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Self-Promotion with Emotion

Obedience School

Momma Always Said

Sweet Talk



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You and What Army?

What IP hasn't contemplated lying about their size to woo clients? After all, even with the IP Revolution in full force, some unenlightened businesses still feel more comfortable dealing with a well-endowed firm than with a miniscule IP.

If you decide that you could use the business equivalent of the Wonderbra, there are plenty of ways to boost your perceived size. However, like the Wonderbra, this kind of artificial enhancement has its detractors and its, um, supporters. Before supersizing yourself, consider both sides.

The Name Game

Homer Simpson had the right idea when he named his one-man Internet business Compu-Global Hyper-Mega Net. Homer's fledgling IP business was bought out and destroyed by Bill Gates' goons -- but Microsoft isn't the only problem IPs might face when playing the name game.

If you stick "Group" or "& Associates" onto your name to make yourself sound like a player, prospects will inevitably ask who the group is or want to meet your non-existent associates. Brian Edwards, owner of Lambert, Edwards & Associates, Inc., a public and investor relations company, got around this snafu by telling clients that the "associates" were other IPs that the company subbed work out to. "They were associates, but they weren't associates in the conventional sense of the word," says Edwards. This tactic must have worked, because Lambert, Edwards & Associates now has seven real live employees.

Guess how many employees work for Cristofoli-Keeling Marketing Communications Management? "Cristofoli is my maiden name," says owner and sole employee Ann Keeling. "I thought it was a great way to make myself look bigger than I am."

Is it deceitful to adopt a name that makes you sound bigger than you are? "I don't feel that putting 'group' or 'team' or 'associates' at the end of your name is lying to the client; it's just the name of your company," says Todd Hays, owner of the PR firm Todd Hays Group -- which for the first seven years of its nine-year history consisted of one Todd Hays. "When clients did ask me who the group was, I'd joke and tell them it was my dog or my mom."

Office Complex

Used to be, clients would never have to know that your "suite" was actually a 6 x 8 box at Mail Boxes Etc. However, new postal regulations require these addresses to be prefixed with "PMB," for "Postal Mail Box" -- a big tip-off that your office isn't as "suite" as you'd like it to seem.

But you can still call your apartment a suite, a unit, a bungalow, a cabana, a love shack, or whatever would most impress your clients. Before moving into an actual office, Edwards gave his address as "700 Russwood, lower level." Translation: basement.

Sounds of Success

In the book Supergirls (Harper & Row, 1972), authors Claudia Jessup and Genie Chipps describe how they bought an RCA record called "Sounds of the Office" to play whenever potential clients called -- "a medley of clanging typewriters, coffee break chatter, and other sounds." I couldn't locate a source for this record, in case you're an IP who wishes to impress your prospects with the sounds of a pre-Information Age office, but you can easily record your own modern-day version of office sounds: beepers, modems, and the sound of sexual harassment suits being filed.


If you will, examine these two phone numbers: 212-555-1697 and 212-555-2000. Which one belongs to the major corporation, and which to the IP working out of his basement? "We worked pretty hard to get our initial phone number, which was 365-2000," says Edwards. "We just spent some time on the phone with the operator to find a good number."

Another idea is to eschew the answering machine in favor of a voicemail system. Up your image even more by providing a voicemail box for everyone who plays a role in your IP business. Greet callers with a honeyed voice (c'mon, you must know someone with a honeyed voice) asking them to press 1 for Eric, 2 for Julie, or 3 for Rover -- er, I mean Roger.

Make the Medium the Message

To sell yourself as a big shot, you have to look the part. So if you're tired of being passed over by prospects who have an unhealthy fixation on size, toss those photocopied sheets and invest in brochures, flyers, and samples that reflect your giant-sized talent.

Says Edwards, whose company has sported the same look since starting out in his basement, "The key was subtly making our enterprise look bigger through use of color, logo, materials, and language that talks about our experience and results. In the end, that's what businesses are looking for: experience, accountability, and results. If you can prove to them that you can deliver all three, they'll never ask to meet your associates."

Don't Ask, Don't Tell

What could be more subtle than saying nothing? "If a client didn't ask how big our organization was, we didn't feel any need to tell them," says Edwards. "We just felt the need to get them the results they were looking for."

Does Size Really Matter?

Until recently, some IPs felt they had to lie about their size if they wanted to get business. "Five years ago, I would have been using a lot more tactics to make myself look big," says Keeling. "It was sort of a stigma: 'You work out of your house, so you must not be as good as so-and-so who has an office.' But now businesses are much more open to IPs."

Why not use your size to your advantage? If a client questions your business prowess due to your diminutive stature, reel off these reasons that when it comes to business, size really doesn't matter (and even if you don't face this problem, the following will explain the benefits of telling the truth about your size):

  • The reason you're succeeding as an IP is that you're good enough to make a living without cowering under a corporate umbrella.

  • Your big-shot competitor's overhead consists of plush offices, a company Lexus, and a hot receptionist; your overhead consists of one-fifth of your apartment. Guess which is more cost-effective for the client?

  • When a client hires a firm to take on a project, the only time he sees the corporate bigwigs is when he's being schmoozed into a contract; the real work gets handed down to an employee fresh out of college. "When clients hire an IP, they get to deal with the business owner," says Jon Boroshok of TechMarcom, a one-man band specializing in marketing communications for emerging technologies. "They're getting a senior player, probably for less money than a larger agency would be charging them for a junior player."

  • You're wiry and fast. Your big competitor is slow and lumbering. You can finish a project or act on changes in the time it takes a bigger firm to work its way through the reams of small type and red tape.

  • You can give clients more TLC than the big guys. "When clients come to me, they're a big fish in a small pond, but when they go to a bigger firm, they're a small fish in a big pond," says Todd Hays.

If a 300-pound bully of a competitor kicks sand in your face, will you gamble a stamp for the Charles Atlas book and expend a lot of effort to make yourself look bigger -- or will you use your quick IP wit and flexibility to run circles around the lumbering oaf? Each method has its advantages, so the choice is yours.

We'd love to hear your feedback about this column, or put you in touch with Linda Formichelli if you like. You may also like to see her biography.

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