Maintaining a Professional Image for Your Home-Based Business
Most of us can easily list off 5 professional, and consequently unprofessional, business experiences we’ve had recently. Our interaction with these businesses may have been in the form of an email, a retail shopping experience, or a telephone conversation. In several cases, the deciding factor between a professional and an unprofessional experience may have been something so small, so simple, yet so significant.
Running a home-based business often means wearing the hat of everyone from order taker to customer service specialist. A stickler for a ‘professional’ image, I believe it is essential I constantly make myself aware of how clients, contractors and the public are viewing my business practices. As the sole owner of my Virtual Assistant business, I have to – nobody else is going to do it for me!
I’m a firm believer in the K.I.S.S. method of business relations – Keep It Simple, Stupid. The following five points may seem cliché, and ever so simple, but it’s surprising how often home-based business owners forget to take notice of them.
1. Spell check. Whether you are writing an email, creating a brochure of your services, adding text to your website, or writing a thank-you card, double check your work! Just about every program you work in will have a ‘spell check’ function – use it! For projects such as text for my website or brochures featuring my services, I hire a professional editor to review what I’ve written. You may ask, “Isn’t a professional editor going to cost me a lot of money?” No! There are hundreds of Virtual Assistants who, for a surprisingly low fee, will edit your correspondence. It will save you the embarrassment of spelling mistakes, an error which may very well cost you a future customer.
2. The telephone. Have you ever called your favourite retail shop or your local notary public to hear them answer, “Hello?” No? Neither have I. Businesses answer their phone stating their business name, as should you! Unfair or not, some potential customers have a negative preconceived notion about home-based businesses, so let them know from the moment they call that you are a professional organization. Ensure your answering machine or voicemail clearly notes your business name, and directions for leaving a message or alternate contact information. If your business line is also your home line, instruct others in your home how you want calls answered during business hours. Also explore the option of getting a smart ring number or a voicemail system with multiple mailboxes.
3. Professional documentation. Business cards, brochures, emails, website content, faxes, written quotes and RFPs. Always give out typed, clean-looking, professional documentation with your company contact information. If budget allows, hire a graphic designer to create your company’s brand image so you keep a consistent branding with all of your correspondence. Lots of Virtual Assistants have a background in graphic design, and offer these services. Not in the budget just yet? There are easy-to-use software programs with template designs, which you can customize with your own information and flair.
4. Mind your manners. Smile when you are on the phone. Say please and thank you. Treat each and every phone call and email with this kind of care, and you will surely see repeat customers and referrals. Let customers know you appreciate their patronage. A sincere “thank you for your business” will go a surprisingly long way. Dealing with a home-based business is often a new experience for customers. Show them your level of professionalism by keeping your manners in check.
5. Know your policies, your product, your business. It is most unprofessional when the owner of a company does not know the answer to a question about their business. When someone asks for a quote, they are expecting an answer of how much your business will charge to provide them with a service. Potential customers don’t want to hear how you’re just redoing your pricing and you’ve never done this before but think $40/hr sounds fair. They don’t want to hear that now you have people sign a contract because once upon a time you didn’t sign one and you were never paid for that assignment. You are the professional. Give clear answers to the inquiries you receive about your service offerings, pricing, policies, etc.
Just be mindful. Operating a new or home-based business of any kind is certainly a lot of work, and a continuous battle to gain confidence from customers who may well be used to dealing with larger, potentially more established businesses/industries. Step up to the plate, be mindful of your professionalism, and others will be confident in hiring your services, or purchasing your products.