Would you eat at a dirty restaurant? Invest in a beat up car? Or buy a pair of ill-fitting jeans? The answer is most likely no – give or take a few variables. We like showing off fancy dinner plates, owning nice assets, and being proud of the brands we wear. So why would you accept any less for how your present your business online?
First impressions are very important, especially when it comes to your online business. It doesn’t need to look perfect, but it must exude credibility and professionalism. Gone are the days when it was okay to have a cantankerous website that was hard on the eyes, but full of good information. Few still exist today and are successful.
Now the general public is spoiled on sleek Apple minimalism, white space and beautiful design. And they expect it from you.
What can you do?
1. Hire someone to professionally design your website or learn how to do it yourself.
Skillful designers have become more affordable, but that does not mean you should look for the lowest bid. I tell my clients that web design prices are similar to electronics – you generally get what you pay for. There are plenty of freelance websites like eLance, oDesk and others that boast low prices, but it only takes getting burnt once to know you should’ve known better. But to be fair, that can happen anywhere.
Your best bet is to talk to local business owners and ask who they recommend. Make sure your first visit or phone call is a consultation. Feel the designer out – Do they listen? Are they asking important questions? Do you feel comfortable talking with them? If so, ask to look at their work or talk to references. And if you decide to hire them, make sure all expectations are are clearly laid out and set from the beginning. If a designer doesn’t set expectations from the beginning, you may want to reconsider your choice. Believe me, it will save you a few headaches – especially if you are new to the process.
If you decide to learn how to do it on your own, good luck (seriously!). While there are plenty of options (free ones, too), I would suggest signing up for lynda.com and taking a few classes. Lynda.com was a supplement for my college design courses at UNC-Chapel Hill and I highly recommend them. Or, take a continuing education class at a local college.
2. Be consistent everywhere.
Once your website is up to par, move on to every place online where your business is listed or has an online presence and tighten up the appearance and content. If you are unsure of how to replace Facebook profile pictures or Yelp information, talk with your designer. If your business web sites have a lot of textual content, it may be worth your time to hire a copy editor or content creator who can tidy it up, add calls to action and spice up your biz summaries. This is also a part of design, but not all designers are trained to do content work.
Regardless, every social network needs to show the same profile picture, which should be a logo or sharp personal photo if you represent the brand. I have used the same picture for every social network and website for the past three years. Soon it will be time to upgrade, but everyone recognizes the same smiling picture and that is what brand recognition is. Be consistent.
3. Don’t be afraid to throw down some cash for your business.
Yes, I understand you don’t want to spend money – I’m not such a huge fan either. But every successful business person, entrepreneur or freelancer will tell you that putting money back into your business is wicked smart. Jon Loomer, an incredible Facebook marketer and friend has gone through three web designs in the last few years. He started off with a free template, but upgraded once he made a few bucks. And then once again for functionality.
Skilled design is one of those finicky things in life that rarely comes along without investment. Occasionally we may get by with a thrown together logo, cheap email marketing company or bare landing page. But if you want to succeed, dedicate a percentage of your revenue to put back into your business. Hire a designer to create flyers for specials or events. Buy professional pictures. Pay guest bloggers (and get the good ones). Or get logo stickers (like I did) and stick them everywhere!
And with investment, let’s talk about time. It was taking me a long time to get my latest web design in place because of client work. But a fellow designer pulled me aside and said, “I make sure to schedule in time to work on my business just like I schedule time for my clients.” That may not be a revelation to you, but it hit me hard because I hadn’t thought about it that way. I cannot attract new clients without having a stable online presence.
Investing in professional design for your online business is imperative.
Now it’s your turn. Does good design make a brand more credible? Do you schedule in time to work on making your business ‘pretty’ online?