Think Big, Grow Rich

Five ways small businesses can act bigger than they are by Lena Basha

Perception is reality - sort of. As technology becomes more pervasive in our world, it's simple for a small business to look and function more like a big corporation and less like a mom-and-pop. Today, there's nothing stopping small businesses from enjoying the privileges of big companies without ever becoming big themselves.

Long before the term "global economy meant anything and even longer before the advent of the Internet, local customers were everything to the bakery around the corner, the financial planner on Main Street or the repair shop right outside of town. But a lot has changed since then. Today, small businesses land clients down the street and across the country. Taking a page or two from the annual reports of America's corporate giants might not be all bad. The small-business owners in this story don't let their size stunt their growth. They prove that even if you're not big - and even if you never want to be - the rest of the world never has to know.

1. Form a board of directors.

Eileen Spitalny knows how to make the perfect brownie. But the details of running a mail-order brownie-making business are a little more complicated for Spitalny and her childhood friend and business partner, David Kravetz. Fortunately, they rely on a team of five experts who serve as an informal advisory board to help Spitalny and Kravetz make informed decisions about the future of Phoenix-based Fairytale Brownies (

Boards of directors are commonplace in big companies. Smaller businesses can take advantage of the collective wisdom of boards without being held hostage to them like some presidents and CEOs of larger companies. As a business owner, the last word still resides with you. But asking others for direction and advice helps you make better decisions for the growth of your business.

Spitalny learned this early on. As soon as she and her partner drafted the business plan, they showed it to Dan Schweiker, a friend and successful business owner. That's how their advisory board was born.

"We didn't know what we were doing, so we decided to get help from people who did, says Spitalny, whose business does $7 million in sales annually. "That seemed like a fundamental part of doing your own thing.

After years of trial and error, Spitalny says she's found the right mix of five experts who best benefit her business. From strategic planning to product development, Spitalny and her partner rely on the advisory board to help them make informed decisions about the future of their business. "Our advisors are definitely part of the success, she says. "They keep us in check, looking at financial statements and asking questions like, 'Why is this where it is?' When they tell us something looks really good, it's like a stamp of approval. It really boosts our confidence.

2. Spend money on marketing materials.

Customers of Longview, Texas-based Aerosmith Aviation ( often are surprised to find out the company they hired to outfit their private planes has fewer than 50 employees. That's because owner Wayne Smith knows that professional, well-designed Web sites and glossy brochures aren't just for bigger businesses. Aerosmith Aviation serves high-end customers from all over the world, so it can't look like a local mom-and-pop. Between a recently redesigned Web site and customized information kits, clients could never guess that the world-renowned company, which specializes in custom interior and exterior refurbishment for the aviation industry, is as small as it is.

Instead of a generic brochure, each potential client receives a personalized information kit showing the work Aerosmith has done on airplanes similar to their own. "If you call us, and you drive a Mercedes, you don't want to see what we can do to a Ford truck, Smith says. "There are hundreds of different airplane models out there, and each person thinks theirs is the greatest. We think they're all great, and our kits show that. They make our customers feel special and show that we're not a one-specific-brand type of shop.

Though he was easily persuaded to spend a few extra dollars on customized information kits, Smith didn't see the value of enhancing his business' Web site at first. But at the insistence of his marketing director, he quickly changed his mind. Today, Smith can't say enough about the importance of a professional Web site with detailed descriptions and illustrations of his business' work.

"I'm old-fashioned, tooth and nail all the way, he says. "I didn't think my customers would appreciate a Web site over a handshake, but I was quickly proven wrong. Your Web presence has to become a priority. Looking at our Web site, you'd have no idea we're not the biggest custom refurbishment company out there.

3. Have a good address.

As one of the biggest financial management and advisory corporations in the world, Merrill Lynch can afford to have the best address in any city. With a little creativity, small-business owners can too. Just ask Matthew Tuttle, owner of Stamford, Conn.-based Tuttle Wealth Management Services ( When he started his business three years ago, Tuttle snagged space in one of the best buildings in Stamford.

Instead of leasing an office, hiring administrative staff, buying furniture and even a coffee machine, Tuttle pays Regus Business Centers, one of the nation's many companies offering on-demand workplace solutions, to do it all for him.

"I get all of the benefits of having a beautiful office and beautiful furniture at a fraction of what that would cost me if I wanted to recreate it myself, Tuttle says. "I briefly looked into doing it all on my own. Once I found out there were companies like Regus out there, it was a no-brainer.

Depending on how much he needs to actually use the space, he pays between $1,000 and $2,000 a month - a lot less than he'd pay for full-time space and staff in Stamford. "Plus, if I had done it all myself, I wouldn't be in a building that's as nice as this one, I'd probably have lower-quality support staff, and I'd be using a cheap copying machine, he says. "I deal with wealthy clients; that wouldn't present the right image.

Another way Tuttle takes advantage of on-demand workspace is when he's meeting with clients in other cities. If he has a meeting in New York or Boston, he calls Regus, which has multiple locations, and schedules access to a conference room. "I cannot underestimate the value of a nice conference room anywhere I want to meet with a client, he says. "I once agreed to meet with a client out of town at a local library. What a mistake. The value for my business is no distractions - and it just looks better.

4. Outsource to get top services.

Big companies have nothing on Jack Sands. By outsourcing all non-core competency functions at his Columbus, Ohio-based Intrep Corporation (, Sands uses the same quality workers that big corporations employ - without having to pay big corporation salaries. What's more, outsourcing lets him focus on what's important: growing his business by satisfying clients who call on Intrep for database management and telemarketing services.

"Outsourcing has helped us grow because we don't have to allocate resources to this stuff in-house, Sands says. "Ideally, the companies you outsource to have the ability to handle that growth with you.

Sands estimates that outsourcing saves Intrep about $100,000 a year. "The programmers we hire are used to getting that per year in salary, he says. "Because they're working for more than one company, I get access to someone I never could afford as a small-business owner.

Since Intrep was founded in 1999, Sands always has been a proponent of outsourcing. "When we first started, we worked out of my home, but you never would have known it, he says.

Image is everything for a budding small business, he says. "Looking bigger gives prospective clients confidence that you can actually do what you say you can do, Sands says. "It's all about the first impression. Even if you're great at what you do, if clients find out you're really small or that you're working from home, they worry you might not be around in a few months.

5. Get famous.

Lou Stanasolovich has something in common with Bill Gates and Jack Welch. Like these two CEOs of major corporations, the founder, president and CEO of Pittsburgh-based Legend Financial Advisors (, is constantly in the news.

With more than 750 interviews for local and national media in the last five years alone already under his belt, Stanasolovich continues to ramp up efforts to be the first person journalists think of when they're looking for an expert - and for good reason.

"Media exposure builds your reputation tremendously, he says. "It's only natural that people like to do business at a place that's viewed as one of the better ones out there. If they see that in enough places and in enough sources, they'll say, 'Maybe I better look into this.'

When he appears on CNN or CNBC, he sends an e-mail notice to clients and members of the media. The notice isn't necessarily to get recipients to tune in, he says, but "they're aware that we're on there. He also sends out story ideas every week to more than 5,000 writers and editors nationwide.

Being famous isn't easy, which is why Stanasolovich relies on his in-house publicist to field calls, set up interviews and send out releases. "We have developed this into an absolute necessity for our business, he says. "There's no easy solution. You have to work at it. When we started out, we knew we'd be where we are today, and we knew we'd have to work hard.

Look Big Now The small-business owners featured in this story have made thinking like a big company an integral part of their small businesses. If you're not sure where to start, these tips can help you start thinking big on a small scale:

1. Seek advice. Ask a well-established business expert or friend if you can bounce ideas off of them. It could be the beginnings of an advisory board.

2. Take stock. When was the last time you looked at your brochure or Web site? Before jumping into a complete redesign, first make sure all information is current. A few quick changes can mean a world of difference to potential customers.

3. Move it. If a big client is coming into town and your office is not as snazzy - or quiet - as you'd like it to be, rent a nice conference room for the meeting. In many cases, you can find one for $10 per person, per hour.

4. Stop hiring. For your next project, give the employee you always make triple-task a break by contracting the work out to an expert. You'll get a fresh perspective - and a refreshed employee.

5. Make a pitch. Draft a few story ideas or press releases and send them to the business editor of your local paper. Follow up a few days later to see if any of your ideas worked. Find more tips on running your small business like a big one in the "Web Extras section of