How To Make Your Business Look Professional
Better Call Saul – the prequel to Breaking Bad – is my favorite show on television right now (hot take: I think it’s better than the series it was spun off from). Warning: mild spoilers ahead.
(Don’t worry, I’m not going to tell you to take professional advice from a criminal lawyer).
In the show, Bob Odenkirk plays Jimmy McGill, better known as Saul Goodman. In the early seasons, his “law office” is located in the back of a nail salon. His life and business are in absolute chaos, but Jimmy is a salesman, first and foremost, and he’s selling professionalism. He’s a sole practitioner – no money to hire staff – so what does he do? He puts on a fake British accent every time he answers the phone in order to make it seem like he’s got a receptionist.
You’ve gotta respect that gumption.
That’s what we’re talking about in this article: how to assure your clients that you have a professional, well-organized, decently staffed operation, even when you feel like you’re flying by the seat of your pants.
The absolute essentials
Let’s look at the bare minimum you should do to lend your business some legitimacy. You’ve got skills, and you’ve got a dream – but to most, that does little to legitimize your business. Being some person with a dream is perfectly fine, of course – that’s how almost all businesses start – but it’s all about perception.
Your contact information
You could be operating a hair salon out of your garage or operating a mobile massage clinic. In these cases, you won’t have a physical office. Nonetheless, to preserve an appearance of professionalism, you should get:
- A business address via a P.O. Box (you can forward mail from that PO Box to your home)
- A business phone number (with a business voicemail)
- A business website and email (more on that in the “Online presence” section)
Having these things lends an air of legitimacy to your whole operation. After all, if people phone your house and your 5-year-old picks up, they might grow skeptical about your business.
And if you’re using email@example.com as your email address – well, that might have played well in the mid-2000s, when ripped black jeans and jet black hair were all the rage, but your prospective clients might not appreciate it as much.
What’s in a name?
There’s an old saying about roses that I’ve got a bit of a vendetta against. You know the one:
While that’s true, if we called them “Stinkbuds”, I’d wager they wouldn’t be nearly as popular on Valentine’s day. What I mean is that your business name matters. Your branding and your logo – they matter. A lot.
Take the time to really think about the kinds of customers you want to attract, and the goals of your business. Use that to guide your branding – after all, it’s the first thing your prospective clients will see.
Your online presence
Before we dive into this, I want to make something clear:
You might not need a website.
That’s not advice you’ll hear from everyone, since having a website is very in vogue.
What you do need, however, is a web presence.
Instagram, Facebook, and other social media sites allow us to maintain an online presence without actually purchasing a website. That’s good news, because designing a website can be costly. You can, of course, create something with WordPress, Wix, Squarespace, or the myriad other website builders. You don’t, however, necessarily need to, especially if you’ve already got a lot of followers on social media.
I will say, however, that you still need a URL for your business. There are a couple of reasons for this:
The first is that you want to have a business email address, and to do that (through Google Workspace, your web hosting provider, or another service), you need to own a domain name.
The second reason relates to growth and, sadly, Internet trolls.
*Disclaimer: Internet trolls are not this cute.
Domain names are very affordable. You might, at some point, decide you want a website for your business. Even if you don’t think you’re going to build a website right away, it’s better to grab a domain name before your brand name gets famous. Otherwise, people who want to make a quick buck can grab yourcompanyname.com, and hold it over your head until you offer them a bunch of money.
Worse yet, if you don’t do what they ask, they can use the domain to redirect to your competitors or actively disparage your company.
You might be asking what the chances of this happening are – fortunately, they’re relatively slim. Realistically, though, it’s worth spending the 20 bucks it will cost you to buy the domain and redirect traffic to your social media page – a small cost for a good deal of insurance.
Keep it tasteful
Not every business is going to want to follow this rule – in some industries, shock value sells – but for the most part, you’ll want to be very careful about the content that you post online. Ask yourself how someone’s parents or grandparents might react to seeing the images you post.
Take the time to check through everything you post to ensure there are no spelling/grammatical errors. Get photos taken by professionals. Your online presence is often the first thing that someone will see, so make sure your branding is front and center and that your content is enticing, not cringe-worthy.
Your physical presence
How you and your business look in the flesh is as important as your online presence.
Back in the day, everyone had to look like this to be professional:
Fortunately, those days are long since behind us. Nonetheless, your physical appearance should still fit your occupation.
Some examples might help. When I go to a hair salon, I check out the hairstyles of the people working there. When they’re totally unkempt, I’m reluctant to let them cut my hair. In the same vein, if you go to a chiropractor with terrible posture, “find a new chiropractor” will probably hit the top of your to-do list.
In other words, you don’t have to switch your whole style and demeanor in order to look professional – you just need to look like you care about the things that are valuable to someone seeking your services.
Keep it clean
The way you take care of your space can tell people a lot about the way you take care of your business. People pick up on how conscientious you are, and many folks feel like if you can’t keep your space clean, there’s no way you’ll be able to give them the focus and care they need.
This is an easy win. Be mindful of your space. Take care in how you select your furniture, your color palette, and all the rest. If you can’t afford a total makeover of the area you work in, that’s okay – keeping your space tidy is the best first step.
Service with a smile
When you’re trying to do everything yourself, customer service can suffer. Trying to answer the phone with one hand while tattooing someone with your other hand is going to leave everyone unhappy.
What’s a business owner to do? Take a page out of Saul Goodman’s book – kind of. Instead of impersonating someone who works for you, consider hiring a virtual assistant (VA) to answer phone calls, emails, and chat messages for you.
Automation is another great, inexpensive step you can take. You can automate customer service through chatbots that answer frequently asked questions. You can automate appointment booking through a platform like Bookedin. You can even create automated email responses for when you’re out of the office.
Professional & predictable – not pedestrian
Professionalism and predictability go hand-in-hand – clients want to know that if they call you, you’ll answer, and that you’ll never double-book them. You can provide this level of certainty without being boring.
Remember, professionalism is about whether or not you can consistently give people what they want. You can still let your personality shine through. You can still be innovative and creative, and run your business in imaginative ways. Consistency doesn’t mean a lack of creativity, as the tips we just went over show. Just because things are chaotic below the surface doesn’t mean your clients can’t sail on calm waters!