Sometimes back I read a Facebook post written by Johnson Sakaja, Nairobi County senator, and it reminded me just how important perception is. Perception can make you look big even when you are small… rich even when poor… learned even when you are uneducated.
Johnson Sakaja is perhaps one of the youngest senators in the country and his star seems to be shining every day. At his age, he commands an influential voice in national matters in a way that leaves many envious and jealous in equal measure.
But did you know that he was just an employee driver a few years ago? He would drop the person he was working for in town and then sneak out with his Mercedes Benz to the University of Nairobi to campaign.
“This gave my fellow students the impression that I owned the car and that I was well established which helped me win the SONU secretary general seat, little did they know that I was just a driver” said Sakaja in a long Facebook post.
What the students did not know is that Sakaja was just a “small man”, and was in fact poorer than some of them. But because of the perception that he owned the Mercedes, he got a mileage that helped him win the seat which eventually catapulted him to national politics.
Well, whether you like Sakaja or not is not really the issue here, but one lesson I would like you to take from him is that perception mileage is much more important than you think. Good perception can help you win a tender you never expected to win. Good perception can win you awards. Good perception can help you humble big companies even when you are operating a briefcase company.
Everything about business revolves around perception. Meaning, if your company creates a perception of being big, well organized and serious, then you are more likely to win over clients and partners easily than if your firm is perceived to be small and disorganized.
Creating a good perception begins by first making a few simple changes. Glad to say, you don’t have to always spend lots of cash to create a strong perception of yourself. Believe you me, the difference between your small company and that big company that keeps snatching customers from you is nothing else other than perception. Let me show you how you can get that sorted out.
Customers are more likely to trust you if you say your offices are located in Kileleshwa than River Road. But renting out space in a high-end estate does not come cheap. Luckily, you can simply rent out the address for a small fee and refer your customers to it even if your offices are actually located in a less appealing street.
One company that offers that service around Nairobi is Regus Kenya where a rent of Ksh.4,000 affords you a strategic virtual location (e.g. around Museum Hill), mail handling service and even telephone answering services.
Have your company name in your email address e.g firstname.lastname@example.org. Much as it is cheaper to simply use a @gmail or @yahoo, believe you me, it makes your business look small. A custom domain will not cost you anything more than Ksh.1,000 – so go for it.
The quality of the material you use to market your business is yet another factor that can determine how your potential customers perceive you. Some companies make the mistake of using tools such as MS word to come up with cheap posters and fliers which is a big mistake.
Instead of doing that, why not spend Ksh.200 to get a professional graphic designer to do the job for you? There are many designers in major towns – here in Nairobi you can find a good deal along Kilome Road. Also, avoid having your fliers and business cards made on cheap paper. Invest a few more coins for better quality.
Your website is blue in colour, Facebook page has yellow cover photo, business cards have white background and fliers have green shades. If that’s the case, then you are making the mistake of inconsistent branding.
If you decide to use a certain colour and logo, stick to it. People naturally love to associate with consistent organizations. That’s why Safaricom sticks to its green color on all its businesses, same with KCB and Airtel.
Whether you are selling food, water, tours, gadgets or even clothes, desist from the urge to post amateur photos of your products; taken through a phone camera. Hire a professional cameraman and only post photos that are professionally prepared for you.
Your Infinix mobile phone camera may be the strongest we have ever heard of, but let it be just for your personal photos. When it comes to business, and especially when you want your brand to register in the minds of clients, it is better to stick to professional photography.
Media publicity is a very powerful tool that many erroneously see as a preserve of the rich. If you don’t have a lot of money and you still want the media to cover you, then you can start by writing free articles and sending them to the editor.
You can pick a topic that makes you look like an authority in a certain subject. If you are in fashion, write about fashion. In real estate? Write about real estate. Then at the very end of that article, include your author bio. Something like “James Keru is a professional business analyst and founder of Company ABCD which offers business consultancy. Twitter: @JamesKeru.”
That simple line at the end will be your space to shine. Some local media outlets that offer writing opportunities (free of charge) include The Standard, BusinessDaily e.t.c.
Whenever you are given an opportunity to speak or whenever you come across a potential customer, speak with confidence. Use big data to win their attention. Use stories to sell your products. Facts tell, but stories sell.
Believe in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself, no one else will. Speak with authority. Communicate your ideas with optimism. Potential partners like to interact with people with a good attitude; not whiners.
Dress the part – going for a meeting out there? Planning to give a speech somewhere? Well, let the luxury of going for serious meetings wearing jeans and t-shirts remain a preserve of Bill Gates and Mark Zuckerberg. Since you are still a small mwananchi, it is important to invest in two pairs of suits which you can be rolling out when serious meetings come calling. Remember, the first impression you create matters a lot.
Be hard to get. When talking to clients avoid appearing to be “just sitting around” or “desperate for business”. Even if you have a whole day free, avoid scheduling meetings right away. Pretend to be busy or tied up…and “squeeze” that meeting or appointment a few days or hours later. Creating a sense of scarcity will help raise your face value.
Unless you are an unambitious person who is simply doing business for survival, chances are that you would like to grow big. Being big has its benefits. Customers trust you easily. Your phone calls get returned. Your requests get approved promptly. Banks look for you…and so forth.
So stop limiting your opportunities by playing small. Even Nelson Mandela cautioned us when he said: “There is no passion to be found playing small – in settling for a life that is less than the one you are capable of living.”
Don’t just think big – act big.