Article: Debra Koontz Traverso

The Small Business Library

December 11, 2000

The Top 10 Steps to Tweak Your Business' Image

Your business is new. Or small. Or cash poor. Or unknown. Or whatever would be the opposite description of your competition.

If you think that's a problem, then think again. The key to standing out from your competition is to tweak every aspect of your business' image. Here are the first ten steps to get you started. Find hundreds more in "Outsmarting Goliath: How to Achieve Equal Footing with Companies that are Bigger, Richer, Older and Better Known," Bloomberg Press, 2000,

  1. Choose the right name.

    A successful name will have three qualities: brevity, distinctiveness and longevity. To achieve that, it must me short. Sure, a short name has less communication content, but it clearly has more communication impact, and that's what you're aiming for. And avoid acronyms and abbreviations. Those are a naming fad. Besides, even intelligent people have a hard time finding acronyms in most yellow pages. Drop geographical locations and product descriptions. The foremost purpose of a name is to designate, not describe.

    For example: Jiffy Lube is an incredibly clever name, but research shows that the descriptive name causes most Americans to think that's all that Jiffy Lube can do: lube your car.

  2. Excel in customer service.

    Be visible, available, flexible. Solve situations immediately. Offer freebies: free samples, free trial of the product/service, free booklets, or offer a frequent buyer reward program, rewards for referrals, rebates, monthly payment plans, etc. Be creative! Go beyond ordinary customer service.

    For example, if I owned an independent bookstore and a huge Barnes and Noble moved nearby, I would place coat racks inside the front door to encourage lengthier and more comfortable shopping; I would set up an art center where kids can create their own books while mom and dad browse; I would offer storage bins where customers can stow their packages so that their hands are free to pick up books; I would print out and hang up reviews of books from for customers to read to help them with their selections. (They won't hurry home to buy from Amazon because the postage and handling negates the discounted price.) And, of course, I would offer refreshments, as my competitor does.

  3. Identify your USP, then send out a unified message

    Communicate exactly to the public what your unique selling proposition is.
    Don't try to be all things to all people. Identify your niche, collect data on that target audience, and then market like crazy to them.

    For example: If you own a clothing store, you can't expect to advertise both "rock bottom prices" and "exclusive designer merchandise." At first blush this may seem like a strategy that would appeal to everyone, but it will actually confuse customers and they won't show up. Due to experience, they won't believe that they can get both advantages in one store.

  4. Develop a dynamite descriptor of your company.

    Most people understand what big companies do because expensive advertisements educate them. But small businesses do not have that privilege, so I always recommend preparing a tag line or descriptor, as well as a 30-second elevator introduction. Both should explain who you are, what business you're in, what clientele you serve, and what makes you different from the competition.

    For example: A cookie company near my house is called Uncle Ralph's Cookies; yet, on their delivery vans and stationery, they write "not yet famous" in a different color and slightly above the name, so that it reads "Uncle Ralph's not yet famous Cookies." This six-word tagline tells consumers who they are, what business they're in, how they stand in relation to their competition, what their intent is (to grow and become famous), and it says they have a sense of humor.

  5. Meet clients in neutral locations.

    Your office may be too indicative of your size or status in your industry. Besides, meeting on a client's turf gives them the power, as well as the potential for interruptions.

    For example: I like breakfast meetings best. I meet clients in coffee houses or hotel breakfast restaurants. The prices are more reasonable and there's never a waiting line. It's early so no one is rushed yet; both parties are fresh, unfrazzled, and able to concentrate.

  6. Sell benefits, not features.

    Make it clear to customers how they will benefit from your product or service so that they don't have to do the work of thinking or figuring it out themselves.

    For example: Don't say: "We offer a list of A, a directory of B, and a group of C to choose from." This is company-oriented and talks about features. Instead say, "With A you will become thinner, with B you will get richer, and with C your love life will improve ten-fold." This is "you"-oriented and talks in benefits.

  7. Create an Advisory Board.

    Choose people who you respect or who are respected in your industry, or the town/region you serve. Not only can they give you good advice and an objective opinion, but they can also heighten your image, too, if you select them wisely.

    For example: Print the names of advisory board members on company literature. The immediate image is one of size, success and stability. And the best part? An advisory board is not a board of directors, so they have no legal or financial responsibility. Therefore, they can do as little or as much as YOU want them to. Your primary goal is to get their name associated with you to lend you credibility. And remind them to include their role as advisor on every piece of biographical information that goes out about them.

  8. Present yourself as successful.

    Drive a nice car. Wear nice clothes. Carry nice accessories. You want to appear hard working but with a good balance in life. So, always have a vacation story ready to share. Also, call and leave messages and fax only during traditional business hours; if you were truly big and successful, you probably wouldn't be faxing material to someone at 1 o'clock in the morning. And finally, talk about your company in upbeat, positive ways that put an image in your prospects' minds.

    For example: You may not be able to describe yourself as "experienced," but you might be able to say you are "talented" or have "imagination" and those two words deliver the same level of comfort that potential customers are seeking.

    You don't want to describe your company as new, so you might say that it is "innovative" or "revolutionary." In "Outsmarting Goliath," you'll find five pages just on the right words to choose from.

  9. Know how to answer awkward questions.

    It's easy to anticipate the awkward questions potential clients may ask, so have your answers ready.

    For example: "How long has your company been in business?" When a client asks that, he's looking for stability. So, if the answer is only a short time, then expound on how much experience you gained in the field prior to launching the business.

    "How large is your company?" Here, the client is looking for assurance that you can do the job. In other words, even though his question suggests a request for a number, what he's looking for is assurance more than he is a number. Give him the assurance and you may not have to fess up on a number. Say, "Large enough to handle this project with an excellent staff and give you these results....." then bridge immediately to how the client will benefit. This will give your client the assurance he's actually seeking.

  10. Use business cards creatively.

    Hand them out everywhere. Tuck them in the envelope of every bill you pay. When someone asks you for the name of a good restaurant or directions to anywhere, write it on the back of your card. Be creative with your cards!

    For example: If you don't think that a company president in your line of work should make sales calls, then print separate business cards that announce you to be Director of Sales or Vice President of Marketing. After all, you are those roles, too.

    But a word of caution: think this process through completely. If at any point you have to meet with clients as company president, then your credibility may be tarnished later on.

Article by Debra Koontz Traverso, business journalist, marketing consultant, who can be reached at , or visited on the web at