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For Heath and I, we were young, inexperienced, and let’s be honest, making it up as we went along. After filming our documentary, we decided to put our film equipment to good use by starting a production company. We didn’t know anything about attracting clients, running a service-based business, or what types of videos we would want to film.
Our first client wanted us to film an online course for him, which thank goodness meant sticking a camera on a tripod and very simple editing. We could do that easy.
But we didn’t think about how we didn’t own any lighting equipment (thanks Amazon Prime), how we didn’t have a studio space, and how we were filming in a city where we had never visited before, so we had no contacts to ask for help on where to rent the equipment we would need or where to rent studio space.
We ended up filming in a gym that had onsite meeting rooms, pausing filming occasionally when a toilet would flush in the bathrooms next door or when the people in the meeting room across the hall burst out laughing.
It wasn’t our most professional moment, but we learned a ton, gained great experience, and figured out how to meet and manage client expectations. (I was NOT prepared for the moment when our client showed me a bunch of shirts and asked what would look best on camera. Don’t worry, the bright yellow shirt above did not make the cut!)
After that first client, we upped our game—taking courses in film production, studying how to create a great backdrop, and learning how to market ourselves as professionals. Hey, we had one paid client! That meant we officially did film production for a living. It was time to make this business official.
Regardless of experience or income or what type of business you’re running, there a few really easy things you can do to make yourself appear professional, even if you’re just starting out.
1. Have a website!
There are a shocking number of businesses that don’t have a website.
“We don’t have a website, but we have a Facebook page.” —something I heard from a coffee shop employee today. If you own a business, you need a website! They are not that expensive! This is my new pet peeve.
— Alyssa Padgett (@alyssapadge) December 5, 2017
Whether you have a full-fledged business with multiple services or whether it’s just you freelancing your skills, you need a website.
- People are going to google you before they hire you and if they can’t find you, they’ll go with someone they can find.
- They are the best and easiest way to showcase your work. (You could argue that LinkedIn is easier, but even LinkedIn encourages you to link out to your business website!)
- It’s 2019! Setting up a website isn’t hard or expensive.
Creating a website can be a little daunting if you’re not comfortable with tech (we give a tutorial on how to set up a basic WordPress site here), but necessary if you want to run a professional-looking business.
Once your site is up and running, you only need three pages for it to be ready to show clients:
- An about page (with a great photo of your pretty face)
- A services page (ideally with a little pricing info, but not required)
- A contact page
Once you’ve been up and running for a while, client testimonials and a portfolio of your work are great additions too. But when you’re just starting, the above three pages are all you really need. That way clients can get to know you, familiarize themselves with what services you offer, and reach out to hire you with ease.
If you want to be professional, owning your corner of the internet is a must.
2. Use an email address that isn’t @hotmail, @yahoo, or even @gmail.com
I cannot take anyone seriously who uses a Hotmail email address. You’re running a business not connecting with a pen pal, and your email address should reflect that.
Even Gmail addresses don’t give that air of professionalism like they used to.
Once you’ve got your website set up, you have no excuse to not use an email address that is [email protected] (Or [email protected] or [email protected] or [email protected] or whatever first half of the email address you’d like.)
This screams I know what I’m doing instead of I’m writing this email from my couch.
It’ll take about 20 minutes of your time to get all this set up. We use the G Suite to run our @heathandalyssa.com email addresses, which I personally love since we use a lot of Google Docs and other Google apps to run our business. Plus Google has a ton of help articles and tutorials to help you get up and running.
Having an email set up at your domain not only looks professional, but since you own your domain and likely won’t be changing it, you’ve also got an email that you can use for years.
A tip for the ladies (or anyone who has changed their name):
Please, PLEASE make sure the name that displays when you send an email is the same as your legal name (or whatever name you would use to sign your emails). I’ve gotten so many emails over the years that say they are from Rebecca Donaldson and are signed at the bottom Becky Katsopolis. Um, WHAT IS YOUR REAL NAME?!?!
If you changed your maiden name, make sure you update your name everywhere, including the “send email as” name. (In Gmail you can update this by going to Settings and then Accounts.)
And if you go by your nickname and encourage people to use your nickname, make that your send email as name too! There’s no shame in displaying your name as Abby instead of Abigail or Steve instead of Stephen if that’s how people refer to you in real life.
My Bad: When Heath and I first started our [email protected] email address, I didn’t double-check the sending email as name and sent emails for a MONTH as Heath Padgett. I couldn’t for the life of me understand why people kept replying “Hey Heath!” and it drove me crazy! Double check that your name is accurate, especially if it’s a shared email account like ours.
3. Send consistent, easy-to-read invoices
It would be embarrassing to show you all the invoice designs I’ve sent over the years. Because I’ve changed their look. A LOT. And they have not been cute.
I’ve also had many clients email me back with comments like “Can you add an invoice number to this invoice?” or “When is this invoice due? I don’t see any terms of payment” or “Where should I mail this check to? I don’t see an address.”
I honestly thought I was the only person who struggled with making invoices, until someone sent me a question recently asking how I invoiced our clients because they couldn’t figure it out. Hooray, I’m not alone!
Making invoices is one of the most annoying parts of managing clients (but also the best because YAY it means you’re making money!).
For years, I used Microsoft Word or Pages invoice templates. Then those started feeling stale so I used Canva to make a pretty branded invoice with our RVE logo and everything. Then I realized I was spending hours designing and manually emailing invoices. Not to mention following up with clients after realizing you haven’t been paid on time and trying to remember if you’ve invoiced all the right people or not (where did I save all those invoice files anyway??).
When you’ve got multiple clients, specifically clients on retainer, you realize that you’re doing the same tasks over and over.
I signed up for the free version of Freshbooks to try to fix my invoicing woes. At the time, I needed to send invoices to six different clients. A couple of them would be recurring too, so I could have these invoices auto-send each month instead of setting monthly reminders and sending them manually.
This was a serious game changer.
First, all the little things I would forget to do when creating a new invoice (updating the invoice number, adding today’s date and marking when the invoice was due) were all automatically done for me.
Second, all of a sudden, making and sending invoices took 2 minutes! I added all my clients into my account, chose one from a dropdown menu, and clicked the send button. No more exporting as a PDF, attaching it to an email, CC’ing the accountant and our client on the email, and writing a short little email that said more than pay me please. (Why are invoice emails so awkward to write?)
And third, I can have clients pay by credit card. In the past year, this has become a big deal.
Accounting departments take forever, depositing checks when you’re traveling and not near your mailbox gets difficult, and accepting credit card payments means you get paid instantly. Once we started allowing credit card payments, we started being paid by clients the same day we invoiced, instead of waiting 30-60 days for payment. You do get hit with a fee (which is a tax deduction that Freshbooks will track for you since it’s a whole business accounting software), but when the alternative is waiting months to be paid, the fee can be worth it.
We use this feature a lot while we were in Canada and didn’t want to deal with the added hassle of checks and international banks.
I’ve been using Freshbooks for over a year now and while I don’t even use all the features (it also can track your hours, keep records of all your business expenses, and even has a feature where you can send proposals and estimates to prospective clients), the invoicing feature alone has made running our business so much easier! I can keep track of what invoices I’ve sent, which ones have been paid, and which ones are overdue all in one dashboard. No more rummaging around my Documents folder trying to remember what I titled that invoice…
Sending invoices that are easy-to-read, have all the information your client needs, and are sent on time(!) is one of the easiest ways to show your clients that you’re a professional.
4. Set up a business address and phone number.
As an RVer, this is where things get tricky. For years, Heath and I didn’t have a set business address.
In fact, if you look back at our past newsletters (which require you by law to display an address) we used “123 Main Street” for years.
Yeahhhh, don’t do that!
If you’re running a business, you need a business address and phone number. You’ll for sure use these when setting up a business bank account, doing anything tax-related, or if you use an email service like we do. Heck, even Instagram and other social networks will ask for your phone number.
As an RVer, you’ve got a few options for your address. You can:
- Set up a PO Box at a post office or rent a mailbox at UPS
- Use your domicile address (especially if you’re freelancing, because there’s no need for a fancy address!)
- Use a registered agents office (Many states require LLCs to have a registered agent, so you can use their office address. Ours will scan and forward any mail to us)
You’ll need an address if you file an LLC no matter what, and any of the above are good options for that (in my experience, a registered agent office is the best option for travelers!). No matter what you choose, make sure mail scanning and/or forwarding is an option so you don’t miss anything important.
Setting up a business phone number is easy (and free). We use Google Voice, which only takes a few minutes to set up. Just sign in to your Google account, choose an area code, and select a phone number. Then follow the instructions on the page. And you’re set! No more giving strangers your cell phone number.
Your address and phone number should both be listed on the contact page of your website, and if you’re really fancy, in your website footer as well.
5. Create a little branding
You don’t need to hire a graphic designer to make your website look professional. No fancy logos or crazy effects. And the more simple the better. If you don’t believe me, feast your eyes on this beautiful example of a website.
Yeah I just went down a rabbit hole of terribly branded websites and that one is definitely the worst one I’ve seen. Let’s just set a rule now that no good branding involves a paisley design.
A better example to show off how a little branding goes a long way would be the Day Designer website:
You’ll see they have two brand colors: a light teal green and gold. They use gold for all their headers and teal on anything where they want your attention, like the banner at the top for free shipping or the review button.
And if you look really closely at their website, you’ll notice many of the photos they use have hints of gold and teal in them:
To create branding for your site, you don’t have to be that fancy, but you do want to set up a few brand elements. This means picking one, maybe two colors to represent your brand.
For us, this looks like all our links, menus, and buttons being the same shade of blue (41d0dd if you’re curious). You’ll note this is the same blue color as the sky on my book cover and the same blue as our latest ebook, 50 Business Ideas for RVers. Consistency is key!
There is no right or wrong choice when it comes to picking your brand color, so don’t get too caught up here. You can always change your color (excuse me, rebrand) later if you suddenly decide that the shade of green you chose is the absolute ugliest color on the planet.
Do keep in mind as you decide on a color what other brands or causes are associated with those colors. Pink is breast cancer, red and blue are patriotic, the six colors of the rainbow are LGBTQ (which you wouldn’t choose rainbow anyway because you only need two colors max!).
Choose a color you like and don’t overthink it. If you’re stuck (or bored) play with a color scheme generator for inspiration.
Beyond consistency of color on your website, you’ll also want consistent fonts throughout your website. We use the same font for everything on our website, but it’s perfectly acceptable to use one font for all your body text and a different font for all your headers.
For us, this is the extent of our branding. One main color, a couple of accent colors, and we’re done! We aren’t designers and you don’t need to be to make sure your business has consistent branding.
Create your own brand style guide by keeping all your color codes and fonts that you choose in a Google doc. That way when you inevitably find yourself making an ebook or a proposal or a printable in the future, you have all your brand elements recorded in one place!
Things You DON’T Need to be Professional:
An active presence on social media.
For goodness sakes, please don’t believe the lie that you need to be everywhere online. While you should own any social media handles with your business name (if for no other reason than that no one else snatches it up), you don’t need to tweet daily to be a professional business. Focus on what matters and ignore anyone who says your business NEEDS a Youtube channel. Keep doing what you’re doing!
Blogs are great (says the blogger)! They can get traffic to your website, boost your online presence, show off your expertise—and if you want to blog and have the time, great! But blogging and content marketing are not required to show off your business professionalism.
In doing research for this blog post, I found a shocking number of people recommending that new businesses hire a VA to appear more professional. Um, that’s just about the worst advice ever. You don’t need to go around hiring employees to legitimize your business! Even if having someone else reply to your emails is tempting…
Once your business scales and you need extra help, hire away! But you definitely don’t need a virtual assistant just to show off your business professionalism.
Above all, do great work.
At the end of the day, whether you have a business address or send your emails from [email protected], the best thing you do can for your business is to provide great service.
Do what you say you will do—and complete it on time and on budget. Reply to client emails quickly so they know you’re paying attention to them. Be kind and courteous and keep your client up to date on work.
The better work you do, the more likely your client is to refer you to their friends. Which means more business (and fewer marketing costs!) for you.
Anything you would add? Drop it in the comments!