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7 ways to boost the professional image of your small business
Presenting your small business in a professional light and creating a great first impression is crucial if you are to succeed. First impressions are important and we’ve all heard that when you first meet someone, they will form an opinion of you, rightly or wrongly, within about 60 seconds. That’s not long and in this digital age, it’s even harder as your potential customers’ first impression may even be formed online before they’ve even met you face to face. It's important to present your business in a professional light ... however, people first come into contact with you.
So, it's worth investing in a consistent image across all the different types of media that you are using to reach your potential customers. It's good for brand awareness but it will also present as more professional and convey that you are serious enough about your business to invest time and effort in the finer details.
A haphazard and inconsistent approach will give the impression that that is how you approach your business generally and even worse how you deliver your products and services.
I have been freelance or self-employed and running a small business for over 20 years. The way we market ourselves has changed enormously in that time. In this post, I’m going to share a few things that I’ve learned through experience and from networking and co-working with many other small business owners about how to present ourselves professionally.
I’ve also numbered these points in a logical order for those readers who are just starting out. You need some of them before you can start the next one.
1 | Logo design and branding
That first impression window of less than 60 seconds is generally accepted as being for a face to face first meeting but if you’re working hard to build and promote a small business it’s quite likely that first impression is formed online before you get in front of anyone. So have a think about all the places where you could be visible other than just face to face. Your logo or branding may be the first thing anyone sees of your business.
Logo design can be expensive but it really is worth the investment if your budget can stretch. A distinctive logo that will work alone like the famous Nike swoosh will require a lot of time and effort not to mention budget. Aside from which, that logo has been around forever, it is a huge global brand and we are all very familiar with it.
But it’s still worth investing in some time with a designer who will sit down with you and develop something around your company name. If you’re looking for a local designer who will do this for you why not get in touch with Mike or Diane at Exposure Design and Print. They’re locally based and have many years’ experience of providing this service.
If logo design is a little beyond your budget initially choose a colour or colour scheme that will reflect your brand. Once you’ve chosen colours there is no reason why you can’t develop your brand and introduce a logo at a later stage utilising your colours as your small business gets established.
Whichever route you choose make sure that logo or brand colour is used consistently across all media. This is probably the most important thing to get right at the start.
2 | Arrange your own domain name and mailbox
I get many emails from people prospecting for business. Gmail is great, but if that’s the mailbox you’re using for approaching customers it doesn’t create the best impression. Whilst I always try and acknowledge all emails I receive and I understand that we’ve all got to start somewhere but if it’s come from a mailbox that is not at a legitimate company domain name I tend not to take it too seriously and politely decline whatever services are being offered.
The impressions I’ve formed, quite possibly unfairly are:
- A new business that’s not yet established and therefore may not be around for long.
- A business that doesn’t invest in something so affordable may take shortcuts in other areas.
When choosing your domain name try and make sure that it includes what your business offering is. For example, the domain name of this website includes ‘web design’. Other points to consider are:
- Include your location if you’re offering a local service.
- Use unique and distinctive words. Avoid words that are all over the internet like ‘best’ … you will be competing with everyone else that is using it.
- Avoid hyphens and special characters.
- Keep it as short as possible … I know mine is a little long!
Quite a lot to pack into one short domain name so if you’re looking for more guidance on choosing a domain name have a read of What’s in a domain name? or get in touch and we can register a domain name and create mailbox or two for you very quickly.
3 | Hire a web designer to develop your website
As many as 50% of small businesses surprisingly still don’t have a website which is a staggering statistic given how easy it now is to get a website up and running.
There are ‘free’ or self-build options available which have their place but don’t be fooled. The ‘free’ options are very often limited and are often not free forever. In fact, some of them are cost prohibitive into year two. Take the advice of a professional web designer who can explain some of the things you need to consider when weighing up the free self-build options versus going down the professional route. Here are two previous articles weighing up the free option and the pros and cons of some of the self-build products available:
- Is there any such thing as a FREE website?
- Free or low-cost website builders for your small business website: The pros and the cons
I have had many customers who have got in touch having gone down the self-build route only to discover a year or so on that they can’t further develop the site or adjust it to fit their branding exactly. You also need to factor in your time and how much that costs you. How much of it do you have available to spend on building a website with a limited skill set? You may be better off spending your time delivering your products and services and investing slightly more financially in the first instance to get a website that fits your brand and meets your needs.
More importantly, a professionally developed website can grow as your business takes off. Which it will if you present as professionally as possible from the beginning.
4 | Set up social media profiles … and make sure you use them
Social media is an amazing resource for promoting your small business. It goes without saying that the branding you’ve already sorted should be used consistently across any social channels that you are using to promote your small business.
There is an overwhelming choice of social channels available. There are many reasons for using social media including:
- Generate brand awareness.
- Drive visitors to your website.
- As a resource and keeping up to date with your market.
- Forming business relationships with like-minded individuals.
Ultimately, you are hoping to grow your business and gain customers. So, have a think about where these customers are.
- If you’re after the teen market think Snapchat.
- If you have a very visual product maybe Instagram is a good starting point.
- If you’re providing business services you want to build a strong presence on Linked In.
I still use Facebook as my customers are small local business but I also have a presence on Twitter which helps with promoting my blog posts and is an amazing resource for keeping up to date with what’s current in my market.
My top tip would be, don't spread yourself too thin. Take on one, or maybe two, social channels initially. But above all else post regularly. Posting erratically will imply that you are also erratic to the audience you are hoping to grow. By consistently posting content that is valuable to your prospective clients you will be giving the impression that you are serious about your business and are reliably available.
Ten posts on Monday and nothing for the rest of the week could give the impression that you are a bit part-time or possibly can’t really be bothered to keep on top of it. Similarly, an inactive profile could give the same impression or worse cause visitors to question if you're even still in business. Scheduling tools are your friends.
Starting out afresh with social media can be overwhelming but there are loads of resources available to you online. If you are looking for some hands-on training and support we can help or you may want to delegate to someone else in which case why not have a chat with Gill Chappell at GPC Marketing, another local business, based in Henley. GPC can help and advise on all your small business marketing and they also run workshops which are great to get you up and running.
So, choose your channels wisely and manage them consistently and if you’re managing more than one make sure they all reflect the same branding. But do remember that the audience on each is different and you need to post accordingly. It's tempting to automatically have your Tweets posted to Facebook for example, but it does look a little lazy and gives the impression that you’re not prepared to invest in the audience on the latter social channel.
5| Have professional printed business cards
You’re probably in a hurry to get these organised as one of the first things you will start doing is attending networking meetings where you will want to be able to hand them out. Those first face to face meetings are important and your first few networking meetings can be daunting. A good quality business card that you are proud to hand over and more importantly has all your contact details is essential. The temptation is to go with one of the quick DIY options. Yes, they are cheap but it shows and you want to present your small business in the best possible light so it’s worth investing in some decent artwork and getting them printed on high-quality card.
Your first run of business will cards will probably last you a while. My last run was almost three years ago and I have plenty left. But then again, I am quite bad at networking and have routinely forgotten to take them with me!
Minor tweaks to your website are easily implemented but a mistake on your business card will result in you needing a whole fresh run of them. So, before you start make sure you’ve finalised all your important personal details. A quick checklist would include:
- A logo if you’re going down that route, failing that hand over the colours that you will be using.
- Website address – you can always explain that the website is still in development if it’s not ready when you first use your business cards.
- Email address. You should be able to get this up and running almost as soon as you’ve secured your domain name.
- Social media profiles.
Invest in your business cards. Remember ‘buy cheap buy twice’.
6 | Use a professional photographer for your head-shots
A good head-shot can make all the difference on your website and your social profiles and is quite closely linked with your branding.
If you’re a small business, in other words, just you. You are your brand so it is important to present your best and most professional face. The slightly blurred image at a party that is a bit out of date but the only one of yourself that you can bear just doesn’t convey the right message. We all do it … for a while I was using one of me looking very windswept on a beach in Cornwall. I quite liked the photo, which is rare for one of myself, but it really didn’t present the right image.
If you don’t have budget for both logo design and hiring a professional photographer it may be an idea to go with the photograph initially and tie in the same head-shot across all your social channels and use it on your website. A good head-shot and a consistent colour scheme for your branding will present a complete image to all your contacts however they come across your details online.
If you still need convincing have a read of Do you need profile pictures on your small business website?
7 | Be punctual, polite and manage expectations
Not really related to your digital presence although polite does extend to how you conduct yourself on social media. Don't rant and make sure you acknowledge your followers and interactors.
Offline, if you want to be taken seriously afford everyone you meet the same level of respect and consideration. Remember the supplier of today or that tenuous contact you met at a business networking meeting could be referring you to a fantastic opportunity in 6 months’ time.
Working for yourself it is sometimes hard to keep up with all the administration, sales, networking as well actually getting down and doing your fee earning work. We all feel the pressure sometimes and we all have those customers who are needier than others, who perhaps don’t realise that they are not your only customer and you're not spending the entire day refreshing your mailbox. But do try and keep on top of emails and communications. If someone messages you, try and acknowledge it even if it’s just to say that you’ve received it and will respond more fully in a few days’ time. There’s nothing worse than wondering if your email has even been received.
Try and manage expectations
- If you’re working in consultancy and have a project to deliver don’t promise the world and fall short. Set a reasonable deadline that you know you can meet comfortably. If the work is delivered earlier than specified your client is impressed.
- If you’ve made an appointment with someone try and keep it. Don’t just not turn up. It’s rude and wastes time and conveys that you feel you and your time are just more important. That goes for meetings with anyone ... not just potential customers. I have had potential customers not turn up and one even called me to cancel when I was in the car on the way to our meeting. At least he called I suppose. Needless to say I would never refer either of these two to anyone looking for their services.
Of course, things sometimes go wrong but make sure you let people know if you are unable to keep to an arrangement. You don’t need to go into detail, poorly children being sent home from school or your dog getting injured is a detail that you don’t need to pass on as unfortunately these things may give the impression that you have other commitments than your business and sadly it can be interpreted as you being less than committed to your business.
In summary presenting the best professional image for your target customers is down to you. You know them best and what their expectations are, but always being consistent in what you do and how you present and deliver will enhance their perception of your reliability and ability to deliver your products and/or services.
- Be consistent with your branding. Make sure you use your logo and brand colours always; on your website, social channels and any printed materials that you rely on.
- Have an appropriate domain name and use a mailbox at it. Avoid using your personal Gmail or Windows Live account for business communications.
- Invest in your website. Spend time with a developer who will know what is going to work and will draw your attention to all sorts of things that you will not previously have thought of.
- Be selective with your social channels. Better to focus on doing one channel well rather than being everywhere and serving no one.
- Invest in some decent business cards. It goes without saying your branding should be consistent on these.
- Invest in a session with a professional photographer for your head-shots. This is very important if you are offering any kind of consultancy where your clients will be working closely with you.
- Always be considerate towards any of your business contacts. Remember the best work comes from referrals and remember 'people do business with people'. You will likely be working with other small businesses who will be as stretched as you are from time to time.
Sharing your experiences, the good, the bad and the ugly will often help another small business owner, so please leave your comments below or if you’ve found it useful, please share with your other small business contacts.