“You can make a small business appear very big to the people who matter to you without spending a whole lot of money.”

What Is Your Face To The World?

It’s tempting to show off—to lease the corner office in a prestigious office tower and decorate it with designer furniture. Don’t do it! It won’t make you any money. And when your business is in a slow cycle with angry creditors calling, you’ll wonder, “Did I spend just a little too much money on the office suite?”

For most small businesses, in fact, you’re much better off just running your business out of your home.

Unless you are operating a retail store or expect clients to regularly visit your office, your face to the world will be your products, your services, your website, and your marketing.

Running a business out of a home is increasingly well accepted. Be sure your business room looks totally business, and ideally arrange for a separate entrance.

Of course, you can always try to meet at the customer’s location or, for a really image-conscious customer, you could even rent a meeting room.

Today’s First Impression

In today’s business world your customer’s first visual impression of your business is more likely going to be your website than your office. Even if they eventually do visit your office, that first impression will probably color how they view your office. And you can make a great looking web page for a lot less money than you can build out a first class office.

Another face to your world is your email address. Many very small businesses spend lots of money and effort creating and maintaining their own email system just so they can sound a little more professional. My personal opinion is that this is a totally unnecessary expense. I have done this for a number of previous businesses, and the biggest problem isn’t the expense but what happens when the email system crashes and it takes a number of hours or even a couple days to get up again.

I think the pragmatic compromise is to just use the free email services provided on the Internet, but carefully choose a name that sounds professional. So for example, the businesstown@ name was taken at Google and Yahoo email services, so we grabbed it at Hotmail. If it hadn’t been available we would have dreamed up some other business-sounding name for the email address. Yes, it would be nice if it matched the company name, but it doesn’t have to. The key is that the name sounds business-like and professional.

Even if you’re running a surfboard rental shop or a house painting business, a great looking website and a professional sounding e-mail address should be part of your business mix.

How Does Your Business Sound?

How your business comes across on the phone can be very important too.

Is your business phone always answered in the same professional manner? Is there music or any other nonprofessional background sound? What happens when your phone is unattended? It probably goes to voice mail. Have you called your phone recently and listened to your voice mail message? Is it just okay or is it everything you want it to be to help reinforce your business image?

I know some people who were more clever than smart who were running one-person businesses but wanted to pretend that they had multiple employees. So they would answer the voice with one voice playing the role of receptionist, change their tone to play the role of assistant, and then finally come on the line themselves with still another voice.

Don’t try to pull this disingenuous stunt. First, some customers will probably see through it immediately. And even if they don’t, you don’t want to be running your business in anything less than a straightforward and honest manner.

Project A Consistent “Look”

A little bit of effort in designing your “corporate look” can go a long way in building your image. You should develop a logo, which you can hire an artist to create, or at least choose a distinctive typeface and color to use consistently for your company name. Use it on your website, on your business cards, on your office signage, on quotes or estimates, on literature, and even on invoices and statements.

Observe what other companies do or get a book showing award-winning stationery designs. Get ideas, but don’t risk copyright or trademark infringement by directly copying from others.

I heard a story about a new designer at a book publishing company who wanted to redesign the catalog, which had for years sported a bright, but unappealing, stripe down the spine. But the sales manager said, “No way, it is that stripe alone that allows booksellers to immediately identify our catalog and quickly pull it out of a big stack.”

How About A New Name?

No way around it, people judge your business by its name. My book publishing business was incorporated as Bob Adams, Inc.—not a particularly inspiring name. “I’m Bob Adams of Bob Adams, Inc.,” I would say. And potential customers would think, “So what!”

After about 15 years in business, I changed the name of the company to Adams Media Corporation. I called the book publishing part of the company Adams Publishing. We quickly discovered there were several other companies called Adams Publishing, which brings me to another issue: trademarks. A significant percentage of small businesses run into trademark issues with their business name, especially if it’s a clever one. Ideally you should do a trademark search and at the least make sure no business anywhere near you is using either the same or a highly similar name.

Meanwhile we called the computer and on-line area “Adams New Media.” Unfortunately, this ran into trouble, too, because the employees in the book area felt they were now considered to be the second-class citizens of Adams “Old” Media.

So changing your name can give your business a boost, but think about the ramifications first.

Takeaways You Can Use

  • First impressions color everything – whether it’s your office or your website, make it count.
  • Project a consistent look across all aspects of the business.
  • A great business name can get you off on the right foot with customers.