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Are you a small startup company, home-based business, or sole proprietor? Your image with potential customers is critical to gaining business.

Many small entrepreneurs make the same mistakes and fail to project the professional image their clients expect. Sometimes it’s because they don’t want to spend the money and sometimes it’s because they feel their skills, capabilities, and background are all they need to sell themselves and win business.

Unless you have an existing relationship with your potential clients, how you project yourself and your new company matters. Fortunately, it’s much cheaper now to build that image than ever before. There is no reason for you to look small — even if you are. A professional image and presence is crucial to gaining new business and standing out in the market.

Here are five things you should have to improve your professional image:

1. A Relevant Company Name

While many larger startups will create a company name and brand image, many individual entrepreneurs neglect this important step.

Your jurisdiction will have laws around company names ranging from federally incorporated companies to sole proprietorship and “doing business as” names. Investigate the options and choose one that works best for you in the long term, not just on day one.

Select your name carefully to ensure it is easy to pronounce and is easily connected to what you are selling. Making up a name simply by using letters from your children’s names, for instance, is not likely to resonate with potential customers.

For a Web presence, you should also consider whether the domain name is available. If not, look at a slight variation that works. It will be important to tie in your company name with your Web address.

2. A Website

One of the first things many people do is look up a company on the Internet when they’re considering doing business with them. You should have a Web presence, even if you don’t think it will drive business on its own.

A website is a cheap and easy marketing tool that will improve your visibility and make you look like a larger, more sophisticated organization.

The first step is to acquire the domain name for your website, which should be closely related — if not identical — to your company name. There are a lot of options for doing this easily online. Since a domain name costs $10 or less per year, even if you simply park it for later use, at least you’ll have it.

Implementing a simple website is a lot easier now than it used to be. While you still may need to hire a Web designer, if they use a free open-source platform such as WordPress or Joomla and keep customization to a minimum, your costs will be much lower, you will be able to update information on your own website in the future much more easily, and you won’t be tied into a custom-coded website. These open-source platforms even enable you to easily write a blog or set up e-commerce in conjunction with inexpensive payment tools such as PayPal.

3. A Company-Specific Email Address

Even if you don’t develop a website yet, create an email address with your domain name. A bulk email address like Gmail, Yahoo!, or one provided by your Internet service provider isn’t good enough. Since email is a primary communication tool, your email address must represent you professionally. Using a bulk email provider screams amateur.

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About Michel Theriault

Michel Theriault is an author, speaker, and consultant focusing on topics relevant to Managers and aspiring Managers in businesses of all sizes who want to get results, get attention, and get ahead. He is the author of Write To Influence (from the Quick Guides for Managers series), Win More Business – Write Better Proposals and Managing Facilities & Real Estate. Write To Influence is currently available as a free download in ebook and audiobook format. As the founder of Success Fuel for Managers, Michel’s work includes training, consulting, seminars, and business-oriented books. Connect with Michel or read his blogs about management and leadership on his site at www.successfuelformanagers.com.