In this special feature of 'Ask Entrepreneur,' Facebook fan Michael Bunner asks: How can my one-person (and hopefully growing) consulting firm look bigger to clients so clients don't treat me (and want to pay me) as if I were just an individual?
Michael, this is a great question, and I'd like to -- from the outset -- reframe the perspective a bit.
The single most important thing for a consultant to do, from the moment you first communicate with your client, is to lead them by the hand. When you are able to be the "leader" in the client relationship, they won't treat you as an "individual." Clients don't necessarily want "bigger." They want to feel led and taken care of.
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Being a leader means that you set high expectations from the get-go. Create an agreement outlining how you work, answer frequently asked questions before they have to ask them, and set up a timeline of when they can expect deliverables. You always want to be one step ahead so your clients feel guided in the process.
Related: How to Afford Your First Hire
You mentioned that you are (hopefully) growing, and this system will help set you up for that growth.
If you are the one consulting, you need someone else to handle client expectations, emails and scheduling. It's always sticky if you are the one who is answering questions, invoicing and dealing with the smaller details. It can not only be disruptive to your work, but it can give the impression that you're wearing too many hats.
You can hire a virtual assistant for just an hour or two a day to check customer-service emails, follow your process of welcoming new clients and issue invoices. If you go this route, set yourself up as if you are already a bigger firm. For example, create a Gmail account with your professional address and input processes in the Google Drive. I have every single process for my assistant in this drive, from "How to answer the phone" to "How to schedule my appointments." You can also create canned responses for FAQs in a Gmail account. This streamlines the tasks, saves time (and therefore, money), and ensures quality responses from your assistant.
You can also hire a business intern from a local university to help you out in person. This alternative is more cost-effective, and some people like to have an in-person assistant helping out. You can teach the intern about your business and groom him/her for a bigger job within your company as you grow.
A virtual assistant can cost anywhere from $15 to $60 an hour, and an intern can work for credit or you can pay them $10 to 15 an hour. For the tasks I've outlined above, one should not pay more than $20 an hour. Once you begin hiring for more complex tasks such as managing your website or working in Photoshop or Powerpoint, you can expect to pay more.
Lastly, it's important to note that small is not a bad thing. I would brand and position it "boutique" versus "corporate." You may be surprised that your perceived weakness is what your clients see as your greatest strength.