>As a solo-business, you’ve got it made.

There’s no boss to answer to.

Cubicles are a thing of the past.

HR doesn’t hound you for your lost key fob.

And you’re probably reading this in a t-shirt and jeans. (Okay, pajamas.)

Either way – it’s just you.  It’s just your home office.  And your cat who occasionally plants his butt on your keyboard while you’re typing.

In other words – to the outside viewer – it’s not a particularly impressive or slick operation.

So maybe you wonder if you should make your business appear larger (more slick, more corporate) than it really is.

Well, it depends.

It depends on your client – who they are and what they want.

It depends on what you offer and what your clients love most about you.

It depends on what you want for yourself and the growth of your business.

So let’s address the common questions people ask when it comes to making their business look bigger than it really is…

Question #1 – Should I answer my own phone?

Hold it right there.

This is NOT an issue of “bigger” or “slicker.”

This is an issue of professionalism and boundaries.

I encourage my clients (yes, even in start-up!) not to answer their own phones.  Instead, set up a voicemail system so that you return calls at a set time each day. When you answer your own phone, you consistently get interrupted all day long. No bueno.

If you have a virtual assistant, you can direct incoming calls to her number. However, I believe it’s good to have a number that will be yours for years to come.  Your VA might not be around next month – but your business will. Get a number that can stay with you as you grow. Your VA can call in and retrieve messages for you.

And of course, when you have a scheduled client appointment, then yes, answer your own phone. (Yes, someone asked me this as a follow up question once.)

Question #2 – Should I get a dedicated business phone line?

Completely up to you. But please consider that when you grow, you may not want your cell phone to be your business number.

When I was in the music business, I spent the extra bucks for an 800 number. It was a game-changer.  It Upleveled the professional image of my offices. It made music promoters more willing to call me back. It positioned me as a serious entertainer in the biz.  So, I’ve always had one.

The advantage of a dedicated business line is that it’ll go with you no matter where you go.  Now that everyone has free-minutes on cell phones, it’s not as big of a deal to get toll-free.  But there’s still that subconscious public perception that toll-free numbers imply a bigger business.

Question #3 – Should I refer to myself as “We” instead of “I”?

If your client hires you because of the connection they have with you, or if you are the brand behind your company, then mostly use “I.”  Don’t be afraid to be transparent here.

People seek relationship and connection.  Trying to adopt corporate-speak by referring to your business as “we” is, well, kinda lame. It feels incongruent to your prospects and clients.

Again, you have to be the one to assess this.  But remember that people buy from people, not from companies. So, use “we” with caution if your company is still just you. And please avoid the ever-ubiquitous “Sign up for our newsletter!” on your site!

Question #4 – Should I get a real office?

My company grew so fast that I purchased a 3500 square foot downtown office space.  At the time I had several high-level clients who visited for full-day private sessions.  (I don’t do this anymore.) One of my masterminds was also small enough to fit in that space. (This is no longer the case!)   So it made sense to move my business into a centralized location.

Also, I suck at managing people virtually. Ask any VA I’ve ever had. 🙂

However, this is not the best choice for everyone!  Consider these questions:

Do you like working from your home?  Do you work well with a virtual team?  Do you do most of your client work on the phone?  If you answered yes, then celebrate! Working from a home office eliminates overhead costs and time-wasting commutes.  Lucky you!

These days it’s the norm for successful entrepreneurs not to have an office, to work from cafes, and to gather in random meeting rooms.   The pressure to have an office is often just outdated thinking.

——-

Consider whether you are trying to appear bigger – or if you just need to be more strategic about your positioning and credibility, which is all about your marketing and content.

In general, I say don’t waste your time on appearing bigger. Instead, just keep delivering high value and content to your clients – and believe me, they won’t care if you occasionally have to blow cat hair off your laptop keyboard!

If you look below, you’ll see a place to leave a comment or question…

Fire away if you have a question on this topic.  OR share a secret you’ve used to make your business appear bigger.  Or let me know if this is a total non-issue for you!

26 COMMENTS ADD A COMMENT
  • Ian Bryan

    I had a long conversation with Seth Godin on this topic, and in the end, the viewpoints are very similar. Here is a 3 minute video capturing the essence of the question: “Do we want to be a small business pretending to be big?”

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1ZHdYGFsnCg

  • Aaron Brilliant

    Hi Christine,

    This was a great article! When I first started my cookie business, I used ‘we’, ‘us’, ‘our’ and so on to try and look bigger than just the one-man-show that I was. I was worried folks wouldn’t respect the small cookie biz. I do talk to myself when I’m making cookies so maybe ‘we’ works sometimes for me personally 🙂

    Once I started Uplevel Your Business (I forget the module) I did a 180 on trying to look bigger. With cookies, I think people like a warm fuzzy happy feeling, as opposed to a corporate feel. So, I totally re-worked my website to purposely give it a patch-work feel. It still needs some work though but I’m working on a strategy as I head to my first Gold retreat next week.

    I do all this out of my townhouse in a country town in PA. Some customers will call me up (oh, an 800 number is a must simply to identify business-related calls from personal ones) and when they find out that they are not only talking to the owner, but the keebler elf Cookieman whose going to be making their cookies for them in his little workshop, I can tell that it brightens up their day. They start asking questions about ‘me’ and how ‘I’ got started in my business. A connection is made.

    Oh, and I’ll bring more cookies to the Gold retreat in August 🙂

  • snow

    Christine I want to thank you for such a 1daful insight, you are truly amazing. I would like to know how I can make my fish barbecue business appear bigger than it is.

  • Christi Bender

    As a CPA who has a tax practice and a woman who also recently started a remote bookkeeping service for solo-preneurs (www.upDateyourBooks.com) I have found that using “I” helps the people who need to know that the CPA (me) will be making the big decisions about their specific case. However, I never hide the “we” in that I have a team. My webpage shows my team… they answer my phone… they have their own email addresses here. They also work part time as I am still in many ways a solo-practitioner – but I have a team. I use the “I or the “we” interchangeably to accurately portray whether their file will be a project that only I will touch or if my staff will be involved.

    Regarding office space. Before I had a team I played with the idea of working out of my house as many CPA’s do…. and I quickly learned that I do NOT want clients coming to my home. Where I live and how I live needs to be private. With hundreds of clients there needs to be neutral space. Plus, I found that “going to work” helps me put on my professional hat.

    Cell phone…. No no no. Get a business line. As your client base grows if you want to have any kind of life of your own you need to have a private number. It’s just that simple.

    Christine’s programs (especially the Uplevel Academy) have been a huge source of support for me as I am building my business. If you haven’t done any work with Christine Kane yet and are curious be a part of Becoming 360 or UpLevel Your Business the next time she offers them… unless you just know you’re ready to blast off – in which case you should just jump into her Gold program now! Thanks for the great post Christine…. as always it was real, full of thought provoking content and inspiring!

  • Bob Wingate

    Hey Christine.
    You probably recognize my name by now. I’ve been “hanging out” with you in virtual space for about five years now. My perpetual mantra has been “I can’t afford you” and, like most other things, hasn’t changed. I long for the time when I can “hang out” with you in real time & space and be able to share my real life with you as my compassionate coach.

    I’m “doing” about four things, not too many of them well. Music and entertainment booking has become the primary one over the last two years. Following close behind is guitar teaching (www.guitarheel. com), then “hobby bizzes” that I have less and less time for—-an online Tee shirt/novelty store, and blogging and writing.

    MY POSITIVE CONTRIBUTION TO THIS CONVERSATION

    One positive thing that was meant to be (although it seemed to happen randomly). A widowed lady friend (who I have a connection with through her former husband) volunteered to help with booking, and enjoys it almost more than I do. She’s in Phoenix, me in NC. Although there is occasional miscommunication due to distance and time zones, it seems to give us a distinction. I’ve labeled her “WEST COAST DIRECTOR”, though our actual west coast contacts and booking activities are sparse. It seems to give our BIG GIG PRODUCTIONS more of a “Big Gig” feel or vibe.

    Looking forward to your response. I often feel that you have so much to offer me, but I have very little, or nothing, to offer you : certainly not money. If I had the money, I’d gladly invest it to learn from you. I’m sure you wouldn’t trade coaching for setting up an event for you in our area.

    Our artist / client suggested earlier this year that we take a booking & touring course. It was offered to us at a special price (under $500) but I still couldn’t afford it, so the artist paid fir my tuition up–front, and paid back when I make more booking commissions.

    I know this sounds like whining—and it probably is. But growth starts with assessment of your reality, right?

    THANKS
    —Bob

  • Juliette Esper

    It is a dilemma as when you appear small the clients sometimes do not appreciate the boundaries, and too fast picking up the phone for any small thing. Then if you try and appear bigger, it seems also impersonal to then, I feel like my ongoing clients enjoy the closeness, which is something I have built by only working with people who trust me and love to have me on board.

  • SoulChorea

    Saying “we” is so corny, especially when it’s really obvious that it’s just a one-person operation. It’s been done so much that it’s a cliche at this point, and people these days don’t really care if you’re a “big-time company” or a small business. The “making yourself seem bigger” thing is kind of an antiquated idea (in my opinion), but if you must use a smokescreen, it’s best to just use your company name in place of “we” or “I”. Like “Acme Dynamite Sticks will go the extra mile to make sure you are completely satisfied”.

  • JustJillToday

    So I finally bit the bullet and got on Facebook. Won’t go into it here why I resisted for so long, although those of you who suffer from being ‘easily interested’ (my take on ADD) may have have a pretty good idea! Filling out the profile (on the personal page which I set up only so I could have a business one), I came to the question of “Employment.” This was the first time I put in writing I work for JustJillToday. Very strange moment. But strange turned to something else when I had to state my position. In the end, I put CEO/Founder. What?! Talk about making it seem I’m bigger than I am! I’m one person show still figuring out just what I offer/sell and wearing my whole life on my sleeve on my website (www.justjilltoday.com).

    So here’s the question: What are the implications (if any) of how you refer to yourself in your own business? Is it more appropriate to call myself “Owner?” If my business is photo-based, do I need to say “artist/owner”? Does any of it matter?
    As a final note: I will be honest and say there was a twinge of exhilaration when I looked back and saw myself listed as “CEO/Founder.” In that moment, I could imagine growing my business and some day feeling that the title fit. Maybe it’s enough to know that feeling, then hold off using it until it does.
    Thoughts?
    P.S. Is it wrong to her say, feel free to “Like” me at facebook.com/JustJillToday? : )

  • Alexandre L’Eveille

    Like Brenda, I use a Google voice as my published business number. It gets the junk calls and sales calls and allows me to screen. It’s free and easy to use. It’ll text or email me that I have a message while traveling–handy.

    I’ve had a shared office space which was good in some ways. Since I usually came home at lunch to walk the dogs, it was fairly close. When our lease was up for renewal we chose not to renew. Long story short, now, I’m working from home again. I like my space but would like a little more separation so I can hold the occasional meeting here. Many of my clients are out of state or I go to their offices. I’m working on manifesting my ideal space where there’s office, separated by courtyard and then personal house space. This would be perfect! The best of both worlds.

  • Sylvia

    This was a great read for me. I should definitely not try to be a ‘we’ … I should stick with being a me, and proud. 🙂

    But, I do try to remember that I am the face of my company, and all actions and choices I make will make a reflection to my styling business.

    Thanks!
    Sylvia

  • Raederle

    I was actually hoping there would be more said about perhaps appearing to have more experience than you have, or appearing to work longer hours than you do.

    Sometimes I find it difficult to convey both that I want clients and have space for them, but also that I don’t just have all day to chat about nothing with everyone and their mom too, you know? I tell people they can schedule an appointment or e-mail me, but it gets hard to cut people off without being rude when they just go on and on.

    Another issue is that my experience is varied. People want to hear that I have experience with their specific issue. What if I’m 100% confident that my experience relates to their issue, and I know I can handle their needs, but I can’t tell them in honesty that I’ve ever handled a client like them before…? Then what? Do I fib a little, or try to express my confidence in a professional way? I generally do the latter, but people seem to “close up” as soon as they hear you don’t have experience with their personal issue. Well, how do I get that experience if they don’t take me on?

    • JDC

      You may need to note & assess which particular issues or aspects you feel most comfortable with, can handle confidently and are most in demand by your potential clients and invest some time offering your expertise to a few clients to build your ‘successfully handled’ client list. Ask them to rate the value received from you and use it as proof of your versatility & professionalism.
      You know, the rate at which you acquire experience will depend on the amount of time you are willing to invest in doing what you are passionate about. You may need to develop a strategy to ‘toot your own horn’ -so to speak- by making yourself available to prospective clients and 1- listen to their concerns; 2- offer helpful tips; 3- hint at possible solutions you could offer & 4- follow up. Get them on your list to share ideas & network. This approach works in mostly all fields.

  • Brenda Jean

    Re Question #1: A google voice # is free, portable, and can ring you or your virtual assistant anywhere. It will ring your personal cell if you like even though it may have a different # than your cell account. It can ring more than one phone. Messages can also be retrieved online, with email notification of their arrival. Thus, one person may get phone calls, while another still receives emails with any voice messages that are left. Calls can be made from the number via gmail or by calling the google voice #. Voice mail messages can be customized based on the number of the caller as well. http://www.google.com/googlevoice/about.html

  • Mary Anne

    My husband started our small business – importing & distributing medical equipment – in 2001. For a long time, he was fearful that customers would hesitate to buy from such a small business. But now, there have been major changes in the neurodiagnostic market, and the advantage is his. Customer support has fallen by the wayside for the big boys, where it’s always been the foundation for our company. In fact, we’ve recently signed an exclusive contract to bring a new dementia biomarker to the US after it fell apart with one of the aforementioned “big boys”. Our small company didn’t have the red tape in place that stopped things from happening like the big company did. Sometimes bigger isn’t better!

    • Christine Kane

      Rock on Mary Anne! I got all chillbumpy when I read this because – especially in a world like medicine, CONNECTION is where it’s at. Just be you!

  • Ramona King

    My daughter is an up and coming animator. She and I are having this conversation as I do my business and she considers what her business will look like when she completes her Masters program. She’s sincere and real. Being upfront with me, she told me that her concern about using the word “we” could become a pretentious attempt to hide your insecurities that your business isn’t “good enough” or that it isn’t where you would like it to be. That was a tough conversation and I wonder sometimes, did I really give birth to her. I was left in awe. I like the idea of focusing on the work and serving your client in ways that build a relationship and sets the tone for longterm fellowship. The bottom line has to be about them. Thank you Christine. This is a great blog…

    • Christine Kane

      Thanks Ramona! (Don’t you love it how our children are always so much wiser than we were?)

  • Herdis Pala

    I like the point about this not being about bigger or not – but about professionalism!

    • Christine Kane

      Herdis – You’re right! And YES, you can be both real AND professional. This isn’t about being sloppy or dropping the ball with your service or clients. It’s about whether or not to put on a show.

  • Cathy Wilke

    Christine, I totally agree with you on this. Why waste time trying to appear bigger when you can use that time to do great work? I feel that the more you can feel great about who you are and what you offer, (as opposed to trying to be something you’re not) the more people want to buy what you have. When you’re trying to keep up an appearance, you miss the opportunity to go deep and to really connect with your peeps. And that connection is everything to them. That’s why so many big businesses are trying to appear more human.
    So glad you wrote about this today.

    And as far as getting an office, there’s a great middle step between working from home and renting an office and it’s co-working spaces. You can rent a desk for a day a week or a month. It’s a great alternative for those of us who need to get out once in a while.

    • Qaadira

      I agree, Cathy, I joined a co-working space a few months ago for individuals and small organizations aligned with my field (transformative art). It’s great because it offers multiple meeting spaces, including a large conference room with built-in projector and Bose sound system, technology, mail service, a downtown location, and administrative support. All for a range of affordable prices. Now, my time is split between my home studio and the office, where I mostly meeting clients. The best of both worlds, for me.

    • Christine Kane

      Great point, Cathy!

      – Our offices are right next to a co-working office space and the people there seem to love it. (Plus they have a ping pong table. how cool is that?) 🙂

      • Barbara

        Ping pong tables are always cool, until you hear the endless clunk-pop, clunk-pop, clunk-pop from your desk. Trust me, I worked for a dot.com in the late 90s. 🙂

        Although I am considering a co-working space to give me someplace to go when I start to go inert in my home office.

  • Jeanette Henderson

    Love this, Christine. I think when you’re first starting out, the temptation to appear larger and more professional is strong because you might believe it helps with credibility. But, this can also make you appear less approachable. If you have a coaching business and work with individuals, sometimes revealing your personality and your individualism can make you seem friendly, down-to-earth, and approachable. And, people can relate to you… and your cat hair. I think it really depends on your type of business and clientele, as Christine mentions. I feel I’m often torn between these two approaches in my business.

    • Christine Kane

      Jeanette – Exactly! And my choice is to always be as real and transparent as possible (even with a business as big as mine is.) If nothing else, I am a lot more comfortable in my own skin. I’m just not a “smoke and mirrors” kind of personality. 🙂 (And I want to work with people who appreciate and want that in their own businesses… so it works out great.) I understand, though, how sometimes you can wonder if you need put on a little bit of corporate sparkle! 🙂

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