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Earning trust in business

Thursday, 13 December 2007 — by

There are no short cuts to making people trust you for your words or your deeds. 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 your tone of 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 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 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.

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.

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 by way of their 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 with some strong anchor text 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…

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Comment and be known


Krister Gustafsson → Friday, 14 December 2007 @ 2:23 BDT

Agreed. In addition, it is important to get across that you are not just a talker, but are able to maintain commitments, even those you hint. Regular communication and its promptness shows reliability as well. It sounds so simple, but social networking provides many traps for less experienced entrepreneurs during conversations. Friends can make excellent clients.

Wayne Smallman → Friday, 14 December 2007 @ 10:49 BDT

The key problem with social networking is keeping track of the various conversations we either start or get involved in.

If we fail to follow up on a conversation, people may interpret that as us being disrespectful or rude, when in actual, we probably just forgot!

Krister Gustafsson → Friday, 14 December 2007 @ 15:59 BDT

That’s funny, and mistakes usually are in hindsight. Interesting implementation of testimonials by the way.

David Bradley → Friday, 14 December 2007 @ 21:43 BDT

There’s an interesting discussion about trust going on at http://www.johntp.com a techie blogger’s blog blogging site I frequent. He asked whether anyone would, should, or could fake their feedcount. Obviously, faking anything online is harder than faking it in the boudoir, there’s always someone who will sniff out the fraud and expose the fraudster. I suppose the immoral may get away with it a few times but once word spreads that someone is not to be trusted then dealing with them will become as moot a point as responding with full bank details, driving license number, birthday, and mother’s maiden name to one of those fellows from Nigeria with all those millions of dollars under their proverbial mattress.

db

David Bradley → Saturday, 15 December 2007 @ 9:59 BDT

Wayne, there’s a whole post in the “keeping up with web 2.0 conversations” idea and the forgetting to tweet back, face up, or pownce on someone. You and I have probably experienced this as we converse via comments, Skype, email, facebook, pownce and every other known non-verbal method known to webkind. A plugin that threaded everything together would be sooooo cool, tie it in with a universal login and you’re on to a winner. Email of Skype me if you want to discuss this further ;-) Or, maybe we should meet down the pub!

db

Krister Gustafsson → Saturday, 15 December 2007 @ 10:50 BDT

David, such a plugin would make work and play so much easier. Great idea.

Wayne Smallman → Saturday, 15 December 2007 @ 19:21 BDT

Hi guys, I’ve got an idea for a WordPress Plugin in mind, one that I rather cryptically didn’t explain to David earlier last week.

To begin with, I want to develop a threaded a commenting Plugin for my ‘blog, which will allow people to reply to specific comments, a la forums.

That’s just for starters. Beyond that, I have an idea which would ultimately hook into a Facebook application…

Jason Slater → Wednesday, 19 December 2007 @ 17:42 BDT

This is an interesting article Wayne – certainly in my mind it holds true that “people buy into people first” – I have experienced this time and time again in business.

Also, as a Blogger I think one of the biggest challenges is earning trust with a new and returning reader which can only really be achieved by consistently conveying positive human aspects of your personality – as well as providing great content! All this using a medium which is primarily text based.

Jas.
http://www.jasonslater.co.uk

David Bradley → Wednesday, 19 December 2007 @ 21:07 BDT

Another point about trust is being discussed elsewhere on the point of whether to include a mugshot with one’s blog…

Any thoughts. I have a photo on my resume page at Sciencebase.com and occasionally hotlink a personal photo in articles such as my recent vainglorious effort on personal branding, but should we all be showing our faces or keeping well out of the limelight?

db

Wayne Smallman → Wednesday, 19 December 2007 @ 21:41 BDT

Hi Jason, David!

For me personally, the points you both make are helped by being ‘visible’, with things like photographs, as an example.

It’s all very basic in a way, but people can relate to you better if they can create a mental picture of you in their mind.

I love to infuse my articles with anecdotes, analogies and asides. They’re a great way of communicating dry and difficult material in a simple and easy-to-understand way…

David Bradley → Wednesday, 19 December 2007 @ 23:34 BDT

Anecdotes with photographic evidence would definitely be the DBs

db

Adam → Monday, 17 March 2008 @ 11:09 BDT

Thanks for the article, it gave me more importance to factor to success in business…

Wayne Smallman → Monday, 17 March 2008 @ 11:41 BDT

Hi Adam, glad you like the article. All the best…

Sorry Comments are close. Quite possibly for a good reason. Share your thoughts on some of my other posts or contact me directly.

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