The word is loaded with all sorts of connotations. And as creative entrepreneurs, we’d like nothing to do with most of those.
It conjures up pictures of strict dress codes, covered-up tattoos, office cubicles, early-morning alarm clocks…
All things that we can do without. After all, if we didn’t find the idea of professional life utterly offensive to the deepest regions of our souls, we’d still be working in a cushy office job instead of busting our humps to do what we love for a living.
But if your customers were to see us in our natural state—eating ravioli straight from the can in our pajamas at 4pm—they might think twice about doing business with us.
For all of its stifling straight-lacedness, professionalism communicates reliability and authority. It instills confidence in the people we’re doing business with. If the customer sees someone sloppily dressed, they might get the idea that they’ll treat their business with the same carelessness.
Luckily, there are a few ways to put on an air of professionalism even while living the free lifestyle you want. Here are a few helpful hints.
Up Your Packaging Game
When we were teaching, my husband and I had a student whose mother made the most delicious tamales. Every couple months, she would come around to all the classrooms asking the teachers if they wanted some.
Later in the week, she’d show up in our classrooms doling out gallon ziplocks filled with tamales.
Recently, we came upon a Mexican food truck that made identical tamales, except these were served in a craft-paper sleeve with the company’s logo stamped on it. And people were happily paying $5 a pop.
Imagine the customers’ reactions if they received their tamales in a ziplock bag.
As makers, we know that the packaging of a product doesn’t speak to its quality. But attractive packaging can affect consumer’s thinking in a big way.
We had one vendor in our shop see sales skyrocket after altering their packaging. The product was exactly the same, but the original, amateurish packaging made it look cheap.
Think of how you’re presenting your product. Are you packaging it like it was put together in your basement, or like a serious business produced it? And yes, we know you did put it together in your basement, but the packaging doesn’t need to reflect that.
A Solid Web Presence
A 2017 found that 92% of customers visiting a company’s website aren’t there to make a purchase: they’re there to scope the business out.
They want to learn more about the company. Who’s behind it? What’s their mission?
If your website looks like you don’t know what you’re doing, then your consumer trustworthiness is going to take a hit. They’ll take one look at your sloppy, amateurish website and turn the other way. Especially if your domain still has the default URL from your webhost.
This isn’t just true of your website. The same goes for your social media pages and email communication. If your Facebook page is filled with memes and typos, or if you’re emails still have the “Sent from my iPhone” signature, it’s going to send the wrong message to your customers.
Keep Your Branding Consistent
Speaking of your web presence, I cannot overstate the importance of your branding.
Like packaging, branding is one of those things that might not speak much to the quality of your products, but it communicates volumes to your customers.
Branding is more than just a good looking logo, an attractive color scheme, and consistent typefaces.
Branding helps communicate trust to your customers. They see that you treat your business seriously, so they want to see what the fuss is about.
On top of that, your brand is one of the best ways to build recognition for your business and stand out against the competition.
Communicate Like a Business
One of the biggest mistakes creative entrepreneurs make is sloppy communication (apologies to anyone who’s had to wait a month for us to respond to an email).
Put yourself in the customer’s shoes. Let’s say you find a company online that looks promising. You want some more information, so you pick up the phone and call the number on their website (a warning to all of you would-be business owners: people still make phone calls!).
The line picks up, and you’re met with a stammered, “um...hello?”
You ask a question about a product on their site.
“Who is this?”
You explain that you found their website and were interested in learning more about the business. Suddenly, it clicks with the business owner and their demeanor changes
Not exactly the best impression, is it?
Or maybe, you go to to send them an email and their address is something like “firstname.lastname@example.org”
Just because you’re the only person working for your company doesn’t mean you mean to let your communication reflect that. A custom email domain—or at least a more professional address—goes a long way. If you want to go even further, hiring a virtual assistant or a service like Receivr telephone answering service can make it seem like you have an in-house receptionist just like a “real” business.
Professionalism On Your Own Terms
It might sound like a ripoff, but if your business seems amateurish, people aren’t going to care how great your products are. You could make the most impressive handcrafted jewelry anyone has ever seen, but if you don’t take your business seriously enough to make it seem professional, no one is going to care.
Luckily, you don’t need to put on real clothes to do that. If you follow these pointers, nobody will ever have to know that you’re just sitting in bed with your laptop.
But seriously, you should probably leave the house. Why not stop in for some coworking?