You may recall the television ad in which a small company, consisting of only two people, outbid much larger companies by offering a better product and, perhaps just as important, by giving the appearance of being a large, established, solid organization.
The fact is a small company needs to appear just as professional as a larger company, even if run out of a home office with no employees and operating on a shoestring budget. The following tips can help you appear more professional, without breaking the bank:
Set up a first-class voicemail system. Don't settle on answering-machine technology that makes your voice sound tinny or under water. Spend the extra dollar (or $100, more likely) and buy equipment that will make your company sound professional. Especially to be avoided are inexpensive digital systems that warble and sound metallic. Another idea: contract with a voicemail organization local to you and have your calls transferred to their expensive, professional-sounding equipment. For most small businesses, answering calls in a first-class way can make all the difference. Note: your outgoing message should be businesslike, not personal, humorous or artsy.
Get a toll-free number. These are inexpensive and can make it seem not only that you care about customers, but also are larger than you are. Have the number feed right into your existing line or set up a stand-alone line if you want to track calls from promotions.
Send all mail on custom-designed letterhead in a designed envelope. It's not expensive to work with a designer to create a striking, unique letterhead and envelope design. Have these printed on a nice paper stock at a local print shop and use them when sending out business letters. Remember, only the first page of a letter needs the designed letterhead, so purchase identical, blank paper for additional pages.
Similarly, your business card should be world class. Work with a designer to put some color in it and then have the card printed using top-quality paper. Your card should be able to stand up in quality when compared with those of the largest companies.
The previous two points can be carried out without designing a unique logo. Logos can be expensive – perhaps $1,000 to $2,000 for designer costs. If you can manage this, go ahead. But if it stretches your budget too much, put it off for later.
On the same note, marketing professionals often suggest designing a Web site to help put you on a level with larger, more financially well-heeled companies. The problem is designing a first-rate Web site can cost a bundle, especially if your business requires many pages that are varied in nature. When designing a Web site, start slowly, keep things simple and attractive, and keep the size of graphics down so the site will open quickly. Don't expect your site to immediately pay for itself in terms of sales. (All that being said, if you have an associate who can create a great looking site for you inexpensively, you should go for it. Put your Web address on everything you send out – marketing material, letters, e-mails and any other correspondence.)
Write articles for trade publications. These articles, when published, can be copied to include in your marketing material. They immediately give your company credibility and the image of professionalism. Speak with editors of targeted publications to select a topic on which you're an expert. Hire a writer to help you if you don't feel confident to write the articles yourself. Don't expect the editor of the magazine or journal to write it for you. He or she will hope to receive a polished, finished article that needs only minor touchups.
Send out press releases whenever warranted. Press releases are free publicity. If you're not experienced in writing releases, pick up a book on the subject or consult with a professional press-release writer. When possible, contact an editor at the newspaper or magazine you're targeting to let them know that the press release will be arriving. When your releases appear, copy them to be included in your marketing material.
Dress the part. It's easy for a small-business owner who works in the shop all day to dress down for business meetings. Don't fall into that thinking. Put on your finest business attire for all meetings with customers, financial sources, networking contacts and all others with whom you do business.
This article originally appeared on the National Federation of Independent Businesses Web site.
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