, they rely on images to provide the information they'd normally derive from their other senses. Employing a designer, conducting a high-quality photo shoot and investing in expert photo retouching can help your products look as good as any other company in the world -- increasing the perception of your brand's quality and increasing conversions.
Pixelz co-founder Thomas Kragelund explains, "E-commerce is built on imagery -- billions of product images are being clicked, swiped, and compared by customers every day." In fact, he says, "Companies like Google, eBay, and Amazon have conducted studies that conclusively state higher-quality images improve sales."
Another way to boost sales while simultaneously improving visitors' perception of your brand's success is to enhance your product descriptions. Consumers rely on product descriptions to determine which offering will best meet their needs, and a discussion of an item's functionality or an article of clothing's fit can lock down a sale -- while poor and insufficient copy can prompt a customer to find a different website with more detailed descriptions and more confidence in its messaging.
Associate your brand with big names.
Relationships take real effort to establish, but some of your existing or developing relationships and partnerships could enhance your company's standing in the public eye.
One way to do this without waiting to close those big B2B sales is to to look at your board of directors or advisors. Board members with experience in your industry or knowledge of where your company is at in the growth stage can guide your company past potholes and over obstacles. And having a big name on your board -- an executive who successfully launched multiple businesses or a leader at a name-brand organization -- can signal to others that your burgeoning company is the real deal.
Humm Kombucha, for example, attracted some big names to its board in its early years, including Bill Owens, the chairman of CenturyLink Telecom, and Gary Fish, the founder of Deschutes Brewery. Having a leader who had served a big, thriving corporation and a leader who had launched a successful business within the beverage industry itself certainly helped Humm's growth; it's currently the fastest-growing kombucha brand in the nation.
Another way to create big-name brand associations that signal success is to recognize your partnerships or current clients. Has your brand connected with a software provider to offer integration? Have you co-hosted a webinar with an industry heavyweight? Does your company provide the holiday gifts for a well-known organization? These are all great relationships to celebrate through website badges, testimonials, or content.
Outsource to increase your capabilities.
A simple but savvy way to increase your brand's clout is to expand your capabilities through outsourcing. Leveraging third-party skills or resources can help you offer higher-quality products or services without the costs of raising money and scaling a team. Also, I've enjoyed increases to my personal productivity by hiring a virtual assistant. To borrow a boxing phrase, outsourcing helps you "fight above your weight class."
In a PwC survey, 76 percent of respondents said outsourcing lowered their costs, and 70 percent noted that outsourcing gave them access to talent and skills they didn't have previously. This, in turn, allows the companies doing the outsourcing to focus on what they do best, showcasing improved products and services alongside expanded offerings.
Many business owners fail to overlook the everyday and repeated processes that can be outsourced affordably effectively. Supply chain, logistics, or IT are great places to start looking. Jordan Egertson, the vice president of operations at Sheer, explains, "Third-party logistics providers are experts at what they do, and they have access to the latest and most effective transportation technology. They are trained to identify problems with your transportation footprint and provide effective solutions for transportation accounting and freight claims, among other areas."
The key is to isolate the parts of your business that can be outsourced on a cost-effective basis, as well as the parts of your business you dislike the most. Accounting is another common example.
It takes money to make money, and there are effective ways to give the impression that your company has money -- and stands to make more. By boosting the appeal of your offerings, associating your company with big names, and outsourcing to expand your capabilities, you may just be able to convince others you're managing a $100 million brand. No matter which path you take, remember to always treat your customers well and stay focused on providing real value.