Telling the story of your practice or organization is often one of the most exciting, fun and creative activities you get to do when creating something of your own. And, the best part is, the story you tell will also continue to evolve as you realize success, gain more experience, bring on new products or services and grow into the future. Like so many things in the professional and business world, it’s really a never-ending process.
When you have your initial story in place, or at least a good enough first draft, the next major step you should take is putting together what I call your storefront. Your storefront is all of the parts you will need or use to communicate with those that you work for or with.
Historically (and by that I mean more than 15 years ago), setting up your storefront would focus on the physical space you would occupy and standard communication channels such as a phone and fax number. Today, while those things still may or may not be important for your particular practice, there is a broader spectrum of pieces you should pay attention to in order to form a complete picture of your practice for your intended audience. Across all of these pieces, the most critical aspect to remember is consistency: ensuring that your storefront is consistent with your story and that the information you provide is a part of your storefront is consistent across all of the different communication channels in which it appears.
A convenient way to think about the parts you need for your storefront is to break them into two parts: offline options and online options. These two options have become increasingly blurred in today’s world, but I believe they are still useful distinctions to help you get organized as you consider launching your practice or organization.
Storefront Part 1: Offline Needs
In general, offline needs for your practice or organization include everything that is necessary in the physical world for you to perform work and communicate with others. If you’re starting an individual consulting practice, determining your offline needs can be extraordinarily simple: all you truly need is a phone number and a physical address that you can associate with your legal registration. You may not have a need (or a want!) for an actual physical office – instead choosing to work from home, the local library or a café. I’ve even known a few consultants who have kept themselves busy enough they simply use the office spaces of their clients to satisfy their need for a desk and a place to work. My point is that making the leap to becoming an independent professional usually has an extremely low barrier to entry when it comes to offline needs.
In contrast, if you’re starting an organization with partners, or employees, or if you produce physical products you sell to the development and aid community, your needs for physical space will likely be very different than those of an independent consultant.
For an organization with more than one person, it’s still possible to have a virtual team and therefore no need for actual physical space. Operating virtually certainly has a number of benefits, especially in our line of work that happens around the globe. However, working virtually also requires a certain level of discipline and tenacity by all of your team members in order to stay focused, productive and simply connected as a team.
For the organization that provides a physical good for sale, your physical space needs will obviously need to be tailored to the requirements of your company. In these cases, you need to consider what type of office space you’ll need for sales, administration and other “office” activities; production of the products you’ll sell; warehousing space to store your products before they are delivered to your clients; and finally the space necessary for logistics.
The Storefront Part 2: Online Needs
In the online world, it’s incredibly easy to become overwhelmed by the number of options and outlets available to you for communicating with others, advertising your services and just “being present.” To get going, and make the leap, as an independent professional or new organization there are really only three things I believe you need to have in place to be ready for business. These are, your website, your email and your chosen social platform.
(Reminder: As I discussed in the previous section on creating your story, before you start building out your storefront, you should identify and acquire the high level domain you will use for your practice or organization.)
Online need #1: Website.
I often see individuals and organizations I work with struggle for weeks, and sometimes months, with the design and development of their website. My advice is always the same, and consistent with what we teach here at Aidpreneur: keep it simple and specific. If you’ve done the work I recommended in the previous section on telling your story, you should already have an understanding of the parts that you’ll need for a website. At its most basic, this list would include:
- The greeting you wish to give to your prospective clients (also known as your homepage),
- A section on the products and services that you provide to your clients,
- A section on the history of you or your organization (this is the part about why they should believe you), and
- Clear information about how an interested person can contact you.
(Hint: the best part about this simple, clear format, is that this can all happen on one page very easily, with simple, modern and professional design elements.)
Of course, if you’re selling a product (either physical or digital) there could be the additional need of having a shopping cart, payment gateway, etc. These complexities and technical specifications are covered elsewhere at Aidpreneur.
The most critical aspect to remember when designing and producing your website is consistency. This means that the story you tell, about yourself, your team, your organization, your products and services and anything else, is the same as the one you would tell someone face-to-face or in the document you would send them. This consistency, especially because of the constant evolution of your organization or practice, is one of the most difficult things to maintain as an independent professional or organization.
Online Need #2: Email Address.
This may seem like a trivial conversation. You already have an email address, right? And, it’s super easy to just use your Gmail or Yahoo or some other free email service for your practice. Many individual consultants rely upon this everyday.
However, I am of the belief it is important to take the time to make sure that you have a “professional” email address that is consistent with your website address.
Example: if your website is “www.savelives.org” your email should be “firstname.lastname@example.org”.
If you are an organization, this is essential, simply because you’ll have more than one person identified with the organization and you want to create consistency with your communication among other things, such as security and data continuity. If you’re an independent professional, a professional, and unique email address sends a clear message to your potential clients about your level of professionalism, and legitimacy.
The good news is, when you invest in your high level domain, and put together your website, adding your email service takes about two minutes. There’s no reason why you shouldn’t make sure this is in place.
Online Need #3: Social Platform
There are probably as many options for your social platform as there are stars in the sky. In the Western world we have LinkedIn, Facebook, Google+, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and many others. If you are reading this in a place like China, or India or Russia, there are other, localized, platforms as well that are just as deep and complex.
No matter where you are, you could, quite literally, spend all day every day simply interacting on social platforms. In fact, the craziness of social has reached such a fervor, that some people even advocate not participating at all, simply because it’s difficult just to keep up with the evolution of the technology. I am of the belief that it’s important to participate because, if for no other reason, this is where your clients also show up to participate in conversations and it’s a magnificent way to amplify your voice can grow the reach of your brand.
I have just two recommendations when it comes to social:
First, keep it simple. You should choose a primary and secondary social platform in which you will participate. As you grow your practice or business, much like the services and products you offer, you may find adding a third platform is possible as well. Any more than this, and it just becomes too complex to effectively use your time and, more importantly, remain consistent. Also, the marginal return from each of these platforms become smaller and smaller. Because you’re interested in connecting with people professionally, you might choose LinkedIn as your primary source and then Facebook as your secondary source, simply because of its size and reach.
Second keep it consistent. This is one of the most challenging aspects of being an independent professional. You want to your message to be consistent across your entire storefront. This includes all of your social outlets. So, if you have a profile posted on LinkedIn, that should also be consistent with the story that you tell on Facebook, your website, the CVs or profile you send out to prospective clients as a document, and anywhere else that you have information about your practice or company.
The development of your storefront, much like your story, can be an exciting, creative and energizing process. All of the effort you put into building your storefront should result in a clear, specific and consistent message that you’re putting out into the world for your prospective and existing clients and customers.
After you’ve put together your story and your storefront, the final piece you’ll want to consider as you make the leap to becoming an independent professional or starting a new organization is administration. I’ll be covering this in the next section of this training.
Thank you for watching this training here at Aidpreneur. I hope you remember that anytime you have questions or comments you can email me at training@Aidpreneur.com.