The 10 Best Ways To Make Your Small Business Appear More Professional & Established Online
In this article, I explain the best (and often easiest) ways to transform the appearance of your small business or startup from something that looks like an amateur side-business to a trustworthy, potentially industry leading brand that anyone would want to do business with.
For the record, this list is for small businesses, boot-strappers and entrepreneurs who have excellent, trustworthy businesses, but need guidance on how to make their business appear more trustworthy online. This list is not for the fly-by-night scammers who are trying to fool everyone in to believing they are trustworthy. Karma's a bitch, right?
The short version is 1. Get a domain, 2. Get an email address for your domain, 3. Get a phone number that isn't a mobile, 4. Have a kick-ass website, 5. Consistently use a good brand and logo, 6. Put your address on your website, 7. Install your own SSL certificate, 8. Start a limited company, 9. Use the word "we", 10. Display customer reviews online, 11 (bonus). Have a terms & conditions page.
1. Get A Domain
It seems like an obvious one, but I still see small business websites like windowcleanco.bigcommerce.com or jennysnails.wix.com or thompsonphotography.squarespace.com. This looks unprofessional on your business card, the back of your van or in your shop. It looks like you don't take your own business seriously. Not only that, it's harder for people to remember, longer for people to type and is less likely to be clicked on in Google's search results because it looks unrelated to what was searched for.
Get a domain for your website if you want to look like a proper business rather than a fly-by-night dodgy geezer. It's not expensive. I use 123reg.co.uk and GoDaddy as these are both well established in the UK and typically low cost. For example, a .co.uk domain is very cheap - around £5 per year.
I always recommend getting a domain for as many years as you can afford. Although it's not a big factor (and let me reiterate that it is probably not going to be noticeable), Google does look at how long your domain is registered for. Long term domains are looked at more favourably because it suggests a long term, well established business rather than a scam or something that's going to shut down within a year.
If you're a business that only operates in the UK, a co.uk instantly tells search engines and users that you are a UK company. There is also the new .uk domain though if possible I would always recommend going for what people know, which is the typical .co.uk. This is because if someone hears about your website by word of mouth, they will probably forget exactly what comes after the dot and assume it is the typical .co.uk. So if they try that url, make sure it's your website that appears and not someone else's.
It can pay to also get the .com domain if you want to mitigate the risk of someone else using yourbrandname.com, perhaps a competitor. If you have more than one domain, make sure you point them all to one place such as the .co.uk domain.
2. Get an Email Address For Your Domain
Just like a domain, using firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org does not look professional compared to email@example.com or firstname.lastname@example.org. I see many businesses that have a domain but don't have an email address to go with it because it's too complicated or they simply don't know how. Well, there are two ways that I recommend which are very easy to set up.
One is using Google Apps. I haven't used this myself, but people I know have recommended it. If you're happy using Gmail or Apple's Mail, then it's a valid solution. If, like me, you prefer to use Windows Outlook, I recommend using GoDaddy to set up an Email Exchange for small businesses with up to 5 employees. If your company is bigger I'd recommend a more business focused, custom solution.
I will write an article with instructions on how to set up an email address for your domain with GoDaddy and Outlook soon. If you want it now, I can quickly and cheaply set up an email address with your domain for you.
3. Get a Phone Number That Isn't a Mobile
I've seen ecommerce businesses display a mobile number on their contact page. Ok, it was a small ecommerce business, but if I was looking to buy your product but had never heard of your company and was looking for clues to decide if you are a trust-worthy business, seeing a mobile number would make me think you're a two-bit company with no policies and if I buy from you I'm unlikely to ever receive my order. This thought process wouldn't occur if you had a landline phone number. It might even improve your conversion rate.
Don't even get me started on ecommerce businesses that only accept contact via email or a contact form on the website. I'm instantly going to leave your website if I see that.
For small businesses, even one-man bands, I recommend Soho66. They offer VoiP which basically means that you can have a local phone number without needing to install a phone line and pay the ridiculous charges. All the calls are made over the internet with a VoiP phone - which is just like a standard phone but instead of connection to a phone line you plug it in to your broadband wifi router.
I've been impressed with the price, features and support from Soho66. The basic package is £3.59 inc. VAT per month. For that I get voice mail which is cool because if someone leaves a message I also get an email with an audio recording of the message attached - so I can listen even if I'm not near my phone. I can also redirect calls to my mobile if I'm not in the office, and have open hours so the phone won't ring in the evening. The forwarding features are very comprehensive - more than I need - but really useful for teams of people.
4. HAVE A KICK-ASS WEBSITE
We've all been searching Google for a product and landed on a website that looks like it was made by your 8 year old nephew in 2001. You can't get to the 'back' button quick enough! It is criminal to have an outdated, poorly designed, content lacking website these days. Your website is always being compared. To your competitors, and to what is expected in the current age. If your website looks worse than what the public expect, and worse than your competitors, people will not buy from you or hire you. They won't spend another moment on your site.
What people expect from a business and its website is constantly evolving. For example, in the last few years usage of mobiles and tablets to browse websites has gone through the roof - with many websites getting more traffic via these devices than a traditional PC/laptop. This has meant an increased demand or expectancy for websites to look clear and be easy to use on mobiles and tablets, rather than having tiny text and wide pages that you have to zoom into in order to see the content. This is why any decent website designer or developer will recommend a responsive website - so that it can look great and be easily used on any device.
A kick-ass website is not just about a good design - it's also about content. Make sure your website is content rich (I can help) - with all the information a visitor may need, and high quality imagery. I often say that a good website is defined by its imagery. Stock photos will not impress, inform or evoke emotion, and neither will poorly produced images. Only good pictures will tell a thousand words.
5. Consistently use a good LOGO AND BRAND
Have a logo and brand that you use consistently across all material, and try to avoid something that looks like it was designed in Word Art from Microsoft Office '97. We've all been susceptible to a well designed brand or logo, so you should know the importance of this. I read about two guys buying an existing shaving kit subscription company in the US who used freelance designers to do their branding, website and packaging. They are convinced that the professional design and branding was essential in giving them the success they now have. Depending on what your business is and how your design skills are, I wouldn't say you necessarily need to spend money to produce a logo. Simply using text which is nicely formatted can be a good logo but make sure you use it consistently in order to appear professional - including the colour palette. Squarespace (the platform I use for this website) offers a reasonable logo creator tool that's worth a try.
6. PUT YOUR ADDRESS ON YOUR WEBSITE
Having an address is another way of showing visitors to your website that you are an established, legitimate company based wherever you say you're based. In fact as a registered company in the UK, it is a legal requirement to display your company information (address and registration number) on your website. As a UK resident, 99% of the time I want to buy from a business that is based in the UK, so I will check the address for that company on their website.
Remember, having a .co.uk domain is not a guarantee that the business is based in the UK. For example, I've seen .co.uk websites that sell digital SLR cameras at incredibly cheap prices. A little bit of digging discovers the company is based in Hong Kong from where it sells imports which invalidates your warranty. This is ok for some people, but if the company is trying to hide this fact then I think it is risky to spend your money with them.
If you don't have an address, I don't know where your company is based and I'm not going to buy from you. I realise that if you're working from home you may not want to put your home address on the website, so there are alternatives such as PO boxes (just make sure the address doesn't look like a PO Box when displayed on the website). I put my home address on the website of my ecommerce business. I did get some people call and ask to visit the 'showroom' but I never had unwanted visitors and had only a few items of unsolicited post.
A bonus of adding your address is that Google favours websites that have this information as it means you're more likely to be a trustworthy website to show in their search results.
7. Install your own ssl certificate
This is important if you are using a hosted ecommerce provider such as BigCommerce of Shopify. An SSL certificate validates the secure areas of your website such as the checkout pages of an online store. If a website has an SSL certificate, when you view secure pages you will see the lock icon in your web browser to confirm that the connection is secure. If there is no SSL certificate for the website you will see an open lock icon or even a warning message telling you that the security of the website could not be validated.
I'll use BigCommerce as an example because I know this platform best. BigCommerce provides your ecommerce website with an SSL certificate so visitors to your site won't be warned about insecurity. However, even if you have your website on your own domain - e.g www.windowcleanco.co.uk - when visitors get to the checkout they will be redirected to a domain that looks something like https://storeasdcv123.mybigcommerce.com - because that's where the SSL certificate is for. The SSL certificate will be valid but it will be for BigCommerce rather than your company. The problem with this is it raises alarm bells for the visitor. You know the site is secure and it's legitimate, but the visitor will be wondering why they've been redirected to a different domain, questioning the security and validity of your website and probably leaving to buy from a competitor.
By installing your own SSL certificate, all the secure pages will live on your own domain. Your site will look 100% professional and secure resulting in better conversion rates. To further boost confidence in your company and your website's reliability, I recommend using an Extended Validation SSL certificate. As well as having very high levels of security, these certificates also turn your web browser address bar green when you visit a secure page, and show your company name in the address bar. You will recognise this happening when you buy online from big name brands.
Luckily, EV SSL certificates don't have to be out of reach of small businesses either, and although a little more expensive that a standard SSL certificate, I think it is worth the extra investment. I have used and recommend the GeoTrust True BusinessID + EV certificate. You can get it at a great price of £149 for 1 year (+VAT) from Trustico who I've used and have had no problems with (they are registered in the UK). Extended Validation SSL certificates require a more thorough authentication process (basically checking that your business is who, what and where you say it is) but it's not too demanding of your time.
If you would like help purchasing and installing an SSL Certificate, get in touch.
8. Start a Limited Company
This isn't essential and may not be required depending on the type of business you are. However, being a limited company does make you appear more trustworthy than sole traders if you are selling online via an ecommerce website. Because anyone can set up a website and sell stuff, it is worth the time, effort and money to make your business appear more professional and trustworthy.
9. use the word "we"
This one is debatable but I found it worked for me. For my ecommerce business, I need to appear as a reasonably sized company with a team of people that worked there in order to appear trustworthy. So although it was actually only me in the business, I always referred to myself as "we", "us" or "our". This sounds deceitful but really it was just to put visitors' minds at ease. I was an established company doing everything I could to make sure customers had a great experience, but if visitors knew it was just me then they would be less willing to pay for our (sorry, my) products.
It may be that your business' brand is built around you. Obviously this is the case if you're a freelancer or tradesman, but this may also be the case if you sell unique items online and you as a person created those items or represent those items - in which case you'll want to highlight the fact that it's just you running the business. It can work in your favour. If you are a team, then this one automatically applies anyway.
10. Display Customer reviews Online
From the get-go, make sure you have a plan for getting customer reviews online. Reviews from customers will verify that you are an established company and verify that you provide a good service and/or good products - thus increasing your conversion rates. You can do this directly on your website, though the more sceptical visitors will wonder if you entered fake reviews yourself. This is why more reputable brands use third-party platforms for collecting independent reviews - because it means you're not able to tamper with the reviews, you're only able to respond to them.
If you provide a trade service, checkatrade.com is probably the most well known in the UK. If you sell products via an ecommerce shop you have a few options such as Reviews.co.uk, TrustPilot, Feefo and eKomi. Whatever you choose to use, I would seriously recommend using one from the list Google provides because these are trusted sites that Google uses to display a seller rating on your ads on Google (the star rating you see on Google search results pages). They can be expensive, but I found Reviews.co.uk to be reasonable at £20 per month when I was starting out.
Bonus - 11. Have a Terms & conditions Page
I hope that even if only one or two of my recommendations above apply to you and your business, you will find them useful and act on them. If you would like my help to improve the professional, trustworthy image your brand portrays online, please get in touch.