The power of the internet has made it possible for anyone to launch and grow a business, without needing access to some of the same infrastructural elements that previous business owners and entrepreneurs required in the past. All it takes is a high quality product or service that satisfies a palpable pain point and it’s possible to be successful.
However, as time has passed, these low barriers to starting a business have ultimately watered down many industries and forced small businesses to strengthen their brand images in order to remain competitive.
If you’re struggling to compete with other online businesses in 2016, it’s possible that you aren’t doing enough to present your brand to customers in a professional manner. Customers want to know that the companies they do business with are professional, experienced and large enough to handle their needs. Unless you’re marketing yourself with this in mind, it’s possible that your revenues are at risk.
Six techniques for “professionalizing” your biz
Thanks to the conveniences of the internet, any business — regardless of how small — can appear big and successful. Let’s take a look at some advice to make your business look bigger and more professional moving forward.
Ditch the personal cell phone number
When first starting out, it’s common for startups and small businesses to use the personal cell phone numbers of their founders. After all, your cell phone makes calls and there’s no sense in racking up another needless expense, just to have an additional phone line. However, you probably shouldn’t run with this strategy forever.
There are many risks associated with using your personal cell phone number as your business’s main line. The biggest is the lack of professionalism with which you answer the phone or send a voicemail greeting. If you’ve been using your personal line for any length of time, you know just how awkward it is to unknowingly answer a customer’s call with something like, “Yo, what’s up?”
Establish a physical address
Along those same lines, you need a physical mailing address. If you’re running your small business from home, it may be unwise to give out your personal residence information. Thankfully, there are alternatives.
Setting up a P.O. box is the traditional method, but if you want an actual street address, there are other options. A resource like The UPS Store is easy and convenient, and you probably have one nearby.
Develop a method for invoicing and payment processing
You won’t be taken seriously if you send basic invoices that were created in a word processor. And you definitely won’t be taken seriously if your company only accepts payments on PayPal. You need a professional invoicing and payment processing strategy in place.
“The importance of streamlining and professionalizing the invoice process cannot be overstated,” says John Rampton, founder of Due, an online payment processing and digital wallet solution. “You need the ability to send invoices that reflect well upon your business, while also retaining flexibility on the processing front.”
Get rid of the stock photos
Anyone can create a website using the plethora of easy website building tools that are now available on the internet, but there’s a huge difference between a professional looking site and an amateur one. If you’re using a cookie-cutter template with stock photos, chances are pretty high that your site falls under the latter category.
Few things scream “amateur” quite like cheesy corporate stock photos with smiling faces and generic offices. Spend the extra money and pay for some professional photography of you, your employees, and your products. Suddenly, your website will feel much warmer to your customers.
Pursue media coverage and mentions
You can only promote your own business only so much. At some point, other people have to start doing the talking for you. Otherwise, everything you say will be viewed through a biased lens.
While you probably receive regular email blasts from marketing firms and PR companies, these services are going to come with a price tag. If your budget is small, you may want to seek out some grassroots options. For example, guest blogging is a great opportunity to get your name in front of a specific audience. Accepting interviews from industry podcasts is also a smart idea. Anything you can do to gain some organic traction will pay dividends in the long run.
Be as responsive as possible
Finally, you need to make responsiveness a priority. This is one of the biggest things that sets large companies apart from small ones. Large, successful organizations have things like 24/7 hotlines and speedy response services, whereas it sometimes takes a small business a couple of days to sort through correspondence.
When selecting different tools and solutions for customer service, choose wisely and don’t skimp on quality. “Taking advantage of appropriate technology can transform the speed of your service from a plodding pony to a galloping racehorse,” says Katie of LiveHelpNow. “Focus on technology that’s easy to maintain, easy to get trained on, integrates well with existing customer support software like CRM suites, is not costly, and is smart and contextual.”
Small businesses need to think big
There are many advantages to being a small, online business. For example, you’re more nimble than the competition and you don’t have to deal with the annoying bureaucratic policies that larger organizations have to sort through. However, there are also disadvantages to being small. For one, customers and clients may unwittingly associate your size with your expertise and value. In order to prevent this from happening, you have to puff up and put on a professional front.
Every small business has the right to establish a professional image; and, thanks to the variety of cost-effective tools and resources on the web, it’s possible for any business of any size to maximize their full potential.
This article is published as part of the IDG Contributor Network. Want to Join?