When your business is brand new, how do you go about building your reputation? Ultimately, the same steps apply for a brand new business the same as one that has been around for a long time.
How can you show reputation when you haven’t had customers yet? Are you wondering if this is the chicken or the egg kind of question? There is less of a conundrum than you might think. Really, when you break it all down, the same steps apply for a brand new business the same as one that has been around for a long time. If you are new, let’s make sure you set yourself up well from the beginning. If your business is more established, stick around because there is a lot to consider.
You could start with massive (and sometimes costly) advertising. Most often these advertisements include a special irresistible offer. This gets attention for sure. However, you could run the risk of being locked into that low special-offer pricing. Try raising your rates and customers who previously associated your reputation with that low price could now be disappointed. There are better ways to go. The first step is to present yourself and business well. Then you build your reputation from the bottom-up and the top-down.
Your image and presence should be clean and professional. This goes for your website, your store/office location, and even you. This can be done with a simple approach. Your website doesn’t need to win awards. I can’t stress enough to keep everything professional.
Use a professional email address. Show with every written interaction that you take your business seriously. Make sure any business cards or printed material related to you and your business is professional. You need to look professional.
“Even if you’re on a limited budget, you can still maintain a professional appearance, both virtually and in person. If you’re not much of a designer, consider hiring one to create a consistent visual style for your business. Apply it consistently across your printed and digital materials. Proofread all your written materials thoroughly. Check your website regularly for broken links, display glitches, and so on. Dress well — not necessarily formally, but stick to classic styling, make sure your clothes fit well, and be sure they’re pressed or steamed to remove wrinkles. Pay attention to your grooming and personal hygiene.” –Scott Allen, Director, Client Solutions, Momentum Factor
Communicate clearly and confidently. Communicate clearly both online and in person. When someone asks you “What do you do for a living?” answer simply and with confidence. “I design home offices.” My answer to that will be, “Great! Give me your card. I am redesigning my home office right now and I’m looking to hire a professional to help me.” Or the experience could go the other not-so-good way: “What do you do for a living?” You: “Well, I’d like to design home offices, but I don’t have any clients yet. I think I’m going to do it but I’m not sure. I think I’d be really good, but I’m not sure how to begin.” My response to this would be, “That sounds interesting. Good luck with that. I’ll talk with you later.” (Example from Marie Forleo.)
Which response do you want? Prepare yourself for it. Be ready every time.
Highlight your experience and knowledge. If you aren’t yet, get certified in any kind of certification your industry offers. Put your experience and training on your website About page. A good shout out can pull weight for your reputation.
“Does your industry offer any kind of certification? Getting certified provides third-party validation of your capabilities, and it demonstrates your commitment to professional development. Display your certifications in your office, on your website, on your business cards, and even in your advertising.” –American Express Small Business
The last advice for you personally is to be ready for every situation. When you are preparing to meet someone face to face, be sure you have their cell number so you can contact them if you are delayed. Make sure your own cell phone is fully charged. Take a paper and pen for notes during the meeting. Carry lots of business cards. Make sure your gas tank is full and you know exactly where you’re going. Leave earlier than you think you need to. Do your homework on them beforehand when you are preparing for calls with new contacts. Read their blog, social media posts and LinkedIn to get to know them as well as you can.
By saying “bottom-up”, we mean what you can do to build your reputation from the ground floor. These are the things you can do with your clients, customers and the people who know them.
Networking is a critical task. But that doesn’t mean you have to approach strangers via cold-calls or bombard all your friends and family to give you all their contacts either. Instead, offer yourself to speak. Public speaking? Did you read that right? Absolutely. There are many groups, service clubs, and other organizations that are constantly in need of interesting speakers. Look for the “educational angle on your business and find a way to make it entertaining.” (Allen) Identify the groups that have a high concentration of your target customers – or people who influence them (ie, “influencers”) – such as parents or retirees.
“If you’re not comfortable with public speaking, join Toastmasters International — it’s a great, low-cost way to develop and practice your speaking skills. Be methodical and speak at every opportunity. Get good at it and you may even develop a new income stream for your business.” – Scott Allen
There is more to the bottom-up building that you can do. It will take hustle and work. Get involved locally. If your business isn’t all local, it’s still a valuable thing to do. Any face-to-face interaction you can get will strengthen relationships that lead to opportunities you simply can’t get online.
Online networking has it’s own benefits, too. You can search profiles, establish links to your website, and do this all on your own time. Your profile on LinkedIn needs to be up to date, straightforward and inviting. Connect with your friends and past business associates. Connect yourself on as many sites as you can maintain interaction on. Keep in mind that if you only publish your own content on social media, it isn’t networking. That’s just a talking head. You’ve got to have conversations that lead to relationships with others.
“Relationships are built on communication, not just electronic links and automatic notifications.” – Open Forum
Become a member of the Better Business Bureau and the local Chamber of Commerce. Connecting yourself to 2nd party verifiers can be reassuring to potential customers. It can also demonstrate your commitment to professionalism.
Want to really stand out from the crowd? Network better than most people do by doing one simple task: Follow up consistently with the people you talk to. Make notes on business cards you receive to keep track of any commitments you make. For example, you may have promised to make an introduction, send them an article, or refer them to a website. After you meet new people, follow up within 2-3 business days. Be consistently dependable.
One way to demonstrate your depth of experience to a large number of people is by writing.
“There are plenty of places to publish your work… Local newspapers and magazines are always looking for fresh content from local sources. If you can get published online, you’ll usually get a link back to your website in your byline. Keep your articles informative, not promotional, and relevant to the readership of the publication you’re pitching to.” –Scott Allen
Make your contributions press-worthy. Pitch to local press. Find popular bloggers who serve your target demographic. Ask them to write about you, or write some pieces and ask for them to feature them on their blog. Many appreciate having someone else provide relevant and informative content.
Once you get published, put those fancy logos on your media page! Logos impress people. The association with a credible company builds your reputation.
Reputation is the currency of business. It is built from one thing, and that is happy customers. Strive to consistently provide product quality, great value, good prices and friendly service. Good business reputation grows from presenting yourself and your business well, and then hustling every way you can to establish relationships from the bottom-up and the top-down. Are you ready to start? If you have been around for a while, how is your business reputation holding up?