Are you a small startup company, home-based business, or sole proprietor? Your image with potential customers is critical to gaining business.
Many small entrepreneurs make the same mistakes and fail to project the professional image their clients expect. Sometimes it’s because they don’t want to spend the money and sometimes it’s because they feel their skills, capabilities, and background are all they need to sell themselves and win business.
Unless you have an existing relationship with your potential clients, how you project yourself and your new company matters. Fortunately, it’s much cheaper now to build that image than ever before. There is no reason for you to look small — even if you are. A professional image and presence is crucial to gaining new business and standing out in the market.
Here are five things you should have to improve your professional image:
1. A Relevant Company Name
While many larger startups will create a company name and brand image, many individual entrepreneurs neglect this important step.
Your jurisdiction will have laws around company names ranging from federally incorporated companies to sole proprietorship and “doing business as” names. Investigate the options and choose one that works best for you in the long term, not just on day one.
Select your name carefully to ensure it is easy to pronounce and is easily connected to what you are selling. Making up a name simply by using letters from your children’s names, for instance, is not likely to resonate with potential customers.
For a Web presence, you should also consider whether the domain name is available. If not, look at a slight variation that works. It will be important to tie in your company name with your Web address.
2. A Website
One of the first things many people do is look up a company on the Internet when they’re considering doing business with them. You should have a Web presence, even if you don’t think it will drive business on its own.
A website is a cheap and easy marketing tool that will improve your visibility and make you look like a larger, more sophisticated organization.
The first step is to acquire the domain name for your website, which should be closely related — if not identical — to your company name. There are a lot of options for doing this easily online. Since a domain name costs $10 or less per year, even if you simply park it for later use, at least you’ll have it.
Implementing a simple website is a lot easier now than it used to be. While you still may need to hire a Web designer, if they use a free open-source platform such as WordPress or Joomla and keep customization to a minimum, your costs will be much lower, you will be able to update information on your own website in the future much more easily, and you won’t be tied into a custom-coded website. These open-source platforms even enable you to easily write a blog or set up e-commerce in conjunction with inexpensive payment tools such as PayPal.
3. A Company-Specific Email Address
Even if you don’t develop a website yet, create an email address with your domain name. A bulk email address like Gmail, Yahoo!, or one provided by your Internet service provider isn’t good enough. Since email is a primary communication tool, your email address must represent you professionally. Using a bulk email provider screams amateur.
Most Web hosts provide one or more email addresses when you buy the domain name. Depending on your needs, you may need to upgrade to an email package that has more storage or more email addresses. For instance, you could have an email address in your own name but another one for sales, another one for customer service.
4. A Logo
While you can avoid designing a formal logo simply by using your company name as a “word mark,” a logo that is recognizable and relevant to your services and industry will help you present a more polished image.
Your options include hiring a local graphic artist, finding one online, or simply using an automated logo creation website that provides templates, images, and fonts. Some even have pre-designed logos that may apply to your company. Be sure any logo you use incorporates professional-looking graphics (not simple clip-art) and is relevant to your company name and product or service.
Of course, it should be suitable to your target market. If you provide children’s products or services, the logo should have a different look and feel than if you were selling financial services.
5. Professionally Printed Business Cards
Good looking business cards can be printed fairly cheaply in small quantities. There’s no need for you to design your own and print them out on your printer. While it’s possible to get business card stock with clean edges for your printer, eliminating the telltale perforations, they still won’t be as good as professionally printed cards.
Check with local printing companies, office supply stores, and mailbox services for options. You can also order online from companies who provide a wide range of templates where you simply fill in your key information and even upload your own logo.