8 ways to build your reputation

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Dear Dan: My business is small, it’s young, and we don’t have much cash to throw at marketing and public relations. Building repeat business is vital, and to me trust and reputation are our two most important assets. Any low-cost ideas?
– Reputation Builder
Dear Reputation Builder: For many small businesses, reputation is everything, because it’s the one area they feel they can beat out even the biggest business without spending a dime.
Most small business owners feel that reputation is something they have to build on their own. In a recent survey of 2,000 biz owners polled by the Web site BizBuySell, three out of four doubted the effectiveness of hiring consultants to improve business reputation.
Business owners also agree that building reputation takes time. It’s a sometimes slow process that takes months or years, and often involves winning customers over one by one.
Here are ways to build reputation:
1. Deliver some R&R – as in responsiveness and reliability. Be a stickler for communication and resolve complaints quickly. If there’s a mistake or delay, own up to it and make every effort to fix the problem quickly. An apology helps too. A complaining customer can become your biggest supporter if the complaint is resolved quickly and effectively.
2. Build bottom-up credibility. You have to start by delivering on what you promise. The best approach is to first under-promise, and then over-deliver.
3. Offer exceptional value. People define value differently, so this can involve many different things. You might, for example, offer free service or product support for a period of time, or offer discounts and special perks to loyal customers. And paying attention to details – making sure a product is spotless on delivery, for example – scores big points.
4. Protect customer privacy. Guard sensitive information (credit card slips, for example) and honor permission-based mailing and e-mail lists.
5. Keep up with technology. A business that uses antiquated tech will have a reputation as being, well, antiquated. Get computers that work, high-speed Internet connections; make sure your voicemail system works properly and is easy to navigate.
6. Communicate effectively. Keep letters, e-mails and voicemails short and to the point. Use correct spelling and always leave contact information, even if you think the recipient has it.
7. Build a professional Web site. A clean, up-to-date, professional-looking site is vital today. It need not be big or fancy, but it does need to be accurate and up to date.
8. Do community service. A little selfless generosity toward local organizations or your community goes a long way.

Daniel Kehrer can be reached at editor@business.com.

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