Does your small business have personality?

One of the things that sets small companies apart from their larger counterparts is the ability to have a personality. Generally, large companies have to be pretty bland– they seldom do anything that could be perceived as whimsical or tarnish their customers’ (and stockholders’) perception of their rock-solid stability and seriousness. Being a small company, you can dare to be different. You can break the mold. Your company can have a personality… but does it?

Why the heck not?

I sold my company (Critical Domain) back in January, and have been doing private consulting for the last few months. However, even though I’m doing “private consulting” I still have a corporate entity for tax and liability purposes, called “TLA Holdings, Inc.” A couple things about TLA Holdings that give it “personality:”
<ul><li>“TLA” Stands for “Three Letter Acronym.” Well, at least I think it’s funny. :)
</li><li>On my last round of customer invoices, I included the tagline “Promptly cashing our customers’ checks since… well… March of 2004.” </li></ul>

Frankly, everything about TLA Holdings– from the name itself all the way down to the letterhead, web site, and business cards– is “designed” to look kind of sketchy… just a little less than real, a little less than solid. It’s all a big joke. Indeed, I initially considered calling the company “Flash in the Pan Industries” but figured that was taking the joke a little too far. All of my consulting business comes from my personal network by referral, so all of my customers know who I am, know my history. I’ve already gained their trust either directly (many of my customers are former colleagues or vendors) or I was referred to them by someone whose trust I’ve gained, so there’s no need to build trust through my branding. My customers are doing business with ME– Joseph Jones– not with a consulting company… so the consulting company “shell” doesn’t need to have a polished image.

At least that was my initial reasoning… however, it’s become something of an unexpected benefit. Almost all of my clients have commented on this lack of a polished image… and all of the comments have been positive. They say it makes them feel like I’m one of them, not one of the “suits.” It makes my service seem more personal. Obviously, its working: I have more business right now than I can possibly handle. (I am currently in the process of phasing out my lowest paying client because my plate is too full right now.)

Another example: there’s a place in Bellevue called “Matt’s Famous Chili Dogs.” (If you are in Washington and haven’t been there you need to go– its truly excellent.) On their sign outside is their iron-clad guarantee:

“If you don’t love it then Matt is an idiot.”

And inside on their sign is their special discount:

“Buy 100 Hot Dogs and get a small drink with lots of ice for half price!”

A big company would never do this. However, it’s what makes Matt’s remarkable– it’s their Purple Cow to use a Seth Godin analogy. As a small business owner, Matt’s knows that not everyone will get the joke… but he’s not going to corner the market anyway. At least this way the people that do get the joke become much more loyal customers.

Give it some thought… are you trying to emulate a larger company? Is that the right thing to do? Could you better earn your customer’s trust by being a little less serious?