It is a serious mistake to run a side gig or a small business in an unprofessional way, even if you are just starting out. Success comes from looking and acting professional from the start. Some people do not return phone calls until the mood strikes them. Some do not show up when they say they will. Some do not even have business cards or a website! This behavior is called “leaving money on the table.”
Making some basic changes to how your business appears to your prospects and current customers is an important factor that determines whether they give you their money or hand it to someone else.
The handyman who shows up looking grimy and in a beat up old truck is being hired because he is cheap. The service provider who does not deliver the work promised and on time is being endured because she is cheap. If you want to stop competing on price (which is a losing strategy long term) then it is time to up your image so you can charge more and easily attract new business, then let your image close more deals for you.
Your image has two parts:
What people see (your site, your team, you) and what people experience (customer service, good work, ambiance in your place of business or on your website.)
If your business is online or you travel to deliver the services you provide, a website is your “store front.” You want it to be attractive and appropriate for your business. Recently, I advertised for a graphic designer. Many applicants showed me sample work featuring skulls, lightning bolts or anime characters. Since my business is a mature one that serves adults, those were a mismatch. Your store front should match your customer’s expectations for your type of business.
The reason why looking more professional matters is counter-intuitive. By putting a little effort into your image, you increase the amount of trust people have for you. Since we know that people prefer to do business with people they like and trust, improving your image will help you get more customers. I talk about the practical steps to growing a side business in my free upcoming webinar “Supersize Your Side Gig”, but here is the gist of what you need to know about upping your image so you can start getting new customers right away.
Everyone needs a website.
Even a simple website makes you look stable and professional. Sprinkling it with a few testimonials from previously satisfied customers will help a lot. You can put one together that looks “good enough” in a couple of hours for just a few hundred bucks. There are plenty of places you can go to buy a domain name (I use www.GoDaddy.com); buy a hosting plan (which is where your website “lives” online – I use www.MediaTemple.com); and buy a theme (I recommend www.ThemeForest.com or www.SoloStream.com.)
A website that looks good states, “I’m here. I’m legitimate. You can trust me.”
Get professionally done business cards.
No matter what kind of work you are doing on the side, you definitely need a business card, too. You need something that helps people remember how to get in touch with you, even if the “business” is just you. I recommend an inexpensive site called www.VistaPrint.com to get your cards. Always carry a few with you. You never know where opportunities will pop up to pitch your business.
Look and act like the person they expect.
A baby sitter who shows up in a prom dress will raise suspicion. So will the bookkeeper who shows up in designer clothes and Louboutins (if her market is small businesses). Your website, your place of business, your car (if they see it) and you must all look the part. So should your team, if you have one. There’s a reason the biggest stores use uniforms to convey the message of unity and trustworthiness.
If your business doesn’t match your personal image, one of them will have to adapt to help the customer have a consistent, predictable experience. I worked with a very successful, stylish Southern man who had a PhD and no accent at all as he traveled the country giving speeches. To my utter astonishment, when he spoke in the south, he took off his jacket, rolled up his sleeves and spoke in a perfect Southern accent. I asked him why. He said, “The number one thing I know about business is you have to be one of them before you can sell to them.”
Does your image match your market?
By upping your image, you help your future customers in some really important ways.
1. You reassure them that you are a professional and you are taking this seriously. That means you probably will not do shoddy work, quit halfway through leaving them with a mess, or be a jerk during the process.
2. Your website gives them an easy way to see the testimonials of your other satisfied customers. This is called “social proof” and marketers will tell you it is one of the most important things customers look for before they buy a product or service. When people compliment you, ask them to send you an email or a note and get permission to put their comments on your website. If yours is the kind of business that will get reviewed on Yelp.com or other consumer review sites, having a website will help your prospects quickly assess whether you are a match for their needs.
3. It helps people trust you. The old days of below-the-radar business are gone. You need a way to prove to the customer that you are good and honest and that hiring you is a better decision than hiring another provider of that good or those services.
When you online and in person image aligns with what your customers expect and what appeals to them, you will find generating new business becomes easier than ever.