The home-based businessperson faces several obstacles to being taken seriously, one of which is appearing professional in the eyes of customers and prospects. While home-based business enterprises are not inherently less professional or have less expertise than those based out of commercial offices, there is often a perception that such is the case. This perception can be deadly, particularly if you are competing with bigger rivals whose offices are in a more traditional setting.
Here are a few tips for overcoming the perception that yours might be somewhat of a less worthy business to work with:
Residential address. Some mailing addresses are obviously residential, no matter how you try to cloak them, and this can appear “unprofessional” to some prospects and clients. It also often impacts on the way you can do business, such as when scheduling face-to-face meetings. If you’re lucky enough to live on a known commercial street, within a business district, or have an address that sounds like it could be in a commercial district (for instance, 123 S. Main Street or 456 2nd Avenue), your address may come across as more business-like. If this isn’t the case, a good low cost way to portray a more professional office location is to opt for a mailbox service. These are usually provided by special mail handling companies that have prime locations to collect mail for this specific purpose. The monthly cost for a prime address is generally around $30 per month, and you can also usually have mail forwarded directly to your home address. Many home-based businesses opt for this type of service in a nearby major city, since it can help bolster the appearance of being national.
Phone number. In the interest of saving money, some home-based businesspeople opt to just use their existing local landline number. This is a mistake. You don’t want your family answering the phone to business customers (and, yes, customers and clients have been known to call “after hours,” so you can’t count on every call coming in after 5 PM being a personal call). Some use their mobile number as the means of business contact, which is an “OK” solution, if you’re religious about checking that caller ID before answering each and every call – regardless of time of day – and have prepared a good way of answering when you don’t recognize the number of the incoming call. The best solution is to install a second phone line that is set up only to handle business calls. So long as this phone number is reserved for your business customers, there can never be any confusion as to who is phoning and for what purpose, allowing you to appear more professional overall.
Virtual presence. Having a professional-sounding voice mail message on your office phone line should go without saying. Your emails should all contain a professional e-signature that makes use of your company name, logo, and tag line, as well as all the various ways to connect with you, such as website, blog, LinkedIn profile, and Facebook, Twitter and YouTube Channel IF you use social media strictly for business – and this is a big IF, to be covered in future article. Using high-tech communication tools video conferencing also help to project a winning image.
Face-to-face meetings. There are times when an in-person meeting is a necessity. Some home-based businesses have a separate entrance to the home office, or the home office is immediately off the home’s foyer so that a client does not walk through the home to get to the office. For client meetings, this may not be a problem, especially if you’ve made the client aware of the fact that yours is a home-based business and your home office affords an enormous amount of privacy and quiet. It is not recommended, however, that prospective clients be invited to meet with you in your home office, since it could set the wrong tone (“you never get a second chance to make a good first impression”). For almost all face-to-face meetings, it is generally better to meet at the client’s office, a quiet “neutral” setting such as a restaurant or quiet coffee shop, or – as the best option – a rental office suite. In the Philadelphia area, there are several good options for renting office and conference space by the hour, including Intelligent Office, Your Office USA, and American Executive Centers. These companies provide a vast array of a la carte services so you can work within your own budget.
As working from home is becoming more commonplace, some of these challenges will, theoretically, fade into the background. However, until more of your prospects and clients get used to this phenomenon, it’s important to take every step possible to project the professional image that is expected when people are considering parting with their hard-earned dollars to hire you.
By working around these challenges, there’s no reason you can’t make a successful business from your spare bedroom, without committing to expensive office space.