Building a Positive Business Image
The majority of home business owners do not have the advantage of elaborate offices or elegant storefronts to wow prospects and impress customers. Instead, they must rely on imagination, creativity, and attention to the smallest detail when creating and maintaining a professional business image.
Yes, there are disadvantages in operating a business from home in terms of projecting a positive and professional business image, but these disadvantages can be easily overcome and often turned into competitive advantages. In most instances, your start-up costs will be lower than those of a similar business that operates from a commercial office or storefront. Therefore, you can spend more to project your image. This means putting more money into brochures, promotional materials, public relations, customer service, and descriptive advertising campaigns. Since you do not commute, you have extra time and money to prospect, build strong relationships with customers, and develop business and marketing plans. Your overhead will most likely be a fraction of what competitors are paying to maintain commercial office space or storefronts, so you can devote some of the money you save into more productive activities to attract new clients--advertising, product demonstrations, and trade show marketing. You may also want to set aside some of the money you saved to incorporate or form a limited liability company right from the start.
Logos and Slogans
Logos and slogans can help to brand your business and build consumer awareness of your business, products, or services in a simple and easy-to-remember manner. Good slogans have been used effectively to communicate a message as attention spans are getting shorter. Logos provide visual images that can serve as imprints for businesses. Visual images are powerful tools that people remember. They can also transcend language barriers.
Of course, the key here is consistency. Once you have decided on a logo design and a promotional or descriptive slogan, you must consistently incorporate these into every aspect of your business. Branding requires time. The more often consumers are exposed to your brand, the more they will remember it, giving you brand recognition.
Business logos and promotional slogans play a major role in branding, especially logos because we recognize them as soon as we see them. You see the "swoosh" and you instantly think Nike. You see the golden arches and McDonald's instantly comes to mind. You hear or read "like a good neighbor" and think State Farm Insurance. This is what logos and slogans do: they act as beacons in the swirling fog of competition to attract consumers instantly to brands they know, like, and trust.
Slogans are very straightforward to develop. Simply think about the biggest benefit that people receive from doing business with you. Build a slogan around that benefit. Then, keep editing until you have a few powerful words that perfectly sum up your big benefit and are easy to remember. No, it's not necessarily easy. If it were, advertising agencies wouldn't make millions of dollars coming up with slogans. You also need a slogan that is not being used by another company.
Logos can also be tricky to create unless you have design experience. Fortunately, there are many logo and business image design services that will be more than happy to help you create a professional logo for your business--a logo that makes sense and builds brand awareness. Logo design starts around $50 and can go as high as a few hundred dollars, depending on your needs. Make sure your logo is not being used by another business. You can copyright your slogan and trademark your logo once you are happy with what you have created.
Listed below are a few online logo design services to get you on your way to creating a powerful business image through instant brand identification:
Print Identity Package
Your print identity package is composed of the print elements that you use daily in your business--business cards, letter stationery, receipts, envelopes, estimate forms, presentation folders, marketing brochures, catalogs, simple fliers, and account statements. High-quality printing is well worth the extra expense, especially for home business owners. Even though high-quality printing on heavy stock paper may be more expensive than a standard print job, it is still relatively cheap when compared with other overhead expenses, such as office rent, that home business owners do not have to pay. Therefore, you can spend a little extra on items that will project a very positive business image.
The key to a great print identity package is consistency throughout the entire package, just as in your entire marketing program. You want to develop a standard color scheme, logo, slogan, and type of font, and use these consistently so that customers and prospects visually link your business with your identity program. Use colors and a design that are appropriate for your business and your clients. For example, you might use brighter colors and a more youthful design if you are selling children's toys than you would as a legal consultant.
Consult your local telephone directory for printers near you or ask other business owners for recommendations. Remember to obtain three quotes for all your printing needs. Do not decide on price alone. Instead, base your purchasing decision on quality, value, reputation, and turnaround time. You can also visit the PrintUSA website at printusa.com to get free online printing quotes for hundreds of business products, from mouse pads to business cards and everything in between.
Whether you are handling e-commerce or not, your business needs a web presence. In simple terms, you need a website.
The type and complexity of the site will depend on the type of business you are running and your budget. If, for example, you are running a local tutoring service, you may need only a very simple web page that provides your basic information. In this case, you can probably design a workable site yourself with a web design program or through Yahoo or another search engine. However, if you intend to engage in business through your website, the design should be professional. You want it to sell merchandise, to present content that interests and/or informs visitors, and to promote your business and whatever you're selling.
Your online presence is a very important aspect of your overall business and marketing strategy and you should treat it as such. Again, consistency is one of the keys to success. You want your offline business and your online business image to be uniform and appropriate. This is not to say that you or someone you know cannot design and build your website. However, for a more complex site, with a shopping cart or other such functions, you should bring in a professional web designer.
Whatever you decide, take the time to plan carefully how you want the site to look, how you want it to work, and how you expect it to achieve your business and marketing objectives. In Chapter 17, "Internet and E-Commerce," you will find additional information, resources, and tips about building, hosting, and maintaining a website and using it to market your business and its products and/or services.
Communications systems and devices can play a major role in projecting a positive and professional business image. You can use communications to project your business as much larger and to reach more prospects, especially when you consider the following simple communications tips that every home entrepreneur can use:
- Install a dedicated business telephone line and promote the number in all marketing activities and business correspondence.
- Purchase and carry a cell phone so that important clients can keep in constant communication with you and vice versa. Poor access is always one of the biggest complaints in any customer service survey.
- Provide customers with a toll-free calling option for inquiries and product orders. This option makes your business appear much larger, especially when the toll-free number is featured in all your advertising.
- Always return telephone messages and e-mails the same day when possible, especially to your best customers and your hottest prospects. Never wait longer than 48 hours.
- If you operate a service business, use an answering service to take after-hours calls. You can also use a voice-mail system, since people are now more comfortable leaving messages. Answering machines, while they serve the purpose, do not project the same business image. However, for a part-time business or a business that is run primarily via e-mails, an answering machine with a business message (not recorded by your kids) will usually be sufficient.
- Record promotional on-hold messages featuring special offers or information on new products or services so you can take advantage of the time that any prospects or customers are placed on hold. Be careful not to overdo it or you will turn customers off.
Powerful Image-Building Business Letters
People receive lots of letters, especially businesspeople and professionals. If you want your business letters to attract attention and achieve your objectives, you must get to the point quickly and have a clear and concise message.
Start by letting your reader know right away what's in it for him or her. What will he or she get by continuing to read your letter? Write in short paragraphs, using subheadings for each new section to ensure that skimmers get the message and stay engaged and interested. Perhaps most important, write from the reader's viewpoint. Anticipate questions, concerns, and objections the reader might have and try to answer them. Here are a few more tips for writing powerful business letters:
- Write a first draft, wait a day, and then review it. Often you will notice points that you want to expand--or delete.
- Include a call to action: e.g., "Give me a call" or "Visit my website" or "Stop by our trade show booth."
- Avoid technical words or explanations. Use basic, easy-to-understand language. Never make your reader work or think too hard to understand your points.
- Edit and proofread for errors at least twice before sending.
- At the bottom of all written communications, include a postscript (P.S.) that restates the main theme of your message and the big benefit for the reader if he or she takes action and responds to your communication.
The world is e-mail crazy, with employees sending e-mails to co-workers 50 feet away and family members sending e-mails from room to room in the same house. While it is not always the best means of communication, since they consist of words alone without intonation or expressions and gestures, e-mail is a strong means of communicating business messages quickly and inexpensively.
Word all e-mails to clients and customers carefully, as if they were business letters, and take the time to proofread for errors and typos. Here are a few other tips for business e-mails:
- Do not send unsolicited e-mails to prospective customers. Make sure you have permission to use their e-mail addresses before sending.
- Use your business name in the From line so that people become familiar with your company and don't see just your name.
- Don't use acronyms, such as LOL (laughing out loud) and other lingo.
- Don't use all caps. It's considered the same as shouting.
- Keep your messages brief, professional, and to the point. Don't ramble.
- If replying to an e-mail question, inquiry, or complaint, address the sender's situation first and respond appropriately. Resist the urge to sell until after you've addressed the issue.
- Don't continue endless threads. Start a new e-mail or, if you are returning an e-mail, delete the older text that is no longer necessary. Change the Subject line to make it appropriate to the current communication.
- If you have a spam filter on, check your spam inbox briefly on occasion to make sure nothing that you need got routed there. Then delete all of the unwanted spam that you receive.
- E-mails are a very common means of communication now. However, there are some matters that merit picking up the phone or meeting in person. Try to judge accordingly, based on the nature and significance of the message to be communicated.
Dress for Success and Uniforms
You may hate them, but stereotypes sell. Resist the urge to stand out or make a statement in terms of how you dress for work. Leave fashion trends to the Hollywood types. Society in general has expectations about the way businesspeople and professionals should dress. We expect doctors to be in white lab coats, mechanics in coveralls, and bankers in business wear. It stands to reason that if you want to make the sale, don't let your choice of business fashion be an obstacle. Dress for success by wearing what the majority of your customers expect you to be wearing. If their expectation is a suit, wear a suit. If it is smart casual, wear smart casual. If it is a uniform, wear a uniform.
Enter Business Competitions
Winning business, product, and customer service awards is a fantastic way to earn credibility, attract new business, and build a great business image and reputation. This is especially important for service providers, who often build their entire sales and marketing campaign around trust, reliability, credibility, and a good reputation. Just about every community, city, and state has some sort of annual business competition classified by type, sector, or industry. Often these business excellence awards and competitions are sponsored and administered by local business groups such as the Chamber of Commerce, the economic committee of local government, or even local newspapers, radio, and television stations. Many industry associations also hold annual best-of business award ceremonies. It is more than worthwhile to take the time to enter your business.
Check with community business groups, your local newspaper, and industry associations for competitions and awards appropriate for your business. Study the details of each and then apply or get nominated for the ones that interest you and that offer the best opportunities to benefit your business. The publicity and free advertising that winning can generate are priceless, and the marketing opportunities associated with being the best are limitless.
Another great way to project a positive business image is with custom-designed postcards emblazoned with your company name, logo, and promotional message. Not only do they scream professionalism, but also they are a terrific way to keep in touch with current customers and new prospects. In bulk, custom-printed postcards can be designed and printed for less than 10 cents each, making them less expensive than sending an ordinary run-of-the-mill sales letter. Use the postcards to promote a new product or service or just to let customers know that you are thinking of them.
American Home Business Association
965 East 4800, Suite 3C
Salt Lake City, UT 84117
National Association of Professional Organizers
15000 Commerce Parkway, Suite C
Mount Laurel, NJ 08054
National Association of Women Business Owners (NAWBO)
8405 Greensboro Drive, Suite 800
McLean, VA 22102
(800) 55-NAWBO (556-2926)
Small Office Home Office Business Group (SOHO)
1680 Lloyd Avenue, Suite 1
North Vancouver, BC V7P 2N6
(604) 929-8250 or (800) 290-SOHO (7646)
Allen, David. Ready for Anything: 52 Productivity Principles for Work and Life. New York: Viking Press, 2003.
Carter, David E., and Suzanna MW Stephens. American Corporate Identity 2008. New York: Collins Design (HarperCollins Publishers), 2007.
Kanarek, Lisa. Home Office Life: Marking a Space to Work at Home. Gloucester, MA: Rockport Publishers, 2001.
Allen, David. Getting Things Done: The Art of Stress-Free Productivity. New York: Viking (Penguin Putnam), 2001.
Apple Computers: Wide range of computers and peripherals.
Best Buy: Wide range of computers, printers, digital cameras, etc.
CNet: Comprehensive website for reviews and vendors of every type of technology.
Dell Computers: Wide range of computers and peripherals.
DigitalCameraInfo.com: Comparisons, reviews, and data.
Download Superstore: Business software with shareware downloads.
Ergonomics Online: Ergonomics information, articles, industry links, and resources.
Gateway Computers: Wide range of computers and peripherals.
Hewlett-Packard: Printers, computers, etc.
Ikea: Retailer of home office furniture.
Office by Design: Retailer of home office furniture and design services.
Office Depot: Office supplies, furniture, and equipment.
OfficeFurniture.com: Retailer of home office furniture.
Office Max: Office supplies, furniture, and equipment.
PC Magazine: Leading authority on all technical equipment.
PopPhoto.com: Buying guide for digital and all other cameras.
PowerHomeBiz.com: Home business information portal.
Staples: Office supplies, furniture, and equipment.
Steve's Digicams: Detailed revews and comparisons of digital cameras and related devices.
WorkSpaces: Information, advice, and links on setting up, organizing, and furnishing a home office.