10 Tools to Look More Professional

10-tools-to-be-more-professionalAs a solopreneur and freelancer, I’ve become a connoisseur of business tools, tricks, and tips to make my business look professional to potential clients. Based on my experiences, I’ve compiled a list of 10 tools you need to look more professional.

  1. Email Signature: Whether you realize it or not, your signature represents both you and your business. In many ways it is like a digital business card, and can be utilized as such. How so?
    – It contains your contact information, including your business name. (Or should!)
    – It saves your clients from digging up your website to find your number or other necessary details.
    – It can be customized to include a photo of you, links, and more!
  2. A Professional Domain: A personal or professional domain will help your clients and potential clients remember you. Think about it, “Joanisagreatwriter.wordpress.com” doesn’t roll off the tongue as readily as “Joanisagreatwriter.com”. The “.com” format is something that is readily engrained in the public consciousness. You can use that to your advantage. (Plus, if you self-host you’ll have the added benefit of being able to add plugins and monetize your site, but that’s a tale for another day.)
  3. A Domain-Based Email: I’ll say this first. Gmail is AWESOME. I had to create an account to participate in group activities in college and I haven’t looked back, since. In fact, I STILL use Gmail for all of my professional and personal correspondence. However, you’ll notice that all the email and contact inquiry opportunities on this site say @bloggingonward.com – Why?
    – It makes it easy for people to remember where they know me from.
    – It keeps my URL/web address handy. – I’ll take any excuse to send people to my page!
    – It looks more legit. The fact is that anyone can sign up for a Gmail account. Don’t believe me? I know people who have Gmails for their dogs Instagram. That’s right. A dog essentially has a Gmail account. Do you take your blog or business more seriously than Fluffy* takes her Instagram? (If you don’t, you probably should. Or at least enough to fake it by having a “real” email address.)
    Right or wrong, when you need money from goods, services, or another human the more they are likely to trust you. Having an @you.com email increases your legitimacy and trustworthiness online.
  4. Social Media: When you want to be seen as an authority on a subject, you need to act like an authority on said subject and resist the urge to be inappropriate on your public social media accounts. What does inappropriate mean? Well, that depends on your audience. Oprah channel followers expect different things than Marvel followers. The same is true for public figures and freelancers.
    If you write for political sites, social issue sites, or other websites which thrive and prosper based on public debates, then one will expect different types of posts from you than they would from a town mayor. That doesn’t mean you should run out with your metaphorical guns blazing if that isn’t natural to you, it simply means that you should remember that everyone from your readership to potential employers are likely to be paying attention.
    If you want to be taken seriously as a blogger/freelancer/whatever, you need to take yourself seriously. Think of it as faking it till you make it. (…Mostly because that’s what it is.) If it’s not something you would want your mother, grandmother, priest, or boss to see – don’t post it on your professional social media channel. If you can’t handle the pressure, then hire someone to manage your social accounts or don’t have them. Social media mistakes can be fatal, even if they seem small at the time.
  5. Email Scheduling/Boomerang: If you want to work a set, daylight schedule then don’t get your clients or potential clients accustomed to getting responses from you at all hours. My approach to this issue includes email scheduling and putting my office hours in my signature so there is a constant reminder that I keep ridiculous hours. Boomerang is a wonderful tool which allows you to set emails to go during your office hours, even if you are keying in the reply at 9pm the previous night.
  6. Confidence: In your calls, emails, and communications you need to be confident. Don’t second guess yourself. If they ask a question, make yourself realize it is because they need to know what they are asking, not because they are questioning your capabilities, and it isn’t a test of your competence. Don’t doubt yourself for them and let self-doubt talk you out of a sale or deal.
  7. Stay Strong: It isn’t always easy to stand behind your prices. This is especially true if you are doing creative work or something you’d actually like to do. It can be challenging to feel like you deserve any compensation at all when you literally would do the work for free.
    Trust me, I get it. I make things up and write them down for a living. (Obviously, there is a great deal more to it than that, but the jist is that.) Writing is something I’ve loved to do since the third grade. The fact that I do it well enough to be paid blows my mind, sometimes. If you feel that way, take a moment to think instead about the value you’re providing instead. Sure, you might be spending time in Photoshop or Illustrator playing with lines and fonts until you get a logo together that someone else likes. Focus instead on the brand confidence you’ll be providing both the company and their clients. You aren’t just writing a review, you’re helping a company, author, or organization build their reputation.
    The moral? Don’t devalue yourself, and stick to your guns as far as rates are concerned. Your ideal client won’t haggle or try to argue. They will appreciate your worth.
  8. Social Scheduling: Buffer, Later, and Hootsuite are some of my favorite general social schedulers, and they all have free memberships. Having regular posts which aren’t promotional or which extoll the values and virtues of your brand without being directly promotional are incredibly valuable. They set a precedence. They let people know they can expect great things from you and when your content or offers appear, they understand they can trust them.
  9. CoSchedule: CoSchedule is my editorial secret weapon. I can schedule a post to be published on my blog. TThen from the same interface I can schedule social posts on everything from Pinterest to Twitter. I can schedule posts days, weeks, and months after the original publication. What’s more, I can schedule each and every post that goes out. It’s magic.
  10. A Strong Swipe File: If you haven’t heard of the ominous “Swipe File” you should learn, now. A swipe file is something copywriters and other SEO strategists use to keep great writing handy to be reused later. (Swipe Files for the Lazy Copywriter is a great resource.) You can keep things like responses to service inquiries, quotes, and form letters handy to save yourself some time (and ensure that your replies are consistent – which is always a plus for branding.)

I realize some of these aren’t literal “tools”, but they are essential for succeeding in business and for presenting a professional facade, even when you’re a one-woman (or man) operation.

What are your favorite “tools of the trade” when it comes to putting your best foot forward?

* Names have been changed to protect the innocent.

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