I wrote last week that my business just celebrated its first birthday. That was a milestone many of you are eagerly awaiting, or remember fondly, as well. And for those of us who work solo or with only a small team, it's extra special because you not only don a party hat for yourself, but also for the dozens of hats you wear on a daily basis.
I'm not sure it will ever get a lot easier, because I don't really know anyone anywhere at any size company who wishes they had more to do. But when you have a larger team, you at least have more of a division of responsibility. So, it can be challenging to look like a larger organization when it's just you at a desk in your guest bedroom, or just you and a few friends who decided to jump in and solve one of the world's problems over coffee one afternoon. However, looking more professional, like a large business would, can often mean more sales or donations, more support, and more attention.
So, how do you make that happen? I still have a lot to learn myself, but here are just a few of the tools that help my one-woman show look a wee bit bigger and more professional.
It's more important than ever to utilize images in your content. In fact, did you know that Facebook will show your posts to more people if you include images? Yep, true story. Additionally, blog posts with images are more engaging to look at, and it's also easier to share them on sites like Pinterest. But if you aren't a photographer, or can't continually pay for stock images, you may feel a little stuck. Well, Unsplash is one answer. They have beautiful stock photography completely free of charge. You don't even have to credit the source, if you don't want to. Unsplash is my go-to, but there are oodles of other options if you Google "free stock photography." (It may take a bit of searching to find a site with the kind of photography that matches your brand.)
Having a designer on staff isn't something that all of us can afford. Heck, we can't even hire a designer for every little thing we need on a weekly basis like blog posts, newsletters, email blasts, reports, flyers, or social media prompts. So, we need a workaround. Enter Canva. It's not perfect, but it is pretty user-friendly, and allows you to make graphics without the use of a designer. One of the best features is the pre-built templates that make it quick and easy to get started. They have templates for social media, presentations, eBooks, infographics, flyers, brochures, postcards, ads, and much more. You can also buy additional templates, photos, and illustrations for just $1. I currently use the free version.
Space on social media is limited and valuable. So, why take up half the allotted real estate with a long link? Bitly is a terrific, free service that shortens links to usually around 15 characters. Now you can actually say what you need to say on Twitter, and leave room for sharing and hashtags too. Plus, it gives the indication that you actually know how to use social media. A number of companies also use Bitly, but have branded URL's that make them look extra spiffy. I'm going to try and learn about this soon, and if I do, I'll be sure to let you know on this blog. Until then, the free version is a great option.
I recommend these two services to small business owners and employees a lot, but I think they scare those who don't feel technologically inclined. I get it. When your To Do list is already piling up, it's hard to think about sitting down and learning new programs or software. However, most of these same small business owners know they need to be more consistent and present on social media, but struggle to do so. That's where these two gems come into play. By taking 30 minutes or an hour to schedule your social media ahead of time, you can knock it out all at once, and just return to it on a weekly, bi-weekly, or monthly basis without letting time continually pass you by as you do nothing or let it remain sporadic. I use the free version of both of these because the free versions have limits to the number of accounts you can link. I use Hootsuite for LinkedIn and Twitter, and Buffer for my Facebook Group. (Side note: these two also have their own capabilities to shorten links.)
Sure, things like business cards are becoming less and less necessary, but they still have a place. And people tend to notice when you have a nice business card to hand them when the occasion calls for it. I got my cards at Moo, and have been really happy with the quality. Moo also has other printing options like post cards, stickers, labels, flyers, notebooks, greeting cards, and envelopes.
Should you ever need to have people outside your organization sign legal documents, HelloSign is a great route to take. And you get three free documents per month. This is how I facilitate my client contracts and letters of agreement. It's also a much better option than emailing Word docs, having parties sign them, scan them, and email them back. Once all parties have signed electronically, each get a notification, and can download a signed PDF. Voila!
7. Google Voice
For years, way back before it was popular, I've only had a cell phone. No home phone, and now, no outside office to host a phone anyway. But there are certain times, like on a public website or business documents, that I don't want to give out my cell. Google Voice is the perfect, free alternative. When someone calls my Google Voice number, it still rings my cell phone. It works a bit like call forwarding in that way. And you can also get voicemails transcribed and emailed to you. You can even select your phone number to make sure it's geographically close to you, or has a particular set of numbers that you'd like to use.
8. PO Box
I work from home, except when I'm at a coffee shop. So, much like the Google Voice, there are times when I don't want to list my home address on public or professional documents. So, I use a PO Box instead. I have the smallest box available at $38 for six months, which was the cheapest price in my research. And, the good ol' USPS has now gotten on par with other PO Box providers by allowing you to use a street address in case you don't want to list a PO Box.
A decent looking website is non-negotiable these days. No one will take you seriously otherwise. So, the two most affordable and popular default options are Wordpress and Squarespace. I choose the latter for this site and am really happy with it. Both make it pretty easy to DIY a site if you can't afford a designer (or update it after its been designed), but I prefer the options, security, and customer service that come with Squarespace. (And should you need a designer, I recommend Mad+Dusty.) Regardless, pick something that works well for you, and invest the time into making it look good.
10. G Suite
If you're running an organization of any size, I'd really love to tell you to stop using something like email@example.com. I think if people are donating to you, or buying your products, you need to kick it up a notch. They should feel safe in giving you money, and having your own branded email address gives a sense of comfort and professionalism. I pay just $5 per month for this service and it's well worth it. G Suite comes with other features as well, but the branded email is my favorite.
And a some bonuses!
Depending on your type of organization, you may require a few other odds and ends, like I do. Here are a few others that I regularly use:
Admittedly, its not my favorite email marketing service. But it is extremely popular, likely due to a free option, and I do currently use it. The point here, however, is that you need to actually use whatever service you sign up for. Don't let anyone fool you—email marketing is still very much alive and well. Talk regularly to the people who support you, not just when you need something!
Should you need to send invoices, I really like Freshbooks. Plus, it's way more professional to send a branded, online invoice and take online payments rather than emailing a Word or Excel doc back and forth, and waiting for a check in the mail. (Paypal for Business or Go Daddy Bookkeeping are free and cheaper alternatives, respectively, but all three have different features. I actually use all three, and there are many more options.)
I'm fairly new to this one, just having opened my account in April. Unless you already have a strong need for this, or already using Pinterest, I recommend holding off on this one. Doing it well requires a lot of work. I actually took a course on how to do this, and I can tell you that using Pinterest for your business is a lot different than pinning cute hairstyles and tasty recipes. However, if this is a service that would benefit you, make sure you're using a business account, which gives you a lot more options than personal accounts.
14. DropBox / Google Drive
I talked about these in an earlier post about getting organized, which I think is incredibly important. I use DropBox and Google Drive to store and share files, especially large ones. They also make collaborating with others easy as well. If you aren't currently using these free resources, it's a no-brainer. (This is readily available via G Suite as well, and already connected to that nifty, branded email.)
15. Spark Business
One more thing. It should go without saying, but if you're running a professional business or nonprofit, you should not be using you personal bank accounts to run things, even in the early stages. After some research, I decided on Spark Business, and it's worked just fine for me.
What have I missed? What helps your small business look more professional?
As you can tell, I have no idea what I'd do without Google. ;)
(Note that some links are referral links.)
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I'm Kristi Porter, and I started Signify to provide writing, consulting and strategy services to nonprofits and for-profit organizations with a social mission, primarily through copywriting, marketing and business communications. I believe that cause-focused organizations like yours are the future of business. You're proof that companies can both make money and do good. And I'm here to help you get noticed and grow. When you succeed, we all win.