As someone who comes from the corporate world, talking about "looking professional" still gives me flashbacks of ill-fitting pantsuits and pastel button-down shirts. Oh god, the horror of a "business formal" dress code...
But that's not the kind of "professional" we're talking about today. No, today, it's all about how to make your business look legitimate-- and make you look like an expert.
And why's that important?
It’s not just because I’m a judgey a-hole (although, let’s be honest, that's part of it.) No, I’m obsessed with helping entrepreneurs create more professional-looking brands because the fact is:
When you look like a professional, you’re more likely to get hired and paid like a professional.
And when you look like an amateur hobbyist? Yep, you’re more likely to attract clients that are just looking for the cheapest option. You become the proverbial kid-next-door who can build a website on the cheap or create a logo “for fun.”
I don’t know about you, but that’s not the kind of business I’m trying to build. So how do you make your business look professional, especially when you’re first starting out?
1. Professional branding, online and offline
I’ve written about creating a strong, professional brand more than I care to admit, so I’m not going to rehash everything all over again. But as a reminder, if you want your business to look legit, you need a brand that doesn’t look like you created it from Clipart graphics and put it on a website from the 90’s.
High-quality logo, fonts, colors, graphics and other brand elements
An easy-to-navigate, visually appealing, mobile-responsive, branded website
Consistent brand presence throughout the web and on social media
Authentic, interesting brand voice and philosophy for a clear target audience
Professional offline presence: how you explain what you do, dress, interact with clients
Well-written emails with a professional email address and branded email signature
2. Clear, confident sales pitch
This probably should've been first because the fact is, if you can’t clearly explain what you do, there’s no way you’re going to be hired to do it.
Harsh, I know, but that’s the truth.
If you want to be hired as a professional, you need to look and sound professional-- and that means being able to clearly and confidently explain what you do and why it’s valuable.
Because if potential clients are going to pay you to solve their problem, they will first need to understand how you can solve it and trust that you’re the best person to do so.
And if you’re stumbling over your sales pitch and using vague language, you probably aren’t going to instill a lot of confidence in them that you’re the one for the job.
So if you want to get hired like a pro, you need to learn to sell yourself like a pro.
3. Client case studies and testimonials
Full disclosure: I still haven’t made the time to get my client testimonials up on my website. Maybe I need to start taking my own productivity advice and actually get that done…
But even if I don’t have them on my website, I do have them-- and I had them even before I officially launched my business.
Because one of the most effective ways to show potential clients what you can do is to show them what you’ve already done. Even if you’re just starting out, you can do pro bono work in exchange for experience and testimonials, which you can use to prove that you’re legitimate.
Because that’s what looking professional means: you're serious about what you do, you can legitimately help your clients, and the value you create is worth the rates you charge.
4. Seamless processes
Processes don’t just make your life easier, they also make you look like an expert. Your process shows you know what you’re doing, you’ve done this a million times before, and you know how to get results.
Because that’s what your clients are paying you for, right? They want you to be the expert. They want you to tell them what they need. They want to sit back, not have to worry about it and know that they can trust you to get the job done.
And the best way to show them you know what you’re doing is to have a clear, proven process, at every stage of the interaction.
How they contact you
How do potential clients contact you? Do you have a contact form on your site? Is it painfully obvious to them how to get in touch with you?
The easier you can make it for them to contact you, the more likely they are to do so. Make it obvious, easy and clear what they can expect, and then respond to them as soon as possible.
So they’ve contacted you to show their interest-- now what?
If you offer free consultations or discovery calls, streamline that process by using scheduling tools like Calendly to easily find a time slot and get the necessary info, like what number to call. Because you should be the one to call them-- on time, please.
If you’re calling through through Skype, make sure you don’t look like you just got back from a run, and test your audio and video beforehand to avoid issues.
Remember, this will be their first impression of you. They’ll likely decide within the first minute whether or not they want to work with you-- so don’t ruin your chances by looking like a disorganized amateur.
If your consult went well, depending on what you offer, they might want a proposal of how you can help them-- and what it’ll cost. You might be tempted to shoot off a quick email to recap the consult and attach a price list.
Please don’t do that.
Show them you're a professional who can solve their unique problems by creating a tailored proposal. Now, that obviously depends on the project, but showing that you put time and thought into your clients’ projects even before signing the contract gives potential clients a taste of your commitment-- and chances are, they’ll want more.
So by all means, use a proposal template to save time, but just make sure that proposal is branded and visually appealing, and that your offer clearly shows the benefits you’ll create for the client.
Now that they’ve agreed to your beautiful, thorough proposal, you can get to work, right?
Nope. Because you first need a contract.
Listen, I’m not a lawyer. I’m not about to give you legal advice. But I will give you pretty much every other kind of advice (that’s the charming know-it-all in me), so here it is: do not work without a contract. Period.
A contract will not only protect both you and your client, but it will also make you look more professional-- like you take your work seriously and respect both parties enough to get your agreement in writing.
So whether you use a lawyer or a free online contract generator like Shake Law, using a contract will show that you mean business-- in the best way possible.
How you work together
Ok, now you can start working, starting with a clear onboarding process.
Onboarding is key because it sets the tone for the rest of the work you’ll do together. I send all new clients a welcome email with my brand positioning workbook, along with instructions for how to use it and how it will fit into the work we do together. This way, my clients start getting value even before we start working together and have a clear idea of what they can expect.
For my copywriting clients, the first thing we do is an input call, which not only helps me get the information I need to write their copy, but also gets them thinking strategically about how they want to communicate about their business. Many of my clients have said that the input call was the most valuable part of working with me, as it helped them get clear on their value proposition.
That’s the power of an onboarding process: you can exceed expectations, before you even start working together.
And that over-delivering should continue throughout the entire time you’re working together. Every step should feel like it has a goal and helps move the process forward. The client should feel taken care of-- like you have it under control, like you’re guiding them through the process, like they can trust you and know you’ll get the job done.
I could write an entire post about over-delivering and delighting your clients, but for today, let me just say: having a trusted process is key.
So now you’re nearing the end of the project or coaching package. Your client has loved the work you’ve done together. You just need to send any last deliverables and this thing is done, right?
Not so fast.
The end of the project is the perfect opportunity to show your professionalism and encourage repeat clients. Remember that welcome email you sent at the beginning of the project? What about creating something similar to finish the relationship on a high note?
I got this idea from Caitlin Horton’s blog post about creating a good-bye kit for clients and immediately put it to work. Depending on the client, my good-bye kit ranges from a branded document that presents the final deliverable, to a simple email that wraps up loose ends.
But no matter what I send, I always hit a few key points:
Next steps: I use my goodbye email to provide any last instruction relating to the project, as well as presenting a soft pitch for future collaboration. For example, if a client has hired me for brand positioning, I might use this section to offer support on their web copy when they’re ready to launch the new brand.
Ask for feedback: I send all clients a short client feedback survey, where I ask a couple questions that will help me continuously improve my service. I also use the survey to ask for client testimonials.
Referrals: My goodbye email also offers clients a referral discount if they send any new clients my way. It’s a great way to encourage word-of-mouth, as well as return clients.
Invoicing: In my goodbye email, I tell the client their invoice is coming and how to pay it. I like the idea of closing the project before the invoice is sent so that they’re prepared for it and feel comfortable asking questions. I then promptly send a branded, professionally created invoice with a clear payment deadline.
5. Talking about money
Which leads me to my final tip on looking like a pro: talking about money with clients.
From the first time you tell a potential client your rates to the final invoice, your confidence about the value of what you do is critical. Because a real professional knows this is a business transaction: you provide a service and you get paid for it accordingly.
But so many entrepreneurs-- especially women and especially creatives-- struggle with this. We often undervalue what we do, or feel uncomfortable charging what we’re worth. We drag our feet on sending the invoice and feel awkward following up on it if the client doesn’t pay on time.
Which is a mistake, because if your client can sense you questioning your value, they’ll start questioning your value-- and start thinking maybe you aren’t such an expert after all.
So if you want to be seen as a professional, you have to get comfortable talking about money. Don’t be afraid to say your rate. Don’t be afraid to charge what you’re worth. And don’t work with clients who question your value.
Because at the end of the day, you’re a professional. So you should be paid like one.
What are some ways your business could look more professional?
What did I miss?
Let's hear it in the comments!