There comes a point in every freelancer's life when there's a need to grow or shake off the stigma of being a sole trader. Now don't get me wrong... Many businesses love to work with freelancers and enjoy the personal aspect of having one person provide their skills and expertise. But sometimes, the word 'freelance' can have negative tones.
You see, people who work alone and from home can be taken advantage of. Some firms lose respect for smaller firms and assume they can hire them for a bargain price. This isn't the case. What's more, many brands will believe that hiring a freelancer is far riskier than appointing a larger agency which is a wrong assumption. Whether we like it or not, the term 'freelancer' can sometimes hold people back.
So how do you tackle this issue? How do you move away from the 'freelance' status and all of its misconceptions? You appear bigger than you are, that's how. But that sounds so misleading, I hear you say. Yes, it can be - but only to a point. You see, you can actually make the necessary changes to become more than just you - and it doesn't necessarily mean taking on large overheads like staff or office space.
Here are my top tips on how to make your small business appear larger, thus gaining the respect and bigger clients you deserve…
Start calling yourself an 'agency'
If you already work with other freelancers and have a nice team of loyal friends who you call upon for bigger jobs, why don't you call yourself an 'agency'. Clients won't care where your 'team' comes from or how they get paid, just as long as you're capable of doing a great job.
Get consistent branding
Larger companies always have solid brand strategies and know exactly who they are and what values they want to follow. What's more, they're always consistent with their brand messages and marketing. Do the same for your own business and ensure your logo, typefaces, fonts, brand colours and marketing materials are all the same. This will strengthen your position as a larger company.
Have a professional website and email address
If you want to look 'big' then you have to ensure your website and email address is professional and gives off the right impression. For instance, you won't do yourself any favours if your website is clearly hosted on a blogging site. And you'll look small if your web design isn't up to scratch. As websites are often a first impression, ensure you invest in a decent website and use your own domain and matched email address, e.g. www.mywebsite.com and firstname.lastname@example.org.
Get a 'virtual' business address
If you still want to work from home, get a virtual office address to add a level of professionalism to your firm. Find a local business centre or park that offers virtual services, like postal addresses and even telephone answering, and start to operate like a larger company. Some places will even provide meeting rooms for hire, which will be a great help when a potential client wants to see where you're based.
Get virtual help
Virtual PAs and secretaries are a god-send for today's creative freelancers. They'll answer your calls when you're not around, they'll sort your post, they'll even help with your invoice chasing. Some can tweet for you, help with SEO and even provide basic marketing. Find someone to help with administrative tasks and it'll not just free up your time, leaving you to concentrate on paid work, it'll make you look bigger than you are.
Become a limited company
Instead of being self-employed, you might find it helpful to form a limited company. Operating as a limited company gives customers a sense of confidence in your business - it's like an extra dose of credibility. That's because larger firms will often ignore non-limited companies. Speak to your accountant today to assess your options.
Use 'We' instead of 'I'
With all of your own marketing materials, website content and social media profiles, use language that suggests you're part of a bigger team. So for example, on Twitter you could say 'Part of the team at YOUR COMPANY NAME'. On your website, you could write things like 'We are passionate about design…' or 'If you'd like to contact us…' Use 'We' instead of 'I' and you'll appear like a bigger team.
Don't sweat the big stuff
If all of the above is working and you're attracting bigger projects, don't panic or worry about work that's too big - you can always turn people down, explaining that you're working to full capacity at present and can't possibly take on any new projects. You should just feel satisfied that you've at least got your options open.
When people ask
Once you've attracted a new client and you're at that initial 'meeting' phase, it's likely they'll ask you about your 'agency' and how it works. This is where you absolutely must be honest. But if you work collaboratively with a team of freelancers, there's no harm in saying that you have a team of people working with you. You're not lying - the only thing you're not telling people is that this 'team' isn't on your company's payroll.
Nothing makes a company appear larger than active social media accounts, so get tweeting, keep updating that Facebook Page and even create a regular e-newsletter to send out to all your clients. By being active on social media, you'll give the impression that you're busy with a large team of people, all working under one roof.
Keep 'upping' the day rate
When you've got lots of work and you can't possibly take on anything new, start to increase your prices on any new quotes you provide. It will do no harm to test the water and see if you can charge more. Your mission at this stage is to start earning more money for less time. At the moment, you might only 'appear' larger than you actually are but you should be aiming to become larger, so always think 'big'.
Get the best of both worlds
Not convinced that calling yourself an 'agency' will work? Keep one website that offers your 'freelance' services and one that's completely separate as an 'agency'. That way, you can attract both types of clients and ensure you're casting the net that little bit further. Based on which offering is more effective, you can determine the direction of your business.