Large corporations spend tens of thousands of dollars to create their corporate identity, or the image they want to present to their customer base and prospects. This is so important, that they have manuals with standards of how their image will be presented and rigorously enforce this image. Most small businesses spend zip, nada, zero, nothing.

Some small business owners will draw a sketch of a logo on the back of a napkin while having a beer with friends on a Friday night. All their friends agree it looks GOOD after 2 or 3 beers, so a company logo is born. All you need is a graphic designer to clean it up, and there you have your logo.

A corporate identity program signals to your customer who you are and what you do. It presents both a visual and written presentation message. It is the first impression your customer gets of your product or service. And, as we all know, a bad first impression is hard to overcome. That is why larger corporations spend so much money on developing a significant identity.

Small business owners want to present a professional image, but often don’t have the budget. What is really needed? First, you need a professionally designed logo or visual image. You’ll see a lot of logos for smaller businesses with tools or letters altered, or some other visual play on words. The problem with this approach is that the viewer doesn’t always “get” the cleverness. Not being familiar with your business, that approach can confuse more than present the image of professional.

The second important element is a slogan or tag line that summarizes what your business does. It should make a statement about what your core value is in the product or service you offer. Again, clever is less important than clarity.

You need a well-designed and clearly written basic services brochure that outlines what you offer, plus basic stationary for anything you send out — sales letters, proposals, contracts and the like. We also recommend a series of postcards and ads of all sizes that coordinate to the core values of your business.

Finally, You need a well-designed and well-optimized website that reinforces the message of your ads and printed brochure, but also updates and informs the customer of new products and services.

Many small business owners look at that list and hear the cash register in the background of their thoughts going “ka-ching”! The bottom line is once you have your corporate identity package, it’s good for many years, with only occasional, minor updates.

Ask yourself the question larger corporations do: “How much does it cost to leave a bad impression?” We all know the answer to that one: lost business opportunities.