Take a small business image inventory
Whether in the smallest town or the largest city, as a small business owner, you are your business. Everything you say and do impacts your image either positively or negatively. Therefore, everything about you – from your personal appearance, to your language, to the way you deal with your employees – is a billboard advertising your business. Perhaps it’s time to take an image details inventory. Note and evaluate the following details:
Awareness of your appearance when clients see you
Take a good look at yourself. Acquire a core wardrobe that suits your new endeavor and makes you appear successful. Don’t skimp on the details like a good haircut, appropriate jewelry and polished shoes. Your clothes should mean business.
Even if you do home repair work, gardening or carpentry, clean work clothes are a must for sales calls. If you consult, you’ll probably need conservative clothes. You may have to spend precious capital on new business outfits and accessories, but you will never be taken seriously if you make your first appearance a poor one.
Your business location and how it looks
Just as your personal appearance impacts your client’s perception of your business, so does the look of your office. Evaluate the style of the furnishings, the cleanliness and the neatness of your office. If it doesn’t look first rate, it’s not making a positive impression on your clientele.
If you work from home, does your working area present a professional image? If clients will have to walk over piles of laundry, or if you expect to have distractions on site (such as children or neighbors peeking in), it may be best to meet with your clients at a different location.
The quality of your business cards and other printed materials
In many cases your initial contact with customers will be by letter or direct mail, so you want that first impression to be impeccable. That first-class look can be achieved less expensively than you might think.
If the services of an offset printer are beyond your financial reach, try your local quick-print shops and full-service office supply stores. These vendors offer good quality business cards, letterhead and other materials at a reasonable price – often carrying large sample stock and print catalogs so you can choose different styles of letterhead, typefaces, layouts and colors to achieve a professional look.
The way you greet customers
Analyze everything that makes contact with your customer, from the tone of your voice on the telephone, to the firmness of your handshake. You want to present an image of competence and friendliness.
If you work from home and a dedicated business land or cell phone line isn’t financially feasible right now, always answer the phone appropriately for your business image. Your friends will understand an unusual salutation, but your clients will not likely forgive an inappropriate greeting. Take special care to minimize distractions and background noise (children, television, lawn mowing, etc.) during telephone conversations.
The service you offer after your product is sold.
In a world long on hype and short on quality, most people are willing, even eager, to share their discovery of good service. Therefore, take special pains to always deliver and maintain the quality that fulfills your claims. Sales will inevitably follow.
The way you interact with your clients or vendors
Think of the market you operate within as a little community, where vendors are potential clients, and visa-versa. In this climate, the way you run your business will be quickly observed. If you outsource work, free-lancers soon learn whether your pay is competitive. Once you buy services and goods, creditors know whether you pay bills on time. A sincere and timely note of thanks to vendors and clients can create a positive “buzz” that boosts your image and brings in repeat business. Meanwhile, any parties who are left to feel unrecognized or under-serviced can reduce your client lists in weeks. Since these factions communicate among themselves, your every word and action in dealing with business matters must be consistent with the image and reputation you hope to develop.
Maintaining your good reputation is the most effective (and least costly) form of advertising available. The suggestions listed above will aid you in your quest to be your own best billboard -making all of your appearances count!
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