by Peter Crocker
Credible business branding has been revealed as a big issue for soloists. Is it our problem if people don’t take us seriously? I think it is. Here are some ways we can show the world we mean business.
Karen Morath’s article, Meet two types of home-based business, and Sam Leader’s follow up, Small business credibility: You cannot be serious!, raised this issue and judging by the many comments on both articles, really hit a nerve. As a home-based soloist, it certainly struck a chord with me.
But it got me thinking. Should we really give two hoots if people take us seriously or not? Is it our problem if people think working from home is all doonas and screaming kids?
Yes, I think it is our problem. And, we need to deal with it.
Whatever the reasons, we are fighting the perception amongst some that soloists are “just” working from home and running “little” businesses because they can’t find a “proper” job yet. And while attitudes are changing, we’re stuck with it for a few years yet.
The fact is that, rightly or wrongly, perceptions are very powerful. So, as home-based business people we can either choose to ignore the credibility issue and risk losing business (particularly from risk averse corporate clients), or we can play the ‘serious’ game for the sake of getting through the door.
Here are six simple ways to show the world that you take your business seriously and are a committed professional:
1. Get yourself a business email address
Many people see email@example.com, firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com and think ‘backyard operation’. Again, it’s just a perception issue, but simply setting up a firstname.lastname@example.org instantly adds credibility.
2. Create a website that reflects your value
It doesn’t have to be flashy, expensive or big, but it is absolutely worth having a clean, simple, professional website that reflects your offering, and one that you are proud to call your own. It’s often the first port of call for people researching suppliers, and you’re unlikely to get on the list with an “Under construction”, “Domain parked” or “Page cannot be displayed” message.
3. Develop a logo and a tagline
Again, these don’t have to be creatively ground-breaking. Just a graphic you can call your own to use across all your branding, and a few words that let people know what you do. I think the best taglines are short, simple and meaningful. For example “IT support for small business” or “Funky & comfortable baby clothes.”
4. Get professional business cards
Even in an electronic age where business is getting more and more casual, don’t underestimate the power of a simple business card. Just about any new business meeting in a corporate environment will still involve the traditional swapping of cards. A DIY job or no card can let you down. These days you can get 500 nice full colour cards printed for a couple of hundred dollars.
5. Make an email signature
Use the simple tools in Outlook or any other major email system to create an email signature that sits at the bottom of every email letting people know what you do and how to get in touch with them. I made mine in 20 minutes about four years ago and even though it’s such a simple thing to do, I’ve lost count of the number of comments I have received about it. It’s got to be the cheapest advertisement you’ll ever create, and it goes out to potentially dozens of people every day. Mine looks like this:
6. Use professional voicemail and business phone lines
If possible, set up a separate phone line that won’t be answered by your kids, and leave a business voicemail message so people know that they have called the right number and that you will get back to them promptly. It also lets you only answer the work phone when you’re available to talk.
Alternatively, use your mobile number as your work number and publish it on all your marketing materials.
As straightforward as each of these things are, together they present a powerful message that you take yourself seriously, are fully committed to your business and are here to stay.
Essentially it all comes down to communicating that you are reliable, professional and can be trusted. Once clients get to know you then everything’s fine, but it’s getting in the door that can prove difficult.
Yes, all these things cost money, but there are running costs associated with any serious business. If you do a lot of the groundwork yourself and keep things nice and simple to start with, they needn’t cost the earth.
If you genuinely want to build a long-term business and want to be deemed credible, it’s worth investing the time and money to make sure your commitment is obvious to the rest of the world. Seriously.