Small businesses that want to be competitive must project a professional image. Several tools can help with that, including a business email address and collaboration software.
One of the challenges of being one of the 50% of small businesses that are home-based is projecting a professional image. Nothing says, "don't take me seriously" quicker than a barking dog or a kid bursting into your office during an important video conference call.
Just ask Robert Kelly, the "BBC Dad," who was being interviewed by the British network via webcam in his home office about the ouster of the South Korean president when his pre-schooler threw open the closed door and bopped in. Her baby brother soon followed in a walker.
That's why it's important to use the "smoke and mirrors" tools at your disposal to make sure you're seen as the professional you are. In addition to an office door lock, they include a business email address and team collaboration software.
Here are some of the tools you need to project a professional business image.
Use a business email address
A business email address is one that uses your website's domain name—firstname.lastname@example.org. It's just one small detail in your business identity that helps you pass the sniff test when contacting people who don't know you.
"When I receive unsolicited emails from people attempting to sell me something from a generic email, I delete them without a response. If you can't be bothered even to register a domain, I doubt we'll be a good match to work together," says Mark Aselstine, founder of Uncorked Ventures.
Because most email users today understand that there's no barrier to entry with free email accounts that include Gmail and Yahoo, like Aselstine, they're less likely to take business messages from those addresses seriously.
"Having a domain-based email address requires one to purchase a domain and then set up an email system that relies on that domain. A business email address shows that you're a serious, legitimate business that can, at the very least, spare $10 for a domain," says Meg Marrs of K9 of Mine.
In addition to suggesting the sender isn't serious about their business, a non-branded address often signals that the message is spam. When Adi Dzebic, owner of Bail Bonds Network, sent a business email from his personal email address, the recipient replied, "The fact that you are using a Gmail addy makes me think you are a spammer or a questionable character." Duly warned, Dzebic shifted the conversation to his business email account.
Repeated brand recognition for your company is a side benefit of using a business email address. Every time you send a message, you're reminding the recipient about your small business.
Take advantage of collaboration software
Many small businesses using collaboration software to improve internal communication and project management say that a bonus benefit is that it impresses clients and team members alike. In fact, some say it's essential to employee recruitment.
"It is almost an expectation in my digital marketing industry and definitely makes an impression on younger talent we want to acquire," says Joe Karasin, who uses Slack at POSH Digital Media. "They seem to expect it from larger organizations, but not so much from us, an independent small business."
Adam O'Leary at creative firm encite branding + marketing + creative says that using Basecamp helps clients trust the firm. "The collaborative nature of the software lets us present ourselves as smart, efficient, cost-conscious, and driven," he adds.
It can also help a small company look professional when competing with larger organizations. "It allows us to produce the quality, tailored work of a small consultancy with the speed and affordability of a much larger organization," says Emma Jackson of The Idea Farm.
"Properly leveraging collaboration software, particularly features that enforce branding and visual standards, leads to highly polished communications, documentation, reports, and other assets that help clients and customers see your business as respectable and the right choice for the solutions they are looking for," adds Matthew Fox at Valiant Technology.
Whether your small business is home-based or not, use these resources to improve your process and polish your image.