We may be small businesses but we don't have to look it

By Laura Haight
Originally published as The Digital Maven in the Upstate Business Journal, Oct 24, 2015

So much of life is appearances and yet when it comes to business many of us are not putting our best foot forward.

Single proprietorships, independent contractors, small consultants are a booming segment of one- or two-person service businesses. We may be small but we don’t want to look that way. And it doesn’t have to cost a lot to make a big difference in how you present yourself.

Here are a few ideas:

Nothing says small time like your email address. It’s everywhere. On your business cards, your Facebook page, your LinkedIN profile. And what does it say? portfoliosc@gmail.com. Get real. If you have a website, you have already purchased a custom domain. That domain can be used for your email as well. Wouldn’t you rather have laura@portfoliosc.com on your business card?

If you buy your web domain from Go Daddy or another large retail provider, they can probably host your email — if you don’t mind a clunky web mail interface with minimal features. But if you want the advantages of gmail, you can have that too with Google Apps for Business. A single proprietor or small business can point gmail to a custom domain as well as get a number of additional features and cloud storage for documents for $5 per month per user. While not technically “free”, this does fall into my definition of “near-free” (is it less than a cup of coffee at Starbucks?). There are a number of other options that range from $2 per user to $10 and you can find many of them here: http://goo.gl/jl1LPz.

Make your own website? Sure, why not. The tools are there on Wix, Squarespace, 1and1 and others, but will it look like you did it yourself? If so, stop right now. Bad websites are riddled with bells and whistles at the expense of clear, concise information. A basic brochure website can be powerful and effective. Choose good images that appear to match in tone and color; write well thought out and concise information about your business and your background and experience; provide an simple contact form so people can get in touch with you right from your site. And make sure you use a service that has responsive templates - meaning they will display correctly on all devices. If just reading this is confusing, no worries: There are many local providers who can produce sites like this quickly and inexpensively. If you do build it yourself, make sure to point your site to your custom domain. Another “tell” that may make you appear small time: a website URL that’s portfoliosc.squarespace.com instead of portfoliosc.com.

Communications. Phone systems are expensive and most of us with small one-to-two person businesses don’t make that investment. We work on our smartphones. But I don’t necessarily want clients to have my personal cell phone number; nor do I want them to get the casual, personal greeting that most of us use on personal phones. Technology has an app for that. Several in fact. One is Google Voice (available as part of Google Apps for Business) that gives you a phone number (pick your area code if you do business in multiple cities or states) and allows you route incoming business calls to your cell, home phone or both. You can record a custom message, and Google Voice will even send you an email with a link to a voicemail message and a written transcription (that’s not so great, though). Other apps like Line 2 provide similar services for a relatively small monthly fee.

Small, we may be. But we don’t have to look it!

Just Sayin’

If you have followed these columns even occasionally, you probably know that — in a world divided into Apple People and Everybody Else — I am an Apple Person. Still sometimes it does get to be a little ridiculous.

The Apple press fell all over itself last week extolling the virtues of the even thinner, even cooler iPad Air 2, the inclusion of Touch ID and some other ho-hum cosmetic or super techy enhancements. Even Apple, the driving force behind the mobile revolution, has to admit that these changes don’t warrant a new release. Stop egging us into replacing perfectly good devices with a new device that is nearly the exact same thing.

If you have an iPad Air, you’re in luck -- it’s a great device that has not been made obsolete. There is no reason to replace it unless you just want it.

You can go back to Smash Hit now.