When you have a small business there are a number of things that you can do to make yourself look more heavyweight. Depending on what you are looking to achieve (and how much you want to spend…) you can apply these ideas to almost any business.
Get a professional email
This one is one of the biggest mistakes that I see from women business owners. Seriously – the guys never do this, but in a room full of women who are running their own business approximately 25% will be using a personal email account.
So I’m not going to hold back here, if you are running your business with a hotmail, gmail, btinternet or any other generic email account then change it. Only use your professional email account for your business. Once you have a domain name (and you can buy them at £5.95 from UKreg or Reg123), you can either set up your email through their control panel or have it forward onto your hotmail/gmail account and all of a sudden it legitimises your business.
Get a virtual mailing address
This one does cost a little bit, but I think it’s worth it. Companies Made Simple (the company that I use) do a virtual address for £15 per month. For that you get to use their swish central London address as your office address and they will forward your mail to your house for £1 a time. There are a lot more out there and you may want to use one closer to home. I have found that virtual offices in other places tend to cost around £30 per month. The other benefit is you don’t have to put your home address on your website!
Get a membership for your meetings
There are a lot of great memberships out there that may be suitable. The Institute of Directors, business clubs, but for my money, Regus offers great value at £23 per month (it was £200 per annum until end of Jan). For that you can use a Regus office all over the UK and some of them don’t have a hubworking area, so you are able to get a virtual private office.
Get VAT registered
There are pluses and minuses to this one. You can be VAT registered at any point, not just when you reach the income threshold. The advantages to this is that people think your business is turning over £70k per year. Also, you get to claim all the VAT back on the purchases you make. The disadvantages are that it becomes another finance thing that you have to watch. Also, if you have a low cost service, it can make it that much more expensive to people who aren’t paying VAT.
Register your company
This isn’t an absolute, but many large corporations will expect you to be a registered company rather than a sole trader. I would consider this one even more carefully as you really are creating a whole new level of administration and cost in doing this. But to work with the big boys, it is probably worth it.
Invest in your branding
There is little worse than a home-made brand. And people notice. There are enough extremely low cost options out there (just do a search for cheap logo design in Google, prices seem to be in the region of £29) that if money is an issue, you can still get a reasonable design and then you can change it once you have a bit more income.
Get a decent business card
Many printing services offer business card design as part of their print offering. Moo.com do great looking cards that you can personalise the back and the front – and they look great. It is a false economy to go for a free Vistaprint card, because people will think you are not serious. The quality of the cards is very poor and they look terrible. First impressions count, so make sure yours is a good one!
About the Author: Julie Hall is the founder of Women Unlimited, a website all about business for women and Springmedia, a boutique design agency based in south west London. Springmedia specialises in logos, email marketing, blogs and websites for professional services companies.