How to Run a "Professional" Small Business
All businesses start as small businesses. Even Microsoft, Apple, and Google started in garages. The problem is, now everyone has this picture of small business owners and entrepreneurs working out of their garages! As a small business owner, you not only have to work hard to keep your business growing, you also have to get over the hurdle of the “Garage Business Stigma.”
As a small business or solo-preneur, how do you convince prospective clients that you’re competent, trustworthy, and reliable? How do you assure customers that you’re more than a few people with laptops in your garage (even if that’s exactly what you are)?
Being The Voice of Small Business™, we have a lot of experience working with small businesses and one-person organizations. And we have a few tips on how to represent your small business more professionally (hopefully adding more business as a result).
1. Create a “Big Business” Online Presence
The first thing most people do before they choose a company to do business with, is to check them out online. That means your business website is the first impression a prospect will see, as well as your first chance to sell your brand. You need a website that looks professionally designed and is easy to navigate. And let's not overlook your social media presence.
A professionally-designed website may seem beyond your budget, but you have a number of options to achieve the professional look that you desire. If you have some website experience, you can find many online themes that are easy to implement into your web platform. If you’re not too comfortable with DIY website design, consider hiring a student. They will charge much less for the design work, especially if you agree to let them use your website in their portfolio.
As far as social media goes, most prospects just want verify that you're a “real” company – not some fly-by-night operation. It takes very little time to create a Facebook or Twitter page and then update it once or twice a week. What should you post? Sales/coupons for your products or services, information about your company, behind-the-scenes fun – anything you want, just keep it professional. And don’t forget to place links to your social media pages on your newly-designed website!
2. Email Like a Pro
It may not seem like a big deal, but little mistakes in your emails can really contribute to a poor perception of your business. All emails should be well written, using complete sentences, and include an email footer with your contact details (and no, “sent from my iPhone” does not count as an appropriate email footer). Additionally, avoid spelling/grammatical errors, emoticons, and text speak. Your clients will not be “LOL’ing” if you are too casual in your emails.
When sending emails to clients/prospects, feel free to CC other “people” in your company, even if it’s just the email@example.com email address (which forwards to you). Add a note in your email, such as, “I have cc’d Ted in marketing, who will be assisting me on this project.” Last but not least, if you have a website, use the domain for your email. Because firstname.lastname@example.org sounds much more professional than email@example.com.
3. Sound Professional Too
Invest in an 800 number and a phone system that will allow you to set up a phone menu (i.e. “For sales, press 1. For admin, press 2). Even if all the options just forward to your cell phone, you will still sound like a much bigger company. CloudNumber allows you to select a professional 800 number or virtual phone number for instant Fortune 500 credibility, and easily create a company directory to help callers reach the right extension.
4. Follow Up with Continued Support after Sales
Okay, so your website helped you bring in a new prospect, you emailed them (and sounded very professional), and then you closed the deal over the phone. You may think you’re done, but your business relationship with the customer is just getting started! Try to exceed expectations wherever you can. Be quick to respond if your customer has any questions or needs any help, and always ensure your customer is happy with your product or service. This is how you build a core customer base, get customer testimonials (that you can put on your website and social media), and start converting even more prospects into clients.
Just because you’re a small business, doesn’t mean people have to think you’re one. When you run your business professionally, your customers will treat you accordingly. And before you know it, you won’t have time to worry about being perceived as a small business – you’ll have more business than you ever imagined!