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Building an Image

What Is Your Face to the World?

It's tempting 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 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 literature, 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.

How Does Your Business Sound?

How your office looks is irrelevant if your customers are not going to see it. With most business being done on the phone or on your customer's premises, what's more important is how your business sounds.

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? Don't keep to just an answering machine or voice mail; spend a little more on a professional-sounding answering service.

Whatever you do, don't try to change your voice to make it sound like there is more than one person in your office. It's usually transparent and instantly destroys your credibility.

Project a Consistent "Look"

A little bit of effort in designing your "corporate look" can go a long way in building your image. Use the identical typeface for your company name (your logo) on your letterhead, your faxes, your envelopes, your business cards, your ads, your catalog, and your literature. If you want to get fancy, you can add a piece of art or a splash of color to your logo but it's not necessary. 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.

It's an Electronic Age

An e-mail address must be part of your business contact options. Even if just a few of your customers want to communicate with you by e-mail, the minor expense will quickly pay for itself.

What about your own web site? An e-mail address is much more important than having your own web site. But an address on the World Wide Web will further add to the professional image of your business.

It doesn't have to be fancy. The biggest gain for most small businesses will generally just come from the fact that they have a web address at all. The site itself could be very simple. For most small businesses one page would be fine, with a few nice photographs, clean graphic layout, and some text about their business.

How About a New Name?

People judge your business by its name. If you just named your business after your own name, potential customers would think, "So what!" You'd better use a name that implies what you do but don't fall into the trap of generic names. For example, "My Furniture Store" is not a good name but "Rebecca's Furniture" (if your name is Rebecca) is fine.

The change of the name brings on 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 the same or a highly similar name.

By Streetwise Business Tips


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