Estimated reading time: 5 minutes
Whether you’re launching a business for the first time, or you’re looking for ways to grow your existing business and find new customers, getting online is a very important step toward success. In fact, we’ve found that a third of small business shoppers discover businesses through online research.
As with many things, when it comes to being online, showing up is half the battle. So what’s the other half? Looking professional when potential customers find you! But with limited time and lean budgets, small business owners often find it hard to learn how to present a professional appearance in the digital world. But don’t worry – we’ve pulled together the things that can give you a less professional online presence, so you can avoid these common pitfalls and stand out among your competitors.
Think of the items below as your to-do list, and make sure you’re not doing any of the 10 things that make you look unprofessional online:
1. Letting contact details expire. In a recent survey about consumer expectations, we found that outdated contact information is a major issue for website visitors; half of all respondents said it’s the number one thing most likely to leave them with a bad impression. Make a note to update your site regularly to stay current.
2. Having an inconsistent brand image. One of the best ways to build your brand and make your business look professional is to present a cohesive image across your website and between your online and offline marketing materials. The logo, fonts, colours and images that appear on your business cards and flyers should be consistent with what people will see on your website, your Facebook page and in your emails.
3. Leaving last year’s copyright date. Somewhere on your website – most likely in the footer – there should be a copyright year to let visitors know that the content on your site belongs to you. It’s a smart idea to have a copyright year on your site – just make sure you update it each January so your site looks current. We recommend an annual calendar reminder.
4. Having a poor design or colour palette. Whether you build your own website or have it built for you, it’s important to get feedback from friends, family and ideally from some of your customers to see how it’s being perceived. While there are no hard-and-fast rules about which colours to use online, it’s important to make choices that are tasteful, appropriate for your brand, and allow for good legibility (take care with white text on light-coloured backgrounds, for example). More than a quarter of people we surveyed said an unprofessional design or colour scheme was their number one pet peeve online.
5. Lacking a mobile website. Mobile device usage continues to grow, and that means potential customers are more and more likely to come across your website on their phone or tablet instead of at a computer. It’s essential to make sure that these visitors have a great experience with your site too. If you choose a responsive website builder like Vistaprint Website Builder, all your pages will be mobile-friendly automatically, so you’ll never have to make updates in two places.
6. Not having a custom domain name. A personalised website URL like www.mybizname.com goes a long way toward making your business look professional online and on the traditional printed marketing materials where you can include your URL. A custom domain name indicates to visitors that you have invested in your business – and it’s easier for them to remember. Another big benefit of having your own domain name is that it allows you to have custom email addresses like firstname.lastname@example.org, which inspire more trust and confidence than a personal Yahoo or Gmail address would.
7. Using your personal account for email marketing. When you’re ready to start communicating to customers, it’s time to look for an email service provider. Sending messages from your personal account and BCC-ing your customer list is not a sustainable solution! Not only will an email marketing platform give your messages a sleek and professional look, it will give you access to analytics and ensure that you’re compliant with laws about email sending (like having an unsubscribe option).
8. Letting social media profiles languish. While it’s important to have a solid online presence that includes a website, local search listings, and social media profiles, be careful not to set up so many profiles that you aren’t able to keep up with them regularly. Customers followed you on Twitter or liked your Facebook page because they wanted to have a more personal, one-to-one relationship with your business, so make sure you respond to comments and messages in a timely manner (aim for within 24 hours). Also, consider sharing behind-the-scenes images and updates from daily life at your business to keep your profiles fresh and create a more personal connection with customers.
9. Settling for poor product imagery. Our research shows that product information is by far the top reason people visit small business websites. In addition to pricing, dimensions, and details, people want to see images of your offerings. Make the best impression by taking a little extra time with your product photography. You don’t have to be a professional – or even hire one – to take appealing images of your items. Choose a simple one-colour background, use natural light instead of camera flash and explore some low-cost editing options. You’d be surprised how much you can do with just your smartphone!
10. Not being authentic. If you’re running a one or two person show with aspirations of growing into a bigger company, don’t try to skip ahead and pretend you’re already there. Many people think that it makes their business look more legitimate to imply that they have a larger team by using the ‘royal we’ and not giving too much detail about their staff. In reality, savvy customers can see through this, and would actually prefer to see personal photos and bios of the small staff you do have. Again, making a more personal connection will help strengthen your customer relationships.
About half of small businesses have websites right now. And they have an opportunity to get found by thousands of potential customers every day. By watching out for the pitfalls in this article, you can be head and shoulders above the crowd with your polished, professional online presence.