I am on a great web designer’s email discussion list. Recently, someone acquired a new client and they were trying to determine a look and feel for the new site.
They asked the following:
“Do professionals need to keep their professional reserve? Or can they come across as friendly and engaged? Does a small 1.5 person biz need to look bigger? Or can it look the size it is? Is formal expected and required? Or can some of the formality be exchanged for depicting a real, caring human being?”
The overwhelming response was: be yourself.
Adjectives can mean a lot of different things to different people. What you call “professional” may mean something different to me. There are certainly thousands of ways a web designer can interpret “professional”. Or “modern” or “elegant” or “insert adjective here”. This is one reason I and other web designers ask clients for examples of sites that meet that description for them.
“Professional” does not mean boxy websites made in blue and gray. It does not mean you have to be standoffish and formal in your approach to marketing either.
My husband and I have read Getting Real: The smarter, faster, easier way to build a successful web application
and Rework by the guys at the successful company 37signals. They are advocates of not pretending to be bigger than you are. If you are a small business, then embrace that. Promote that. If you work at home in your pajamas with kids underfoot, like my husband and I, then go with it.
There are people that go with a smaller business because it is small and personal. That is a niche market. Not everyone wants the big, faceless corporation.
I know a web host who just sold her 12 year old hosting business. She did it for 12 years, successfully, in part because she didn’t pretend to be anything more than a geek mom running a hosting business from home (that and she had outstanding service). I and most of her existing clients are happily following her to her new home (she’ll be working for the host she sold to).
I made a site for an attorney who is a bit different from her colleagues. She went to law school later in life rather than straight out of college. So her approach to clients and their cases tends to be different. When I created her site, the goal was to convey that this is somewhere you can go and relax, you don’t have to feel nervous with your lawyer, and that she can hold your hand and get you through this. She’s had clients find her website and come to her specifically because they liked what they saw on the site.
As I said to the web designer that posted the original question: “Small businesses tend to be a cult of personality. And they can do well because of that when it’s the right personality. If your client’s success has to do with her and her approach to people and situations, then by all means, focus on that. The word “professional” does not have to mean cold, cookie cutter, formal, and standoffish, (which is how some interpret the word). Some people do well finding a balance between being approachable while still maintaining a professional relationship with their clients.”
I think my own clients like that they can call and talk to my husband and I when they have a concern or an idea. We’re not pretending to them that we’re anything more than 2 people running a business from home while juggling 1 year old twins. Some people appreciate that.