Whether you’re just opening up shop or moving your command center from the kitchen to a more suitable location that can accommodate clients, the appearance of your office is likely the last thing on your mind.
The idea that we should “dress for success” may specifically refer to the clothes we wear, but the sentiment is equally important when it comes to the place we work. An organized and well-furnished office conveys an air of professionalism, making it one of the top to-dos when you’re trying to legitimize your business in the eyes of clients and partners (like creating a professional website or designing a unique logo). There aren’t many ways for potential clients or business partners to do a background check on your business besides a literal background check or a business credit check. (Yes — unlike personal credit reports, anyone can pull your business credit report and you can see where you stand for free on Nav.)
So what exactly should you do to make your office look legit?
1. Invest in office furniture and storage.
To you, your office space may simply be a space to get things done. As long as you have a laptop and a fairly comfortable chair, you have all you need. However, furniture plays a huge role in a client’s perception of your business.
Consider your own role as a consumer. If you were to walk into an office adorned with folding chairs and a cluttered desk, would you feel comfortable putting your trust in the company? What about your business? The answer is likely a resounding “no”.
Well-chosen furniture can indicate that your business is successful, that you value its appearance, and that you want your clients to be comfortable while they are visiting. Though you may not have a budget for top-of-the-line leather chairs or a swoon-worthy mahogany desk, make it a point to put some time and effort into finding furniture that makes a solid first impression.
Further, clutter can quickly deter potential clients, leaving them with the assumption that you, and therefore your business, are disorganized. Tasteful storage will enable you to keep clutter (or confidential client papers) out of sight.
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2. Keep décor consistent.
Furniture isn’t the only thing that can leave a good impression; the décor you choose also plays a role in a client’s perception of your business. Tons of empty wall space and sparse shelves aren’t welcoming; in fact, they can lead clients to assume your business is too green, or even worse, that you simply don’t care. If you haven’t made an investment, why should they?
Furthermore, your office décor should be consistent, offering clients a smooth transition from space to space. In other words, their visual experience should be more akin to that of a hotel, where the motif remains consistent from the lobby to the guest rooms, as opposed to a museum, where the aesthetics abruptly change from exhibit to exhibit.
3. Display relevant permits, licenses and awards.
Your clients may not immediately look for licenses, permits, certificates and awards in your office (though code enforcement may, in some cases), but the presence of those items plays a significant role in molding their perception of your business.
Permits and licenses show that you run a recognized business with the authority to operate within your city or state. Certificates, awards and degrees, on the other hand, tell the story of a successful track record. All of these things can increase your credibility, assuring clients that you can successfully manage their account.
4. Get a decent conference phone.
You may not realize you need this until you REALLY need this. It’s highly unlikely that a client will ask to see your conference phone (wouldn’t that be a bit odd?), but if you’re holding a meeting that requires a conference call, it will be painfully obvious that your office is lacking this small yet mighty device.
You may be thinking, “but I have a smartphone with a speaker” or “my laptop can pick up the audio.” And while that may be true, it may not always be reliable. We’ve all been on calls that sound more like the sound track to a hurricane than a professional conversation, and it doesn’t leave a good impression.
As groups and organization rely more and more on employees that span the country (or globe), being able to host conversations with a clear and effective conferencing system is essential to closing deals and building your business.
5. Use branded signage.
Have you ever gone in search of a business, assuming the location would be made obvious by some clean logo on a door or awning viewable from the street only to find that you were absolutely wrong? You check your smartphone and consult the map, making sure you’re in the right place, but ultimately you either need to take a risk and walk in or call the business to make sure you’re in the right place.
It’s a frustrating experience, and it’s one that leaves your client with a sour taste in their mouth before they even set foot in your door (once they find it, that is).
Your branded logo says you are, without a doubt, open for business and that your business is legit and professional. Depending on your space, you may not always be able take a lot of liberties with where and how you brand your entrance, but you can still make sure it’s easy for your clients.
If you’re in an office building, be sure that your business is listed, or if you’re fairly new, inquire about additional signage opportunities to help guide clients. If all else fails and you’re limited to a single line on a rather large directory of businesses, be sure that your marketing collateral clearly states how to access your business, and include directions and pertinent location information in meeting invites.
Your office is more than just a place to conduct business. If you’re conducting business within those walls, it’s as much as a marketing piece as your website or paid advertising, if not more. Clients will judge your ability to fulfill professional obligations by what they see (or don’t see) in your office. Be sure to welcome them into a professional, comfortable and welcoming environment that invokes a sense of credibility.
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