As a solo-business owner, 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 a lost security code.

And you’re probably reading this in a t-shirt and jeans. (Okay, you’re in your pajamas. I was going to ignore that part.)

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 it’s natural to wonder if you should make your business appear larger (more slick, more impressive, 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.

With that said, 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?

If you ask me, 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. Not good.

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.

Lastly, when you have a scheduled client appointment, then yes, answer your own phone.

Question #2 – Should I get an 800# for my business line?

Completely up to you.

When I was in the music business, getting an 800 number 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.  They’re easy to get. And fairly inexpensive these days.

The advantage of a toll-free number is that it’ll go with you no matter where you go.  (Of course, the internet is making this true of local numbers as well.)

Now that everyone has free-minutes on cell phones, I don’t think it’s as big of a deal.  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” ?

This is where many solo-business owners miss the boat.

As mentioned above, a lot depends on what your client loves most about you.   If your client hires you because of the connection they have with you, or if you are the brand behind your company, then use “I.”  Don’t be afraid to be transparent here. That’s probably what they love about you!

More than ever, people are seeking relationship and connection.  Trying to adopt corporate-speak by referring to your business as “we” can sometimes have a negative effect. It will feel 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.

Question #4 – Should I get a real office?

My company – Uplevel YOU – has grown so fast in three years that I purchased a 3000 square foot downtown office space.  I did this because I work better with my team in person, rather than virtually.  Plus, I have several high-level clients who come for full-day private sessions.  It made sense to move my business into a centralized location.

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 long commutes.  Lucky you!

These days it’s common 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.

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You might want to consider whether you are trying to appear bigger – or if you just need to be more strategic about your positioning and credibility, which is really more about your marketing and content.  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 sometimes have to pull 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 you think this is a total non-issue for you!

19 COMMENTS ADD A COMMENT
  • 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?) 🙂

  • 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! 🙂