One of the truisms of Internet life is that you can be whoever you want to be online. Most people think of this in terms of deception, like putting up a picture of someone else and claiming to be that person. But there are ways of presenting your business online that may not precisely reflect your business’ physical reality, that are nevertheless ethical and even helpful for you and your prospective customers.

The biggest hurdle for most e-commerce startups is that they are often one- or two-person operations, and the buying public is less likely to put its trust in a small operation. Therefore anything you can do to project a bigger image online is worth pursuing.

A good starting point is having a full-service design firm build your e-commerce site. This tells prospective customers that your position in the world either allows you to hire companies to design and build your web site (naturally enough), or that your company is successful enough to have graphic designers and web designers on staff. And there’s no reason to correct that impression – quite the contrary! Remember this perception when you write the text for the site: A teaser that says, “Feel free to give us feedback on our site” will do more for you than a teaser that says, “If there’s something on our site that you’d like to see, send us an email and we’ll call the people who maintain our site and ask them to make a change.” This may seem obvious, but if you keep this in mind, you will project a more professional persona, and earn a larger share of your customers’ trust.

Web design companies generally offer packages that include several email addresses. But most one- or two-person web operations wind up using only one or two of those addresses – “info@mysite.com, myname@mysite.com,” and that’s it. But why not use those addresses to build a staff in the minds of your customers? Orders@, shipping@, receiving@, info@, press@ – the possibilities are endless. And since those are all jobs that owner-operators are already doing themselves, it’s not really a deceptive practice. If nothing else, you’ll know where to find all those important emails.

Think of it in terms of nature: A lot of animals have the ability to make themselves look larger when feel the need. Cats arch their backs and make their fur stand out; puffer fish suddenly become too big to swallow; bears get up on their hind legs and growl. You may not feel threatened, exactly, but you can be just a bit bigger and scarier to your competitors. And you’ll look bigger to your prospective customers, too, which is what this web thing is all about.

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