Building a Professional Image

Dec 3, 2009

Recently a customer came into my shop to discuss his vinyl graphic needs. After describing how our services could meet his needs and we had agreed on the terms of the project, he showed me a business card he’s had since 1993: my business card. Since he acquired that card I have incorporated, changed my business name, changed telephone numbers and moved my shop more than 40 miles from its original location. And he still found me for repeat business.

When I asked him why he kept my card for so long and why he went to the trouble to locate my business 15 years later, he said “Because you guys are the professionals.” That’s flattering for sure, but a message lies within this client’s efforts and words: A professional image results in value for your clients and business for your shop.

Professionalism, as defined by Merriam-Webster, is the conduct, aims or qualities that characterize a professional person; the dictionary defines a professional as someone who exhibits a courteous, conscientious, and generally businesslike manner in the workplace. This also defines what a customer expects; courtesy, their business to be valued and appreciated, and that they were sold the best possible product for their needs at a fair price.

Professionalism is not lettered on a sign or lit with lights or bought as a package but it is felt by customers in the actions, methods, tone and enthusiasm of you and your staff. There is a psychological element to this feeling that might best be described as positive customer service. Positive customer service significantly improves a client’s experience and leaves them feeling that the business invested in them as a client to ensure the most satisfactory outcome possible. Fostering and maintaining a professional image is an investment in your business.

Branding

The restyling industry is about image more than anything else; the better you demonstrate your business image, the greater your authority on the topic. An important aspect of your company’s professional image is the branding of your business.

We’re all familiar with the concept of first impressions and the power of developing a positive image of our businesses in the minds of clients and potential clients. Consider what a prospective customer is thinking as he or she approaches your shop for the first time. The presence of a unique logo delivered visually through a variety of signage not only locates your business but also demonstrates a pride in your existence. Following up that signage with uniforms displaying your logo reinforces business pride and a commitment to image.

Not only do customers get a sense of professionalism from a well-attired staff, but employees gain a sense of pride in being part of a branded enterprise. Uniforms can take many forms; from a simple screen printed t-shirt to a collared shirt with an embroidered logo to more elaborate, color coordinated ensembles. And don’t forget to include hats when appropriate-they’re a very portable form of advertisement.

Branding your shop should also include your paperwork: invoices, estimates, receipts, gift certificates/cards and of course business cards-never pass up an opportunity to include your company logo on any literature that leaves your shop.

Whenever possible and tasteful (and with your client’s permission), include the installation of a small decal with your logo and contact info on the project vehicle. This small detail extends your brand by acting as a subtle form of advertising while connecting your clients to you.

The topic of branding is not complete without the inclusion of a slogan. Few of us will achieve international recognition, but a catchy slogan is a memorable and inexpensive compliment to your logo and business image. And copyright that slogan and logo as well-this is a professional must.

Along with branding your business location, staff, projects and paperwork you should extend your image to your company vehicles. Any service or parts vehicles working for you should not just transport your products and employees; they should transport your business image. At the very least your company logo and contact info should be prominently displayed on both sides and rear of each vehicle.

Wraps, both partial and full, have become very popular methods of advertising and vehicle graphics go a long way towards presenting your professional image to the general public as well as to your clients. Again consider the client’s perspective as a service or parts vehicle arrives at his/her business or home; a well branded and kept up vehicle makes an enormously positive impression and demonstrates a conscientious approach to maintaining a professional image.

Industry Knowledge

As important as it is to demonstrate visually your authority on restyling products and services, it is clearly paramount that you achieve thorough industry knowledge. Clients come to you seeking expert advice, products and solutions for their needs or problems. Simply stated, there is no quicker way to convert a potential client into a customer than to demonstrate an understanding of the clients’ needs and the knowledge of the appropriate products to fit their needs.

Knowledge contributes significantly to confidence and confidence is another professional trait which renders a psychological effect on your client. Most restyling projects have a range of products available to complete them; quickly narrowing the field of choices to fit the specifics of clients’ needs will not only impress but will close the sale efficiently. Your professional image is enhanced by a broad accumulation of product specifications, suitability, benefits and limitations.

Know your competition. By keeping abreast of competitor’s products and services, you can exploit weaknesses in your market and develop strengths in under-served areas. Additionally, even if you lose a sale through your referral to another shop that is better suited to serve the client’s needs you may greatly extend and improve your professional image by recognizing and recommending a solution at the expense of the sale. That client, recognizing your integrity and honesty, may come back to your shop or refer another future client. This exercise in professionalism will also reinforce areas that you may want to expand into to capture future sales.

Training

Professionalism can not be bought. But it can be taught. Do not expect yourself or your staff to automatically be professionals from the get-go; few of us are naturally professional. It is a skill that we learn, practice and develop over time.

Start at the beginning: greeting clients. Go back to the concept of first impressions-they are effective sales tools. “Can I help you?” is not a greeting, it is a challenge. Eliminate any type of challenge from your greeting procedures immediately. Customers want to be welcomed into your shop and they feel as well as hear your welcome.

A genuine, warm welcoming statement followed by a question or comment goes a long way towards putting a potential client at ease. Whenever possible, glance at the vehicle they drove up in and comment on its appearance or uniqueness or how fun a vehicle it is to restyle. People want their business to be earned; showing an interest in the client, their vehicle and their needs is the second step towards gaining their trust and earning their business.

Connect your products and services to the clients’ needs in an educational manner, emphasizing how the client benefits from your recommended product or service. Share an enthusiasm for the product or service to reinforce the benefits a client can expect to enjoy.

Throughout the selling, scheduling and delivery process polish your professionalism by detailing the extent of your services, product warranties, care and maintenance, project costs and time frames that apply to ordering and installing the product. Although your demeanor, communication, guidance and enthusiasm should demonstrate your appreciation for your client’s business, always verbally thank the customer for their business. Say it to them as you give them their keys or hand them their receipt. Do it every time, with the same genuine warmth that you used to welcome them to your shop, and your image will be solidified as the professional. Never stop learning, and never stop training yourself and your staff.

It’s a crowded marketplace out there and as shop owners, the common wisdom is that we have to struggle constantly to stand out from the crowd. I suggest upping the ante and stand above the crowd. A highly emphasized image contributes to the retention of your business name by clients and to the ever-elusive but invaluable word-of-mouth referrals. Further, when a customer benefits from a professional experience, there exists the perception of increased value for their dollar. When adding value to a product or service you are helping the client justify the expense of the sale, which leads to customer satisfaction and a positive experience culminating in the pinnacle of business: success.