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Every entrepreneur has heard the saying that image is everything, but have you ever actually paid attention to what your own image may be saying about your company? Customers judge fast. Online, the average browser gives your website just seven seconds to provide them with a reason to stay. In real life, your store front normally sparks a decision in only five seconds. Unless you happen to be lucky enough to have a physical location next to a stoplight, your store is probably overlooked thousands of times daily.

What your image says about you goes far beyond simple signs and advertisements. Your image extends far beyond your store’s windows, as well. The average driver will make a decision about whether or not to trust a business simply by the state of the parking lot itself.

If you want to really make an impression on your customers, you need to keep your store’s parking lot clean. As an entrepreneur, this may require some thought to accomplish. Even as a part of a larger shopping center, you can at least keep the lot in front of your own store clean by having an employee sweep it on a daily basis. With a push broom, this will only take about ten minutes. Keep the lines of your parking spots properly painted, by hand if necessary, and keep items such as shopping carts in their proper places.

Now that you have a clean lot for your store, you need to think about the landscaping. Your parking lot may look like a slab of blacktop, but that is to be expected. Beyond the blacktop, what do your customers see? Is the nearby field covered in litter? Are the flower beds outside of your door barren dirt? You should take the time to invest in a little landscaping effort to improve your store image.

This doesn’t mean that you must hire professionals to do your landscaping for you. A couple of flower pots, some petunias and marigolds from the local garden store, and you’ve got yourself some bright colors to make your store more appealing. Space the flowers out at least ten inches from each other and water them daily. They will fill themselves in.

Make sure you put out a place for people to snuff their cigarettes, or they may use your flower beds for this purpose instead. Include cleaning the cigarette extinguisher as part of your employee’s daily cleaning routine. A new cat litter scoop works wonders for keeping your employee’s hands out of other people’s cigarettes.

Once the landscaping around your business is presentable, stand in the middle of your parking lot and examine the front of your store. Give it a really good once-over, and think about how it looks to someone who is just passing by. As an entrepreneur, you don’t need to be reminded that you’re in business against dozens of other local stores who do exactly what you do. You just need to be reminded that you must look better than your competitors do while you’re doing it.

If your store front appears cluttered or dirty, it’s time to change things here as well. Wash the windows, and make certain that the blinds or curtains, if you have any, look presentable. Avoid cluttering your doors or windows with signs for community events. You can easily place these on a special bulletin board to one side of your shop, but you should keep any displays in your windows about your company.

Enforcing a dress code among your employees goes much further than simply making sure that no one shows up to work in a midriff shirt. Consider the last time that you were in a store without an employee dress code. Could you identify the workers from the customers? Have you ever encountered someone asking for help, only to discover that the person being asked isn’t an employee?

Including a dress code for your employees not only keeps your employees from wearing inappropriate clothing to work, it also provides your customers with an easily recognizable source of information and assistance within your company. Even a simple polo shirt with a small company logo embroidered on the shoulder, when combined with black slacks, can provide a uniform appearance for your workforce.

Online, your company’s appearance begins with your virtual presence. It’s wonderful that your operation is represented as a part of the local phone book. It’s great that your number and store name are listed online. But is that all that your customers can find about you on the web? If you already have a website, make certain that you link your website to your online phone book listings. Many of these have areas for you to place your own website link, so make use of this feature!

If you don’t already own a website, now is the perfect time to set one up. Nothing frustrates potential customers more than not being able to locate a virtual presence for your company. Even if all you can manage is a photo of your storefront, your hours of operation, and directions to your store, you’ve given your customers at least something to go on.

Make certain that your web presence is neat and clean. Think about it like this: when you click on a link, and arrive at someone’s website, only to discover that their front page is a horrid mass of clashing colors and cluttered links, what do you think of that company? You need to keep your web presence as neat and clutter-free as your store front is in the real world.

Keeping your store, and its associated areas, clean is the only way that you will make a good impression on your customers. Customers appreciate this extra effort, and it will pay off in increased business before you know it. As the acclaimed German author Johann Wolfgang von Goethe once said, “Let every man sweep in front of his own door, and the whole world will be clean.”

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