There was a highly talented graphic design team I often collaborated with who told me an interesting story of how they once lost a potentially life-changing account. The team had a modest but smartly-designed office in a lucrative part of town, yet they felt they needed to beef up their presence online. So instead of using their own pictures in their “About us” page and pairing that with creative and well-shot photos of their office, they opted to use stock photos of high-end glass walls, a large staff, all in an office beyond their means.
They got a call from a potential client. The personal assistant at the other end of the line wanted a proposal for some work, adding their team was very impressed with their work and their office. The duo made no mention of stock photos. A proposal was submitted and an initial meeting was booked. Two days before meeting, the design team was informed by the same assistant that their CEO insisted on meeting them in their office. He was so taken back by their creative work environment that he wanted to see it for himself.
The team finally had to come clean that they’d used stock photos. They were forced to claim their two man office, adding that it wasn’t possible to fit everyone in there. The design team subsequently lost the contract.
They didn’t lose the contract because of their work; the professionalism of their work remained unchanged. However, the contracting company’s view of them changed once they knew the designers weren’t entirely forthcoming about their company’s arrangement. There was no big office, no glass walls and no large diverse staff.
This is a true story.
The first rule you should gain from this is recognizing that you should never lie about who you are. Don’t misrepresent yourself to a client. It doesn’t matter how big your office is or whether the right shade of “Dune Dusk” is on your walls. This only matters if you’re actually an interior designer. Other than that, forget it. Instead, focus on your digital and print presence.
How to Look Big without Spending Big
First, hire a researcher to research your industry’s marketing trends. I’ve seen too many business owners convinced of their own design expertise, with zero realization of how off the mark they are. It’s really important to take in the advice of a trusted expert or two. This will cost you about $250 – $500 on the moderate end of the scale.
Next up is your work space. You don’t have to fork over loads of cash for an office space (at least not unless you’re in an industry where clients come to you). Instead, spend that money on a smart website that’s designed to attract your target audience. Again, trust the experts and offer your market analysis to your designer. If possible, have your researcher and designer work together to offer the perfect digital presence. Let this design inform your stationery, including business cards, letter head, envelopes, marketing 5 x 7 postcards and folders.
While you’re having someone work on your site and your print materials, hire a photographer to shoot some headshots for your business’ “About Us” page. Your photos should be friendly and approachable and you should wear something of the business casual variety. Also try to get a couple shots of your office. A good photographer will have the skills to make your office visually appealing.
You’ve now got the image of an established business without having spent the money. Most importantly, you’ve remained authentic.