Business basics = looking like a professional

You want to be taken seriously don’t you? If you’re self-employed you may think it’s impossible to have all the shiny and expensive infrastructure that folks working in large companies have. Well, that’s simply not true. I’m going to share something with you. It’s possible to look like a professional without having a massive budget. In fact, you can do a lot with less than $200.
Why bother?
The first thing to cover is  – why should I spend any money? My work should speak for itself.
That’s true but it’s not how the world works. It’s not enough to act like a professional – you need to look like one as well. I’ve already covered some of this ground when I posted on dressing for work. If you look sloppy, new clients will expect you and your work to be sloppy.
The same thing goes for other parts of your business. You need a nice web site, business cards and letterhead. Let’s look at those three things as a starting point.
Business cards
It’s possible to get business cards made for no cost. That’s right – completely free. There are lots of companies that will do this – simple Google “free business cards” and you’ll see lots of options. However, my advice is to steer away from free cards. Typically, the free cards have the maker’s name and the fact that the cards are free printed on the back. Also, the free offers usually only provide the cheapest printing stock.
I recommend doing a couple of things.
Start by designing your own card. It doesn’t have to be particularly fancy but the advantage is that once you’ve done the work you can use the same art on your letterhead and other stationery. The companies that offer the free cards will also let you use your own design in addition to the myriad template they offer.
Also, don’t order the cheapest stock – especially if you travel overseas. In some business cultures – particularly Asian ones in my experience – see the quality of the business card as a reflection of the person or company giving them out. For around $30 you can get 250 cards printed on good stock.
Your website
Assuming you have registered a business name it’s important that you also register a domain name. A domain name will allow you to do a couple of things. Firstly, you can use it for your website so that people can browse to Your website is a way to showcase your skills.
Even if you’re not a web designer, you can create your own website easily. If you’re a Mac user, your computer will have come with a program called iWeb that makes it really easy to create a website. For Windows users, there are plenty of options. However, I’d suggest that if you’re a complete neophyte then I’d suggest something a little different.
This site is built using something called WordPress. It’s blogging software that lets you create new entries regularly and static pages. So you can maintain some general information pages about your business as well as regularly updating your clients.
Now, I know this can all seem a little daunting but a lot of the process is automated. When you register your domain name (I use GoDaddy for this) you can use the same company for your website.
Email address
Related to your website is your email address. Once you have a domain name you can create your own email addresses.
I’d recommend using Google Apps for this as it provides lots of space and provides you anywhere/anytime access to your email using a web browser from any computer.
Setting up Google Apps is a little complicated but Google provides step-by-step instructions.
Letterhead and stationery
Finally, even though we live in the Internet Age there are time when we need to produce something on paper.
In the old days you’d have a printer prepare something, send it to a printer and then pay to have a pile of letterhead printed for you. Today, all you need to do is design something in your preferred word processing application, save it as a template and then re-use it when required. Assuming you have a printer, you can produce professional looking documents whenever you need with little upfront cost.
So, what are your tips for looking professional? Please share in the comments.

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