If you’re just starting out with your business or you’ve been in business for years you need to make sure that your business looks, feels, oozes trustworthiness (is that technically a word?). With online business people can be hesitant because they don’t know you, they can’t see you, and it feels like you could just run away with their money. So making sure that your business looks professional and trustworthy is ridiculously important.
Hold up. Before you start thinking that I’m about to make you spend hundreds of dollars let me tell you that you’re wrong, my friend. Note that making your business look legit doesn’t have to mean multiple thousand dollar website designs, expensive software or anything fancy. The tips below cost you little to nothing and can boost your biz cred instantly.
When I say “professional” I don’t necessarily mean “paid”. A simple gmail address with your name or business name is usually fine. I always, always recommend gmail. If you’re still using yahoo, aol or hotmail, I’m secretly judging you just a little bit. If you want get a little fancier and go the paid route you can use your domain with google apps for just $5 a month, sign up here (referral link). Whatever you choose, just no email@example.com, got it?
Your own domain
If you’re running an online business or blog that you’re hoping to monetize (this is also a business!), you better have your own domain. You can get a domain for $15 or less per year so there’s no excuse not to get one for your website. I recommend A Small Orange (referral link). Even if you’re using a free service like blogspot or wordpress.com, at least register and use your own domain so you don’t necessarily look like you’re using a free service. It’s all about perception and having a different company name in your URL can be distracting and off-putting, like you don’t take your business seriously.
A simple, uncluttered website
As a designer, nothing makes me cringe more than a poorly designed website. There are a lot of different styles out there, but if you’re just getting starting out and don’t now much about design do yourself a favor and keep it simple. The mistake a lot of people make is trying to make up for not being able to afford a fancy new website by adding all sorts of graphics and decorative elements. When in doubt, keep it simple!
If your business is based on clients or customers make it a point to respond quickly. There’s a trend I’ve been seeing lately of making sure you’re not “too available” to create boundaries. I get that, but on the flip side that can come off as unresponsive. While I always recommend that you don’t check your email all day (it’s distracting!), take time 2-3 times a day to check your email or voicemail and respond to people. When I send an email and get a response within an hour or two I’m happy to hear from them. But if I don’t get a response for two days? It’s almost like “omg, finally.” It almost becomes a negative check against you. A few days can feel like forever and sometimes I’m no longer as interested or engaged. Plus, let’s say you offer a service and a client emails you and another person who offers the same service. If you take too long to get back to them and the other person got back to them immediately they might already have a signed contract and be working together by the time they get your email. Be responsive, it’s an easy way to impress people.
Have an elevator speech or tagline
When people used to ask me what I do I’d stutter my way through a half-assed explanation about blogging and design and quickly try to move on. Now? “I help entrepreneurs and bloggers build success simply and genuinely. I do this through blog design, coaching with my own info products such as online courses and educating publicly through my blog.” Bam. Spend some time perfecting a simple sentence or two to help people understand what you do so you don’t feel put on the spot when someone asks.
Bad photos make you and your business look bad! If you can take photos yourself, do it. With how good phones cameras are, combined with photo editing apps, there’s no excuse to have bad photos! You can get decent photos on your own with a little practice. If you can set aside some of your budget for it, you can invest in stock photos or a good camera to take your own. High quality photos really make a huge difference. I use a combination of my own photos and stock photos, but rely on stock photos more because they’re easy to obtain and simply look so much better.
Choose your branding and stick to it. A great way to ensure consistent branding is to create a brand style guide for yourself. As a designer and I create these for my clients so that they have all the colors, patterns, fonts, etc. for their brand to ensure consistency. That way you have something to reference when creating anything for your business to make sure it matches the rest of your brand.
This seems obvious, but it needs to be said because I still see it all the time. If you’re not great with things like grammar, spelling, etc. ask a friend to proofread your posts and important emails. When hiring someone to do work for me I’m going to have a hard time taking them seriously if they don’t know the difference between they’re, there and their.
Be as clear as possible for your clients and customers about how and when to contact you. Make sure they know when to expect you to be available. Even if you work from home like I do, it’s important to have clear office hours so that your clients know when is an appropriate time to get in touch with you and when to expect to hear back from you.
Be active on social platforms
If you’re going to be on a social media platform, be active on it. If you aren’t active, don’t link to it on your website, emails, etc. Having a social media account that you haven’t posted on in a month isn’t helping your reputation. It makes you look lazy, forgetful or disorganized if you don’t keep up with it. Pick a few platforms and stick to those instead of trying to use them all unsuccessfully.
Testimonials & reviews
If you can get testimonials and reviews, do it! The first thing I did after finishing a project when I got started as a designer was to ask my clients for a testimonial for my website. Nothing makes people feel more comfortable in working with you than hearing from someone else who already has. If you have an online store, see if you can enable reviews and encourage your customers to leave them. Maybe even offer a small discount for leaving an honest review. Make people feel comfortable spending their money by hearing from other people in their position.
Have a contract
You may have the best clients in the world, but there’s always a chance of a problem. Contracts aren’t just for bigger businesses. If you have an agreement with anyone that’s business related, you should have a contract. Having a clear contract in place can save you the time and headache of misunderstandings, assumptions, nonpayment, etc. Most of the time you can just draft one and just use it over and over, filling in information as needed. If you aren’t sure where to start try googling whatever your business is then “contract” and see what comes up.
Charge what you’re worth
Look at it this way, most people know that they get what they pay for. Although there are exceptions, most people don’t actually want the cheapest thing because they think it’ll be the least valuable, too. If you charge too little you’re cheating yourself, but you might also be scaring away clients that want to know what the catch is.
If you’ve got everything everything on this list covered take a minute to pat yourself or have a mini dance party in your fabulous honor. If not then it’s time to get to work! The goal of this post is to give you tips to help people trust you and your business and take you seriously so that they feel confident in hiring you or buying your products.
How many of the above have you already made part of your business? Let me know in the comments!
Eli Seekins says
Good stuff Aileen!
These are definitely good point to hit if you want to be more professional.
I think a lot of entrepreneurs struggle with charging what their worth and don’t believe they should charge more. So that one is huge.
Aileen Barker says
Thanks Eli! Entrepreneurs definitely struggle with charging their worth, I do sometimes too! Thanks for tweeting 🙂
Deborah McDonald says
I agree with your last statement in this post, always charge what you’re actually worth. Most people undervalue their services. Great advice!
Great post. I enjoyed the layout and information.
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Good advice and spot on! Unfortunately, so many people try to say everything they want you to know on a home page.