Some people say “fake it ‘til you make it,” but I think that cliché has an unnecessary air of falseness about it. Still, if you are starting up or running a small business, making your company look bigger and more established to the outside world can have dramatic results.
Whilst we’re not suggesting you misrepresent yourself or your company, or you behave like a big, impersonal corporation. What we are saying is that image does matter, and you should cast your business in the best possible light.
Dressing up your small business sends a message of seriousness and credibility to customers, suppliers, and anyone else who interacts with your business. It also affects your own attitude; much like wearing nice clothes makes you stand a little taller. With so many cheap and easy tools available for the purpose, there’s no excuse for not making your business look like a business, even if the company is just you and a laptop. Start here:
1. If you work from home, lose the bunny slippers. If you’ve chosen to work out of your house, then create an impenetrable “work bubble.” That means a dedicated, quiet, professional, well-equipped and wired space that you, and anyone else in the house, treat no differently than an office across town. No exceptions. Get dressed up for work in the morning, even though you don’t have to. It affects your behaviour, not to mention it avoids embarrassing surprise Skype Calls!
2. Your phone sets a tone. I can’t tell you how many times someone has called me, representing a business, and I’ve heard kids or pets or TV in the background. Or I’ve called a “business” number and listened to an answering message saying “you’ve reached the Smith family and Smith Industries, Incorporated…” Get a good phone on a dedicated line, and clear, professional voice mail, and record a professional-sounding message. If it starts with “hi there!” it’s wrong.
3. Look good on paper. There is no excuse for inkjet-printed business cards or Microsoft WordArt logos. Proper cards and other printed materials are cheap and easy to get in small quantities from Printers. Hire a proper designer and printer to do your stationery for you.
4. Be the master of your domain. A good starter website is inexpensive and easy to build. It may not be the sophisticated enterprise-level site you will inevitably want or need, but a beautifully-designed company info or “brochure” site is better than cheap, shoddy looking anything else. It is probably the first point of entry for people doing business with you, and the best way to convey the image you want.
5. Don’t be a Yahoo. Few things stand out as credibility question marks more than a generic/free email account. Business people are always sceptical when they get a business email ending in yahoo.com, gmail.com, or hotmail.com. As part of your website project, set up proper mailboxes with the same domain name and don’t just use your first name, if your business is not well known. Use first name/last initial or first initial/last name. It immediately sounds more substantial.
6. Outsource to a company that can provide a professional image. Some businesses are ideally suited to be run from home, and lets face it, in this economic climate it certainly helps with cutting costs, however, there does come a time when your business will need to have an extra pair of hands to help get the work done, but what happens when your home office isn’t designed to accommodate more then you?
If you can’t move into an office or if you can’t justify the cost just yet, consider using a virtual office. These remote offices can help companies to look quite substantial to the outside world and building the most impressive image you can from the start is a key step in getting business visibility, being taken seriously, and getting people to want to do business with you.