Leveling Up: 10 Ways to Professionalize Your Business
Studies show it takes anywhere from a tenth of a second to seven seconds to form a first impression. In this increasingly competitive business climate, how can your brand or business stand apart? When building a new or growing business, you want potential customers or clients to view your business as trustworthy, legitimate and professional.
Here are 10 steps that revolve around easy to execute branding and communication strategies to help you craft a professional image for your business:
1. Set up business email addresses:
Establishing email addresses that are linked to your company name or website and NOT a mainstream email server like Gmail or Hotmail is a key step in looking like a well-established and professional company. With many domain registration or web site builder sites including email packages, you should be able to quickly set up your email.
Creating alias’ (info, service, sales) email addresses that route to one email address takes this one step further. As a one or two-person business that wants to give the impression of a larger operation, presenting the idea of having dedicated – processes/procedures – teams for different aspects of your business instills confidence in your business.
Additionally, you should have an email address with your name – firstname.lastname@example.org – that you share with the media, vendors, suppliers, partners rather than alias email addresses described above.
2. Establish a standard business address separate from your residence.
Setting up a standard business address even if it is a virtual mailbox is important for building a separation between your business and your personal home not just mentally, but publicly. It also protects your privacy by allowing your consumers to reach/access your business by mail without the ability to access your personal address.
3. Set up a business bank account and/or secure payment portal for clients that is branded.
A business bank account is very important to establishing the internal payment processing systems in your business. It allows you the flexibility to accept a myriad of payments. It’s also important for your taxes. Your bank statements are an easy way to track your business expenses and revenue. If you are having difficulty setting up a business bank account, a business payment portal account like PayPal or Stripe can be just as effective. Make sure to set it up as a business account to avoid overlap with personal funds or confusion for customers/clients.
4. Set up a standard company invoice template on your LETTERHEAD.
If you have a thorough style guide, you may be able to skip this step. However, a standard invoice template like a standard social media handle and claiming your business helps to reaffirm your business’s professionalism and clear branding through consistency. You can easily use popular accounting and/or expense tracking apps or software like Bench Accounting, Wave Accounting, Mint.com or Quickbooks to create a simple branded invoice template.
5. Set up a separate business telephone number.
In this age, where email is king, you might be tempted to skip this step. We urge you to fight that feeling because even the most tech savvy consumer sometimes needs or wants to have a human touch point with your business, particularly when they are trying to resolve an issue pertaining to your work or service. For privacy reasons, it’s best to avoid attaching your business to your personal phone number. The simplest solution to providing a number for your business would be to get a Voice Over Internet Protocol (VOIP); these are services that provide a phone number, voicemail and allow you to receive calls forwarded over the internet to your mobile or landline. You might be familiar with larger providers like Google Voice and Skype. Setting up a VOIP is easy and in most cases, free.
6. Create an email signature that denotes your position and all relevant company contact information.
A detailed email signature not only looks professional, but can have the unintended consequence of attracting new business. Whether you are using your business or personal email address, you want to develop an email signature that clearly lists your title, name of your business, and a link to your best products or press coverage of your brand. This will help anyone you communicate with via email to learn about your business. You never know who might be paying attention.
CREATE A CONSISTENT BRAND IDENTITY
7. Develop a brand style guide.
A style guide is a document that lays out your brand’s identity; look, tone, etc. This usually includes brand colors, logo, document templates, use of language/appropriate tone as well as DOs and DON’Ts for all media (social and traditional), external and internal communication and/or proper business name pronunciation. Business name pronunciation is especially important if the business name has a unique spelling or configuration. The style guide can be used as a reference and to set clear expectations for anyone working with or for you on how to design or write for your brand. A style guide is integral to maintaining the integrity of your brand as well as a useful tool to onboard new employees or vendor partners.
RESOURCE: How to Build a Brand Style Guide
BE OMNIPRESENT ONLINE
8. Set up a website with your own domain
Having a dedicated website and NOT just social media pages means that your business exists in the real world; this is incredibly important in a landscape where there are a lot of illegitimate businesses that operate solely in the social media sphere. A domain name can be purchased cheaply for as low as $5-10. Hosting may cost a bit more for the year; $50-60 is a small price to pay to expand your business’s cache. A simple landing page explaining your product or services, an about page AND a contact page are sufficient if you don’t have a big budget. Do not conflate the about and contact pages. The about page should clearly state qualifications and/or experience of yourself and/or your team providing the service or product that you provide. A contact page should simply list where and how to find you via email, mailing address and phone number; it tells your audience nothing about the quality of your work.
We suggest paying extra for an Secure Socket Layer(SSL) certification for your domain if you plan on processing payments through your website. Most hosting companies offer the option to purchase one at checkout when you’re purchasing a domain name.
An SSL certificate signifies to customers that your site is secure. Therefore, they can safely make purchases using their debit or credit cards.
9. Claim your business on Google as well as all social media platforms.
Claiming your business name on social platforms means that consumers will be able to find and rate you and you will be notified of all posts or reviews associated with your business name. This is crucial to being able to monitor and protect your business’s reputation online. For most social media platforms, you can simply search the business name and claim it. For the search engine Google, we suggest signing up for Google My Business. This allows you to set up a free business profile that will come up whenever a potential client searches for a business like yours.
10. Create a uniform/ consistent social media handle to use across platforms.
Your social media is an extension of your brand/business and should be recognized as such. Having one social media handle makes it easy for your audience to find and identify you on all platforms. If you cannot get the exact name, consider getting as close as possible.
In addition to establishing your brand as deserving of trust, these quick wins will help your business look and feel more professional to potential partners, customers and/or clients. Start with the most important one to you and continue on from there. Be patient with yourself and take it one step at a time.