If you haven’t heard the phrase, “perception is reality,” before, then you have now. Why is this important? Simple. Because what people perceive to be reality is nothing but that. This is good news for you and your business because it means you can make your small startup look more like a big corporation with just a few tweaks here and alterations there.

Sure, you may not have a decent budget, you may lack slightly when it comes to manpower and you might not have all the resources that your bigger competitors have, but that will only be a problem if your customers know that. Think about it for a second. If you dress the part, then you look the part, which means people have no reason to believe you aren’t the part. Smoke and mirrors, misdirection, genius – call it what you will, the perception you create is the reality that people believe.

Below is a list of cost-effective ways you can make your business look bigger and more professional than it is, without taking on too many risky overheads.

An Award-Winning Website

This is your biggest brand ambassador-slash-advocate, your modern day business card and that first impression you don’t get a second shot at, which is why you need to make sure your website is sleek, slick, intuitive and on-point. The good news is, you don’t need to hire a professional these days in order to create a website of this calibre; Wix, Squarespace, Onepager, GoDaddy – they are all good options for those with a tight budget. Just make sure it is intuitive, visually impressive, informative and responsive (which, for those who don’t know, means it works on every kind of device, from desktop to smartphone).

Get a Virtual Assistant

If a client phones a mobile number and you – the CEO and Founder – picks up, then it isn’t going to look very professional, is it? The easiest way around this is to set up a toll-free number and then hire a virtual assistant that will forward any calls onto you. You can do this pretty easily by using a service like Grasshopper or eVoice. Just think about how much more professional your business and brand will look if you have an assistant answer your calls and then pass them on to you. That puts you on par with the industry leaders… at least in the eyes of the customer.

Ramp Up Your Physical Space

Just because you work in a tiny studio or a shared office space does not mean you have to look unprofessional. No, sir-ee. However, it does mean you need to focus on the details and be a little more innovative. Add a fresh coat of paint to your walls, get your hands on some snazzy office furniture by scanning Freecycle and Craigslist, add indoor plants around the place, make sure there is lots of natural light and then look at these Boss Laser reviews, which should be enough to convince you to get internal signs made for your office door, you know, the kind of thing you would find in Suits. It is the small details that can make a big difference. The difference between businesses in this day and age tends to be nuances. Remember that.

All About Your Graphics and Logo

This is what your brand will be recognised by if all goes smoothly, which is why you need to make this a priority. Think about the Nike “Swoosh”, FedEx, McDonald’s, Adidas Originals and any number of brands; they are all recognisable from their logo. Did you know that Nike only paid Carolyn Davidson $35 to design it? Why are we telling you this? As proof you don’t need to spend a fortune to get something glorious. There are places like Crowdspring that let you set a budget, describe what you are after and then sit back as people design logos, letterheads and even web designs if that is what you are after. It is the very foundation of your professional look.

Never Underestimate the Online Store

Only really professional companies have the ability to let customers and clients buy directly from their websites right? Wrong. The likes of Shopify and BigCommerce offer some pretty good and easy to use solutions that require barely any programming, meaning you can add this sales weapon to your business. Not only will this improve your revenue it will also send you up the ranks of professionalism, which is exactly what you want, right? Just remember to stay focused on practicality and need instead of getting carried away with fancy features and whatnot. You don’t want to overcomplicate things for your users or dilate your big sellers by offering more options than needed.

Business Email Account

Having potential customers and clients receive an email from [email protected] is not exactly going to ooze a professional feeling. Now that may sound like a pretty extreme example, but neither is [email protected] Nope. What you need to look professional is a business email, which will keep your professionalism and branding consistent – a very important part of looking bigger and, maybe, better than you actually are right now. Don’t worry, though, having a business email address doesn’t have to cost a lot. G-suite (which is Google) offers business emails from as little as $5 a month which, let’s be honest, is not a lot; not when your business reputation is at stake.

Business Cards Still Rule

Ths may sound like an absolute no-brainer, but having business cards is so crucial. However, don’t just go and get some cheap ones made by VistaPrint or someone, get them made to a great standard. For a lot of clients, this is going to be their first impression of your outfit, so make them represent your brand properly and then watch as word of mouth spreads like wildfire – it’s still the best form of marketing in our eyes. Pop your gorgeous logo on it, give yourself a fancy title, add that business email address of yours, let it point toward your sleek and slick website and sit back as people perceive you to be the boss of something big; something special.