It’s not easy being the new business on the block, which is why building your credibility needs to be an early priority. For small businesses, your first customers are extremely important to building that credibility. According to research conducted by McKinsey, up to 50 percent of purchasing decisions are influenced by word of mouth. Credibility is necessary for finding customers, and retaining it is essential for keeping them and getting them to spread the word.
How can you build credibility and keep it? Here are five tips to get you started:
Give your business a focus
Don’t try to be everything to everyone, especially when you are just starting out. Instead find a specialty that you know inside and out. Then, once you’ve built a customer base, and begin to show traction, you can slowly expand your offerings. Think of a company like Amazon who started off just selling books. As they gained credibility, and a following, they were able to branch out to selling CDs and movies. Today, they sell everything from classic books to vegan mayonnaise.
Build a web presence
These days, if you can’t be found on the internet, you don’t exist. Claim your domain name (preferably your company’s name, or something equally memorable if your company name is too long, or difficult to spell plus .com, .net or .biz) as soon as possible, and create a home page that shows your company logo, address, hours and brief descriptions of your product or service. (Also don’t forget contact info such as email or a phone number—you want potential customers to be able to reach you!) Remember, your website sets the tone for your business, so make sure it represents your brand.
If you want to continue to build your online presence, and showcase your expertise, establish a blog and create accounts on social media outlets such as Facebook, Twitter, Foursquare, or Pinterest. Be sure to maintain the tone you’ve already established with your website. You don’t want to have a dry Twitter account if your Facebook page and website are light-hearted and whimsical. Finally, make sure that you are updating each property regularly. You never want your web presence to look stale or out-of-date.
Get to know the people in your industry
Networking isn’t just good for your career; it’s good for your business! Cultivate relationships with the movers and shakers in your industry. Be on the lookout for events and conferences in your field. If you are in the B2B industry, set up meetings with the type of clients you hope to serve. If you are more B2C, make sure you’re attending local events and looking for opportunities to help others. Customers like to put a face with a business. Credibility is not just about the quality of the product or services your business delivers, but the relationships you are able to build as a businessperson.
Build customer relationships.
Customer service is so important to the survival of any small business, but customer service doesn’t end when the customer leaves your store. Look for reviews of your business on review sites such as Yelp, Glassdoor, the Better Business Bureau, and on social networking sites. As you discover any potentially negative feedback, work to resolve customer problems and identify areas for improvement. While it might be tempting to respond to unfair online comments with negativity, be sure to keep any interaction positive or neutral; you never know who might be reading what you have to say. Finally, be open to dialogue and constructive criticism, but never make promises you can’t keep.
Present yourself as an expert in your field (but only if you are an expert)
As a small business owner, you are expected to be an expert in your field. But when you’re starting out, you have to remember that there is a learning curve that comes with being an entrepreneur. From time to time, you’ll probably encounter questions you can’t answer. Instead of offering up a bogus answer, present yourself with confidence, as any expert would, and let the customer know you want to look into their question before responding. Be yourself – impress them with what you know, not what you think you know.
For more useful tips on getting your venture started the right way, check out JumpStart’s helpful Entrepreneur Toolkit. And don’t forget to sign up for JumpStart for Entrepreneurs, our monthly newsletter giving you more helpful advice along with local success stories and lists of local funding/networking opportunities.