Most customers are looking for more than just a good price and good service. They want to work with someone who is credible, someone who will still be around to take care of them tomorrow. Without the advantage of a striking storefront, large corporate office or a cadre of employees to help create an image of stability, permanence and capability, home-based businesses rely on their image to carry them.
Consider these 10 tips to help you create a credible, professional image for your home-based business:
1. Install a separate telephone line for your business. That way, your family can use your personal line freely, without interrupting business. It eliminates the need for family members to answer business calls, resulting in a more professional image. As an added benefit when you install a business line, you will receive a listing in the Yellow Pages and Business White Pages, making it easier for your customers to find you.
2. Answer your phone professionally, with your business name. Get an answering machine, voice mail or answering service to take messages while you’re away from the office. When creating a message for your answering machine or voice mail, don’t overdo it. Avoid the temptation to make a humorous or “cute” message—simple and businesslike is best. Don’t let your children answer the phone or create the message on your answering machine or voice mail—it may be cute and it might make them feel grown up, but it doesn’t convey a professional image.
3. Have a logo developed for your business, and include it on all of your printed materials—from business cards to invoices to brochures. Consider using the services of a graphic designer to develop your logo. A good designer will provide you with several options to consider. When choosing a logo, make sure that it reproduces well in black and white. Don’t forget to get a copy of the logo on disk, so that you create forms and documents on your computer and print them out with your laser printer.
4. If you’re a sole proprietor doing business under your own name (for example, Steve Smith) consider having your name embossed on letterhead and note cards as an alternative to a printed logo. You can have this done at most stationery stores.
5. Don’t skimp on paper—use high-quality paper for all of your business correspondence and presentation materials. For letterhead, use at least a 70-pound bond, and use thicker paper stock for brochures. Invest in coordinating envelopes and note cards.
6. For a low-cost solution, buy pre-printed color presentation materials. Coordinating paper stocks allow you to customize your own brochures, letterhead, envelopes, mailing labels, business cards, note cards, flyers, folders, postcards, newsletters and more.
7. Invest in a laser printer, especially if you plan to print your own business forms or presentation materials. They may cost more than inkjet printers, but they are worth it. Laser printers produce a crisp, professional image and the ink won’t smear if it gets wet.
8. Join your local Chamber of Commerce and get involved in a trade association. Membership in these organizations can help build your credibility, and they offer excellent networking opportunities. Consider joining a committee or even running for an office in the organization.
9. Speak at conferences. It is a great way to market your business and helps you to establish yourself as an expert in your field. While you’re there, don’t forget to take advantage of opportunities to learn what’s happening in your industry, network, and size up the competition.
10. Use the spell check and grammar check functions on your computer. Nothing punches holes in your professional image like spelling and grammatical errors. When choosing an email program, look for one with a spell check feature. Be careful, however, not to over rely on these features—there is still no substitute for thoroughly proofreading every document that goes out of your office! It’s also a good idea to invest in good dictionary, thesaurus and grammar book. Store them next to your computer for quick reference.