Earning trust in business

There are no short cuts to making people trust you for your words or your deeds, and even less so in the business world. And on the web, trust is a hard-earned currency.

I single out the web because unless you’ve got a video connection, no one can see your expressions, hear the tone of your voice, see your gestures or the movement of your eyes — all of which are strong indicators of sincerity. Without those face-to-face guides, trust takes that much longer to earn.

In a recent article exploring a Google Labs experiment, I had this to say about the value of trust on the web:

“It is inevitable that trust will be the number one currency on the web. Trust is more easily given than it is bought. The more people who trust something or someone, the more value is given, which will therefore (most likely) attract more trust and amass more value.”

And trust as a currency — while being free from exchange rates — is often difficult to sell but earns some excellent interest.

Ways to earn trust in business

As a business owner, certain things have become clearer to me over the years. One of them is that people buy into people long before they buy into your products or services.

That’s why I enjoy meeting people face-to-face. This is my chance to make the most of my personal brand, that ‘brand’ being me!

I use my enthusiasm as a conduit for my business knowledge to show people that I care about what they do and how I might be able to make things better for them and their business.

For the impartial yet interested visitor coming to your website or ‘blog, they want to feel that you’re a person they can trust. They want to be able to use you and your services, while at the same time be confident that you’ll still be around the day after they’ve paid you.

They don’t want hidden costs, dodgy business practices or shoddy workmanship. They want demonstrable evidence of you being good enough for them to spend good money with, and that you’ll be around to support their present and future needs.

In short, they want to feel that they can trust you. But how do you convey all of your worthy and commendable values via the web, or from within a social network?

Testimonials

There’s just no substitute for a good referral, so word-of-mouth recommendations are still the top means of getting yourself known.

Word-of-mouth recommendations are by far the most cost-effective means of marketing, and only works because you were good enough to be recommended in the first place. And if you’re within a close-knit social network, there’s every chance this vocal referral will have an echo effect — being heard by many more businesses along the way.

If you have very satisfied customers and you’re sure they would have no problem singing your praises, then ask them for a testimonial. Ideally, this testimonial would come on company letterhead, written in hand, and signed personally — but that’s just an ideal!

Extending this ideal scenario further, maybe adding in a photograph of the aforementioned very satisfied customer along with their testimonial on your website will add that essential sense of trust. Additionally, getting your client to link to your website or ‘blog is even better.

Placement is also key. Some people might want to place all of their testimonials on one page, but I try to encourage my clients to place their testimonials within the web pages of a product or service that the testimonial relates to, assuming that’s the case.

Case Studies

So your customer is happy with their little lot. You’ve got paid, so you’re happy with your little lot, too. You look back on the job and realize that as well as learning some new things, you also managed to improve on many fronts — you hit the budget, breezed the deadline and managed to give your customer that little bit more than they’d asked for. I’d say that’s got the makings of a Case Study!

Put simply, a Case Study is a working, living documentary, evidencing your good work and the satisfaction of your customer. Ideally, a Case Study should be no more than a thousand words and should consist of four parts:

  1. A summary of what was achieved, typically entitled as benefits in the form of bullet points. They should match the prior objectives of the company, and be implied in numerical form (ex. increased 20%)
  2. A description of the project, the aims, the stakeholders and the particulars of the project.
  3. A summary of what was achieved, typically entitled as benefits in the form of bullet points.
  4. A conclusion, with supplementary links to the customers website and other related resources.

Why not add in a testimonial, right in the conclusion? Also, add in some photography, or maybe a picture of the client logo, their premises — something that’s going to add some visual interest. Also, if appropriate, link to the page on your website that relates to the products or services you supplied to the client.

Case Studies can be quite authoritative content for your website. So by adding in some strong words and phrases that relate very specifically to you, your customer and both your businesses, the search engines will make the most of that authority.

Standards, professional memberships and associations

Next time you’re given a business card from someone, look at the end of their name. Chances are, you’ll spot a bunch of letters.

If I wanted to, I could write my name as: Wayne Smallman ND, HND, Ba(hons). But for the most part, Wayne Smallman gets me by just fine!

When you see stuff like this, you’re given some vital information — that this individual had a formal education that resulted in a recognized qualification. So that’s years of studious education put to good use. If they providing a service to you, you’re probably going to benefit from their knowledge in some way.

If your business is ISO rated for example, or if you’re a British-based business and you’re an Investor in People, then your business has a valued, recognized accreditation that will open doors. In the case of the ISO 9001 rating, this means you have formal procedures in place that govern certain aspects of your business practices.

As for Investors in People: “Developed in 1990 by a partnership of leading businesses and national organisations, the Standard helps organisations to improve performance and realise objectives through the management and development of their people.”

In both instances, you have a wealth of trust that ought to be made a key feature of the benefits of using your business. Be sure to get the proper permission to make these associations and memberships known. Get the proper logos and add them into the relevant web pages and printed stationary.

It is easy to forget or underestimate the value of your “organic knowledge”, and your qualifications and accreditations are an integral part of that invaluable, ever-growing resource.

Trust as a value-added part of your business

By making the most of your qualifications, your accreditations, your more-than-happy client base, your professional associations, memberships and your processes & procedures, you have all of the ingredients to build a formidable series of Unique Selling Propositions, all of which will mature into a valuable and transferable store of trust.

So make the most of the respect your clients give to you every time they come back for more. Trust me — you’ll do just fine.

This article was first published on Octane’s sister blog, Blah, Blah! Technology, in an article entitled: “Earning trust in business


The perception of business success

As business people, it’s surprisingly easy to forget the very things that make you money day in, day out. I call this “Organic Knowledge” — you know that you know these things, but you either forget or fail to see the importance of what you know. So the perception is, you feel you know less than you should and hardly ever feel as though you know enough.

And this is where perception plays a hugely important role in things. First of all, it’s probably as well that you don’t feel that you know enough. This way, you remain competitive and you’re likely to want to stay on top of things.

In business, there’s always one more mountain to climb

I have a habit of helping people. I often use analogies to pull down the negative perceptions people might have of themselves and their businesses.

One such analogy was that of a friend cast as a mountaineer. Here is a self-imposed challenge, one of conquering one mountain after another.

In business, each new project you undertake can seem like a mountain to climb. Planning is essential, and as the project progresses, resources can become more rarified, the chances of failure often increase and the further you go and the more difficult things become, the less likely it is that if you struggle, someone will be there able to help. But that that’s not always the case and it doesn’t have to be that way.

Depending on how long you’ve been in business, you could have conquered many a mountain! But despite your experience, you’ll keep making the same mistakes along the way. This is sometimes attributable to being reactive rather than proactive, which is a precarious ledge to be on.

Admiring the view your business affords you

As I said, planning is essential for many reasons. First of all, good planning will afford you the time to stop and take a breather. Here’s your chance to take a more holistic view of what you’ve achieved, not just within the scope of your current challenge, but over all.

From where you’re standing, if you happen to look up, all you’re going to see is a distant peak, towering above you. But if you take the time to look back over your shoulder, you’ll surely see a chain of mountains snaking away from you, each one conquered and done with.

“So what did I learn from my previous challenges?” That’s the question you need to be asking yourself. What organic knowledge did you bring to your current project, and what new knowledge did you pick up along the way?

How you manage your known and recently acquired knowledge is up to you. But it’s essential that you have some method of managing and extracting this knowledge.

At some point, you’re either going to struggle or fail. But there’s value in failure, too. Smart people perform an autopsy on the dead project. They tease open the remains and look for tell-tail signs of the cause of death. Knowing how you fail could well help you insulate your business from future failures.

Regaling others with stories of business adventures

As is often the case, you will find yourself at some business gathering, function or networking event. As you move around, speaking with various people, there’s one question no businessman or businesswoman can hope to avoid: “So, what is that you do?” Or words to that affect.

If you can’t answer this question without thinking about it, there’s a chance you’re not clear about a lot of other things about your business, too.

“I help people make money from the Web. I help people work over the Web. I help people measure what they’re doing on the Web.”

There’s a ton of other stuff behind that simple response, of course, but that’s the cool thing about a well-worded reply — you encourage the person asking the question to ask even more questions about you, your business and what you do.

So understanding the full breadth & depth of your organic knowledge will pay dividends in the long run.

Knowing me, knowing you

Figuring out what it is that you know, or what you’re good at is often pretty difficult to pin down. You will often dismiss out of hand certain things as being boring, or two simple to really count. So in these situations, why not ask friends, colleagues, other business contacts or even clients what they think you’re good at.

Of course, be careful how you word such questions — maybe dress the question up as some kind of customer satisfaction survey, which might uncover even more valuable information. But that’s a topic in itself, well outside the remit of this discussion.

What you’ll get back might just surprise you.

So in the end, your biggest challenge might be one of self discovery. But if you approach this one challenge with the right mind set, it might be more of a mole hill than a mountain.

This article was first published on Octane’s sister blog, Blah, Blah! Technology, in an article entitled: “The perception of business success


So you think you’re ready to run your own business?

Running your own business isn’t easy. It’s a life-changing commitment that requires a great deal of your time. But the possible rewards can often vastly out-weigh the trials, troubles and tribulations you’ll encounter along the way.

Before embarking on this perilous and exciting journey, you must first perform a very honest appraisal of yourself by asking the following questions:

Are you able to work on your own?

Unless you’re in a partnership of some description, then you’re on your own. This can be hardest aspect to face for most people.

Almost every decision you make will be your own. There’s no passing the buck because the buck stops with you!

Are you stubborn and determined?

Either directly or indirectly, people are going to get in your way. They’re either competing head-on with you, or you’re dealing with people who’re making your life hard in some way.

In addition, you could be working towards fulfilling an agenda or part of a business strategy which is proving harder than you first imagined.

If you’re not both stubborn and determined, then failure is close at hand, unless you’ve got sheer blind luck on your side. But I wouldn’t put too much faith in some positive happenstance or oodles of good fortune coming your way — hope and luck aren’t anything like a plan.

There’s no substitute for getting your head down and working hard. So don’t ever plan around luck. Plan for failure but hope for the best. That way, you’ll encounter few surprises that you can’t deal with.

Do you believe you’ve got what it takes?

If you don’t believe completely in what you’re doing, how can you expect anyone else to?

You must exude desire, have an appetite for success and the will to succeed in the face of stiff and concerted opposition and competition.

Can you deal with stress?

Along the way, you’re going to have your patience tested to the limit. Be that from an awkward client, an obstructive supplier or a recalcitrant member of staff .. or even the computer in front of you when it’s on the blink!

For most, a daily diet of stress is something they simply cannot stomach, while others salivate at the prospect. Which one are you? If you’re the former, you’re going to struggle, while if you’re the latter, then you’re on the right path.

Can you remain focused?

What with stress, work pressures, company politics and sometimes out of sheer boredom, you will lose focus. How do you refocus? Can you refocus? Can you remain focused with all of those daily distractions around you?

From time to time, we all lose focus, but it’s how quickly we find that focus again and how long we hold onto it which is a key ingredient in avoiding needless and often costly business mistakes.

Are you a life learner?

Remember when you passed your driving test? Assuming that you did, that license entitles you to two things: to drive and to continue to learn to drive. As with life, your business and your role in your business is closely linked to living and learning.

To embrace success and avoid the yawning jaws of defeat, you must keep moving, and moving in a direction that distances you from your competitors. Renew your skills and maintain clear blue waters between your business competitors and yourself.

Don’t neglect your “Organic Knowledge”, which is all of your education and training, that sometimes, we just take for granted, and fail to see the true value of. Use your knowledge and experience to the full.

Are you pragmatist, optimist, pessimist or a realist?

From time to time, as your business evolves, you’ll be a bit of all four. Sometimes, you’ll be up in the air, jumping around with ideas and exploring new avenues and new business possibilities with the energy of a teenager.

However, there are times when you’ll sit there staring out of the window with a blank expression, wondering just what the hell you’re going to do next.

Then there’s the workman-like you. Unfazed by the heavy load, you plow on in a methodical, deliberate and efficient manner.

How you manage these phases is essential. However, each phase has a cautionary tale to tell:

Too much enthusiasm and optimism can steer you dangerously off course and force you to expend valuable energy, resources and time along the way.

Too many saturnine moments and you’ll find yourself in the Doldrums, not able to find the trade winds that are the life blood of your business.

Then having your head down, micromanaging every detail might have you running too close to shore and in danger of foundering, because you didn’t see the bigger picture coming towards you.

Strike a balance. Learn to deal with those things that perturb you and look to mix & match your tasks to avoid getting stuck in a rut.

Can you manage the tasks at hand?

It’s all good and well having work coming to your door, but unless you can manage those projects, keep track of where you are with them and where other people are too, then you may find some projects withering and wasting away, maybe even forcing you to lose a customer in the process.

The solution? Get a pen, a sheet of paper and make a list! List those things To Do. You might even rank them, give them some tactile weighting so that you know how important or how urgent those tasks are. You might even want to jot down the names of the people involved in those tasks, too.

Whatever your routine, the trick is to stick to it. If others are to participate, then find some standard way of managing those lists that everyone else can understand.

There’s no value in having the most amazing way of managing your day-to-day work load if no one else can understand what on Earth you’re going on about!

Can you be relied upon and trusted?

I imagine most people think that they can be trusted and relied upon, but that’s not always the case. Even if your intentions are good, your schedule, your personal life or even your colander-like memory can step in and wreak havoc.

When working for your customers, any excuse is usually no excuse at all. Let these guys down and they’ll find another supplier. Let your staff down and you could be doing interviews all week instead of working on the next big thing.

Stay focused, make a note of your promises and damn well keep them!

When you’re down, can you pick yourself up?

You might think I’ve talked about this before, but this is quite different.

Are you precious about what it is that you do? That’s to say: if someone criticizes your work, can you deal with that criticism?

If you cannot justify yourself and your work, then you’ve not thought things through as thoroughly as you should have.

If your client can give you one good reason why they think that you’re wrong, then you have to give them five excellent reasons why you know that you are right.

This isn’t really about compromising, this is about thinking beyond your needs, your own desires and sensibilities and being objective, focused and having a clarity of vision that will pay dividends over time.

Can you be a diplomat?

Losing your cool isn’t going to do you or your business any favours. Similarly, not observing the sometimes delicate political sensibilities of clients can cause friction.

As well as being a business person, you have to be a diplomat, one who’s prepared to discuss rather than dictate.

No, this isn’t about total capitulation. It’s about planning long-term, striking a balance and keeping the right people on your side.

Are you prepared to say no?

Sometimes, saying no to a client can seem like saying goodbye. Trust me, this isn’t the case.

However, simply saying no isn’t good enough, you must provide evidence of why you think your client has either got something wrong, or not seen what you’ve seen.

Make a good case for your argument and your client will respect you and learn to trust your judgment.

Can you survive the famine after the feast?

In lean times, you’re going to have to make do. At times like this, you need to be proactive rather than reactive and delve right into business development and draw in new work.

Go through your client list, think of what you were doing for them last, maybe there’s something that needs updating. Call those clients, ask them if everything is OK.

Find something that might be in need of a change or an update, supply a quote, a plan of action and work towards a meeting with them.

Plan for the hard times, set funds aside, look for trends and seasonality in what you do and be ready.

Can you go the distance?

In business, there is no finishing line. This is the long race.

You need stamina and the capacity to move beyond the “wall”, when you’re running on empty and the goal in sight seems to be moving away from you, or the outstretched arm of a competitor seems closer than your own.

Dig deep, get your breathing right, strike a rhythm and hold the pace.

Can you be professional?

Being a professional is about combining all of the above. Much like the best and most well-loved sports stars, professionalism doesn’t end when you’re not performing.

You are your business, and professionalism doesn’t stop just because you’re not in the office, or it’s outside business hours.

Are you scared?

You should be. Failure is much closer to you than success. Running a business is a huge undertaking, even more so when there are people relying on you for their livelihoods. Feed on the fear, repurpose that emotion into the stuff that fuels you.

What’s the name of your fear? Well, that’s easy! Fear has many names, most of which are the same names as your competitors.

However, you can make success your name, but only if you try hard enough!

This article was first published on Octane’s sister blog, Blah, Blah! Technology, in an article entitled: “Are you ready to run your own business?


Know your business through “Organic Knowledge”

So you think you know all about yourself and your business, right? Wrong! I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve helped a business owner rediscover what I call their “Organic Knowledge”.

As the years roll by, your business matures and your successes are as a direct result of your experiences, be they good or bad. Thing is, as much as you rely on this know-how and experience, chances are, if I asked you to name all the reasons I should choose your company over someone else’s, you’d struggle.

Some of you are probably shaking your heads very hard, reeling off one key benefit and USP after another.

No, I’m talking about the kind of stuff you’d put in your CV or resume. And as a business owner, being totally unemployable after all these years, you’ve probably forgotten all of those really clever things you’ve learned, even though you make use of some of them every single day.

Rediscovering all of these choice morsels of business know-how is essential, this “Organic Knowledge” gets learned then cast to the back of your mind, because we do these things as a matter of course, mostly without thought, mechanically, almost.

The reason I call this “Organic Knowledge” is because it’s the stuff we learn naturally as we progress through our professional lives. Well, it’s time to recycle that business knowledge and make it all work for you!

The trick is writing them all down and then, as if they were dots on a sheet of paper, joining them together in new and innovative ways. By finding new ways of doing old things, you could very well re-energize your business.

It’s not hard to do, you just have to be aware of the things you do on a daily basis, think about how you started out, where you learned those things and then add them to the list!

If there’s a team of you, this can very well be a process of discovery — uncovering things about each other you never new. As an added bonus, there are some very serious considerations for your future marketing efforts, too.

The more you know about yourself, the more you know about your business and what you and your business can offer to your clients…