design

10 Tools to Make Your Small Business Look More Professional (Most Are Free!)

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, sponsors, and more attention. 

10 Tools to Make Your Small Business Look More Professional

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.

1. Unsplash

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.) Oh, and here are a few other sites, including a few that have video.

2. Canva

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 pretty 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. 

3. Bitly

Space on social media is limited and valuable. So, why take up half the allotted real estate with a hideously 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.

4. Hootsuite / Buffer

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.)

UPDATE: Check out this post where I compare 13 social media scheduling tools! 

5. Contracts and Such

Freelancers, entrepreneurs, and small businesses of all kinds tend to fly by the seat of their pants. Behind-the-scenes, there's some duct tape, hopes, and prayers holding things together. So, one not always easy, but simple thing you can do—and need to do—is protect yourself legally. All my clients, including friends, sign a letter of agreement when I start a project with them, which explains everything clearly so we are on the same page. And one thing I put off for too long, but have since rectified, is adding terms and conditions to my website. No matter if you're a nonprofit, or for-profit, you need to make sure you're up-to-speed legally. And The Contract Shop has helped me do that.

Most of my friend Christina's clients are in the creative and wedding industries, but there are also multiple offerings for the rest of us including terms/conditions/privacy disclosures for websites, affiliate agreement, collaboration contract, coaching contract, graphic design contract, independent contractor template, LLC operating agreement, no disclosure agreement, conference speaker contract, and much more. These templates are incredibly easy to use! I had my terms, conditions, and privacy policy on my website in less than 15 minutes!

6. HelloSign

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. 

9. Squarespace

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 to 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 yourname@gmail.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 fave. 

What have I missed? What helps your small business look more professional?

(Note that some links are referral links.)



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For small businesses, looking more professional can often mean more sales or donations, more support, and more attention.

Kristi Porter, founder at www.signify.soluti

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.


Ask the Experts: Branding and Design

Each month, I'm inviting guest contributors to speak about additional timely, relevant and sought-after topics that are important for cause-focused organizations to be aware of as they grow. First up, we have my friends, Madison and Dusty Beaulieu, who expertly designed my branding and website!

Mad & Dusty is a creative team for nonprofits and purpose-driven brands.

Q. What are the latest trends in your industry?

A. There’s definitely been a leaning toward illustration and texture. (YAY!) Flat design is huge, but now designers are taking that minimalism and giving it over to the artists. The desire for perfection in design is being replaced with a need for history and personality. We want to see the human hand in design now. Watercolor, paint, printmaking, hand lettering . . . the arts are showing up in a big way through design, and we love it.

Q. What is the biggest mistake you see people making in terms of their brand?

A. People give logos more credit than they deserve! Your brand is your tool box. Your logo, type, colors and patterns will help show your customers who you are in the same way that the clothes you’re wearing tell others a bit about who you are. Think of your logo as an accessory. If your purpose and brand values are not clear, appealing, and meaningful, an amazing logo won’t be able to fix that. Purpose and values are the foundation for your brand, and a good designer will help you clarify them before jumping into the logo design. Design that comes from the core of your business will work no matter what’s trending.

Q. What is your best piece of advice for people during branding and design, especially for those who are new to, or overwhelmed by, the process?

A. Be sure you understand the investment and what it will mean for your business. The branding process is not something to jump into half-heartedly. (We would make How to Style Your Brand by Fiona Humberstone required reading if we could.) The first six months of any business are unpredictable at best. I recommend that you quick-design a temporary logo using a template from Canva or another app, and build a one page site on Squarespace. After six months, sit down with a designer and discuss taking your business to the next level with an original brand. The branding process should feel like a celebration of your hard work and hustle. It’s an exciting time!

Also, find a designer that you trust and enjoy working with, even if you technically don’t need one now. It’s kind of like finding the right doctor. When something comes up, it will be good to know who you’d turn to.

Additionally, don’t be afraid to talk honestly about your budget. If a designer is passionate about what you do, they may be willing to find an agreement that works for both of you.

And, finally, not all design is branding design. We work with several clients for 5-10 hours per month on designing emails, social graphics, and those random little items that come up. We love partnering with them, and they love delegating those would-be headaches.

Q. What is one thing readers can do this week to improve their brand presence, either online or in print?

A. Make sure you’re using all the same fonts on documents. (No more than three different fonts.) It’s the smallest thing, but it will instantly give your brand a sense of cohesiveness. Typography works very subconsciously. Make sure it’s working for you!

Q. Anything else we should keep in mind for our brand, website or graphics?

A. Be true to your values. Be consistent with your community. Be honest about your capacity. Simple, purposeful things done consistently make a brand shine.


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Mad & Dusty is a creative team for nonprofits and purpose-driven brands. Starting in 2015, Madison and Dusty Beaulieu have worked with over 40 purpose driven organizations to tell important stories through art and design.

Find them online at www.madanddusty.com.



PIN THIS POST FOR LATER:

Mad & Dusty is a creative team for nonprofits and purpose-driven brands.

Kristi Porter, founder at www.signify.solutions

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.