Several factors may differentiate a successful business from a failed one, but being professional is a proven way for entrepreneurs to gain respect from their employees, partners, customers, investors and the public as a whole.
What does professional mean?
In a traditional sense, professional means to be paid for the work you are trained in or skilled at performing. For instance, a professional boxer, professional accountant or professional chef. These professionals are compensated for their skills, whether as a result of training, raw talent or a combination of both.
When looking at the term professional as an entrepreneurial quality, it defines a behavior and most of all, a sensibility. Not only does it mean to expertly produce a product or service, but it also means to conduct business in a professional manner — shaping the way people respond to you and your business.
“In business ‘professionalism’ is not a tactic but a moral value.” – Amit Kalantri
If you are just launching your startup business or have a few years’ of experience in your repertoire, there are ways you can sharpen your business’s appearance, attitude and operations to reflect high standards of professionalism, yielding you with a competitive advantage, and winning your way into the hearts of consumers and business partners for years to come.
Starting with the easiest facelifts you can make, and moving into more significant changes, here are ten tips to make your business look, sound and be more professional:
1. Dress to impress
Dressing professionally, or more specifically, dressing for your industry, can boost your confidence and automatically give you the authority and appearance of a professional. What you wear will depend on your clients, your work environment, and the nature of the business itself. For instance, if you own a hair salon, your clothes, as well as your hair, should be polished, yet stylish. Oppositely, if you are a business consultant or funeral director, wearing formal clothes is appropriate for both your industry and clientele.
“Dress how you want to be addressed.” – Bianca Frazier
Don’t limit your professional attire to your place of business. Whether you are meeting with your accountant or lessor, interviewing employees, networking with potential investors or doing a press interview with a local news anchor — dressing professionally is the most straightforward way for others to take you and your business seriously.
Encourage your employees to do the same. Setting a work appropriate dress code ensures everyone has a consistent appearance, generates positive first impressions for newcomers, promotes a team atmosphere and even allows customers who “ask for the owner” to easily identify you. You might even notice a change in the way you carry yourself.
“I began wearing hats as a young lawyer because it helped me to establish my professional identity. Before that, whenever I was at a meeting, someone would ask me to get coffee.” – Bella Abzug
2. Professional Communication
The way you communicate with employees, customers, sales representatives, manufacturers, investors, partners and the press will often determine whether you close business deals, score funding, land sales and achieve positive reviews throughout your career. Above all, it will demonstrate your ability as a leader, and ultimately dictate if people will take interest in your business.
The degree and type of professional communication should be relative to the circumstance and individual with whom you are speaking to. Often times, a highly professional tone is needed, like when you are speaking to investors. And other times, a casual demeanor is best, such as when you are helping a customer. As a professional, you should be able to adapt your communication style based on the individual or situation.
Generally when meeting someone for the first time, you will want to remain polite, positive and professional during the initial introduction; confident, clear and focused throughout your meeting; and gracious afterward. Personalizing your interaction will make you more memorable, as well as increase the likelihood of a favorable first impression.
In addition to your tone and disposition, professionals are expected to know what they are talking about. For this reason, speak clearly and logically about your business. Conducting yourself in such a manner showcases your qualifications and knowledge, thus leading to positive associations, trust and more tangible benefits, such as sales, funding and relationships.
“So I had to be careful. I recognized the responsibility that, whether I liked it or not, I had to accept whatever the obligation was. That was to behave in a manner, to carry myself in such a professional way, as if there ever is a reflection, it’s a positive one.” – Sidney Poitier
3. Be good at what you do
A professional isn’t a professional without being skilled in their trade or profession. Maintain a quality product or service by setting high standards for your business’s manufacturing (creation) and execution processes. While you may have the best customer service, it still comes down to the work you create or the product you produce. Hone your service or product design consistently based on customer feedback and user testing.
“Professionals never guess—they make it their business to know their business.” – Michelle Moore
4. Treat your employees right
If you own a small business, you may rely on your employees to carry out many day-to-day tasks for you. Treating these employees with respect and proper working conditions is the most basic fundamental for generating high morale and quality work.
“Be very professional because it will get you a lot further. You have to treat people with the same respect whether they’re signing your checks or cleaning up after you.” – Raven Simone
Taking interest in your employees is a simple, yet powerful method that has positive effects on your business as a whole. Clients and business affiliates will see the results of proper management and be eager to support you.
5. Deliver on your promises
There is a saying that goes, “you’re only as good as your word.” In business, this means coming through on your agreements and not committing to any project or deal where you can’t deliver.
Reliability is a quality associated with integrity and accountability — virtues shared by successful entrepreneurs. In practice, if you establish a deadline for a project, meet that deadline.
Your consistency may give you a competitive edge by encouraging repeat business, word-of-mouth endorsements and a sound reputation for commitment and quality.
“We’re professionals. People make deals, they need to stick to them. That’s the way it works, if it’s going to work at all.” – James Sallis
6. Stay sharp
While running a business seems to demand almost 99% of your time, try to still make time to work on yourself. Professionals know they need to refine their skills in order to stay sharp. Make an effort to regularly familiarize yourself with new business trends, or simply dedicate personal time to exercise, meditate or read. These activities, in small regular doses, can keep you focused and productive at work.
Your business relies on you to run the show, so you need to be healthy in order to keep moving forward and manage your company’s future.
“You have to perform at a consistently higher level than others. That’s the mark of a true professional.” – Joe Paterno
7. Be accessible
Consumers have grown savvier in their purchasing decisions. They tend to rely more on referrals and product research before settling on a purchase. For this reason, businesses should celebrate their brand by developing ways to become more approachable both online and offline.
One way companies are connecting with consumers is through online social profiles. This online space can easily shape a company’s reputation by forming relationships with clients and responding to their concerns, while simultaneously looking professional, compassionate, open and accountable to the public. With that said, ensure your online reputation is carefully and consistently executed as to not negatively affect your brand in any way.
“The way customers relate to brands and how profit is generated has changed so dramatically almost every professional is being challenged to reconsider what they do in order to stay relevant.” – Simon Mainwaring
This goes for offline as well. It’s important to be available to your clients, by answering their questions and maintaining a high quality of service.
8. Revamp your website
Like mentioned above, being accessible online is a way to present yourself as both professional and transparent. Your website is the number one place people will look for information about your brand and business, so it needs to be functional and have the appropriate elements to succeed — most importantly a Contact and About web page. If you don’t already, register a domain for your business and set up a corresponding email.
“The Internet is becoming the town square for the global village of tomorrow.” – Bill Gates
Business cards are still a classic form of presenting your contact information, especially when you are networking with others. Print some copies to carry around with you.
9. Lease a professional office space
If you are just starting out, you may not have the most “official” work space. In fact, you might be working from home. This can make meetings, or even sales, a challenge physically.
To eliminate this problem, hold meetings at a neutral spot, such as a cafe or restaurant. You can also conduct virtual meetings on video conferencing software, such as Skype. There are lots of options to work around meeting directly at your place of work.
However, once you start to expand, try leasing a small office space where you conduct business. You’ll not only feel more professional, but you will have a registered office space where you can work, accommodate employees, and manufacture products or offer services.
“I recently went to a new doctor and noticed he was located in something called the Professional Building. I felt better right away.” – George Carlin
Incorporating your business means to register your company as its own legal entity, which in turn, limits your personal liability as a business owner. It also changes the way your business is taxed, opens up the doors for investments, and is often a symbol of status and professionalism.
However, before you consider incorporating, make sure this is a suitable next step for your business by weighing the pros and cons of forming a corporation and if it is the right structure for your company.
Those who are just launching a startup may want to wait before defining their company legal structure. Alternatively, those who have been in business for years with considerable expansion, may see this as a feasible step in their business’s future.
Before making any decisions, it’s important to consult with an attorney about your individual situation.
“The great corporations of this country were not founded by ordinary people. They were founded by people with extraordinary intelligence, ambition, and aggressiveness.” – Daniel P. Moynihan
If you are not quite ready to incorporate, you can easily get your brand or logo trademark protected by registering it with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office. Once your trademark is registered, it will be legally protected against replication (subject to geographical and state restrictions).
Pending registration, you can add the mark “TM” after your logo. After registration, an “R” in a circle depicts your brand as trademark protected.
What does your business do to foster a positive and professional reputation? Share your thoughts with us below in the comments!