Standing out on the web seems like an impossible feat these days, with new blogs springing up by the minute and everyone and their mother touting new ways to make money online. While there are plenty of steps you can take to stand out and improve your online reputation, there is one area of consideration that is continually overlooked: how you appear offline.
Offline indicators are referenced more often than we think and taking the time to improve them can give you an easy leg up on the competition, especially when they haven’t even stopped to consider what their offline profile even looks like. Although the following areas can cost a little bit of money to get established, they go along away in terms of improving your brand and will definitely provide a healthy return on investment in the long run.
You can operate a blog and accept payments via PayPal in your own name, but forming an LLC or corporation gives you the opportunity to operate under a formal corporate identity. This formal registration will come in handy in numerous different situations, from shielding your personal identity to getting listed in directories to making customers more comfortable doing business with you. Most people feel more comfortable sending money to or contracting with an actual business, so you should definitely take the leap and register your company today.
Registering a Limited Liability Company (LLC) is probably the route best suited for online businesses and blogs, and registering one is as simple as filing a few pieces of paper with your state. LegalZoom is a good place to get this taken care of.
A physical location where you can be found is best, but most online businesses don’t have a formal office and thus can’t list their address. This is fine. A P.O. Box from your local post office will do the trick, and it costs less than $100 per year (in most areas).
With a P.O. Box, you gain a mailing address in your locality that you can list as your business address and utilize to accept business related correspondence. It goes great on your “Contact Us” page and can be set up in the name of your business (if you’ve gone through the previous step already). Obviously more dubious operations can obtain a P.O. Box as well, so having one isn’t your ticket to legitimacy, but having a mailing address in combination with the other items listed here will work wonders.
Not many thieves of conmen make it easy to reach them on the phone, which is why publishing a phone number associated with your business is a great way to improve your legitimacy. Thanks to Google Voice, establishing a dedicated phone number is amazingly easy to do, and free.
You can keep this step free by simply recording your own formal voicemail greeting and asking callers to leave the message. To step things up to the next level, you may consider forwarding calls to your cell phone and answering in the name of your business, or hiring a call center or answering service to answer calls on your behalf.
For a monthly fee, an answering service will answer in the name of your firm and follow specific instructions that you lay out for them, including scripting for specific types of calls and methods for delivering your messages. This step is probably overkill for most small businesses, but it does add a level of professionalism that isn’t easily found on the web. If people can travel to your website, find a phone number, and then actually dial that number to reach a live person, it says a lot about your operation.
These are just a few things you can do offline that will ultimately help you stand out on the web. Each will allow you to expand the information available on your business, help people research and contact you, and clearly distinguish you from other websites that aren’t as formally established.
Do you have your own tips for improving your legitimacy and standing out from the competition? Please share them and help add to this list!
About the author
Gere Jordan works in business development and operations at Continental Message Solution, Inc. (CMS), a small business answering service and call center based in Columbus, Ohio. He has experience designing and implementing effective call center solutions and improving communication workflows.