Creating the right image for your small business

written by Tim Berry of Palo Alto Software

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If you’re like millions of other small businesses, creating a professional visual image is key to your success. After all, your image — as seen on your business cards, marketing materials, packaging and website — is the first and sometimes only chance you have to introduce your company to potential customers. If your customers like what they see, you are one step closer to getting their business.

So how do you determine the right image for your company? It doesn’t take a rocket scientist, or even an ad agency, to do this. It just takes strategic thinking.

For starters, your image should reflect your company’s personality (or brand) — which, to some degree, is your personality because you are the owner of your business. It should also reflect your industry, along with your customer’s expectations and the defining attributes of your products and services. I’ve always maintained that there are three basic image categories: “Flair,” “Bold,” and “High-Tech.” To see which image category your company fits in, take this short quiz*:

1) How do you want your customers to view your company? (Choose only one)
___ a. Progressive
___ b. Reliable
___ c. Friendly and/or approachable

2) When it comes to your products or services, you plan to:
___ a. Charge more than the competition
___ b. Charge less than the competition
___ c. Charge a similar price but add value in another way (e.g., better service)

3) Why did you start your own business?
___ a. I know the industry like the back of my hand
___ b. I saw a market opportunity and I went for it
___ c. I love what I’m doing and I’m good at it

4) What group of words best describes you?
___ a. Friendly, open-minded, stylish
___ b. Analytical, reliable, organized
___ c. Progressive, spontaneous, risk-taker

5) Your customers:
___ a. are risk-averse and/or fiscally conservative
___ b. need something unique or creative
___ c. want the newest technology


  1. a) 5 points; b) 3 points; c) 1 point
  2. a) 5 points; b) 3 points; c) 1 point
  3. a) 3 points; b) 5 points; c) 1 point
  4. a) 1 point; b) 3 points; c) 5 points
  5. a) 3 points; b) 1 point; c) 5 points

If your score is 5-11, your recommended image is: FLAIR
Your image should project creativity, flexibility and friendliness. Your promotional materials should be creative and unique. Design examples include rounded fonts, curvy lines and warm photography or illustration.

If your score is 12-19, your recommended image is: BOLD
Your image should project experience, strength, and stability. Your promotional materials should be conservative in tone and design—not trendy or surprising. Consider straightforward fonts like Helvetica and Times New Roman, lots of white space, and four-color photography.

If your score is 20-25, your recommended image is: HIGH-TECH
Your image should project innovation and technological expertise. Your promotional materials should be energetic and exciting. Italicized fonts, bold graphics, and dynamic photography work well in this category.

Maybe you’re thinking, “My company features some ‘Bold’ qualities and some ‘High-Tech’ ones. What’s up?” That’s okay. Overlap occurs. But you should have more of one category’s qualities than another. Be careful of “red flags” that indicate you may be trying to be all things to all people. For example, it is difficult to appear both established (which implies slow to change) and progressive (which implies fast moving). Consequently, I know of few successful small businesses with an image I’d describe as both “Flair” and “High-Tech.” In many ways these two categories are opposite ends of the image spectrum and thus mutually exclusive. The right image can be one of your biggest assets. Build a professional business identity, and you will reap profits.

*Re-printed with permission from

Tim Berry

about the author

Tim Berry

Founder and President of Palo Alto Software and a renowned planning expert. He is listed in the index of "Fire in the Valley", by Swaine and Freiberger, the history of the personal computer industry. Tim contributes regularly to the bplans blog, the as well as his own blog, Planning, Startups, Stories. His full biography is available at Follow Tim onGoogle +


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