How can small businesses build their reputation when they’re just starting out?
A business’s brand encompasses lots of different things.
It’s a logo, colour scheme and mission statement; but it’s also the way you act, the way you treat customers and the standard of your service.
That’s where needing a good reputation comes in. If you don’t do any of those things, well it’ll have a direct impact on your brand.
“In order for anyone to build a personal or business brand, their target audience members must trust them, and trust is cultivated over time – not in an instant,” says branding expert Sammy Blindell, founder of How To Build A Brand.
“Sometimes that trust isn’t developed first hand; it’s referred by friends and family members, using a brand’s reputation. Reputation is the reason a brand can be trusted. It’s the proof that consumers need to make solid buying decisions.”
Reputation forms the basis of what customers identify with when they think of a brand, says founder of A Marr & Associates marketing and media relations agency, Frank Marr.
If your brand has a reputation for being steady, reliable and honest, it’s likely to get customers who value those things. Similarly, if your brand has a reputation for being fun, youthful and lighthearted, you’re likely to get those customers too. You can position your reputation so it best reflects your product and the values of the customers you want to attract.
“Reputation is what creates a brand culture that customers can identify with,” he says.
“For example, an outdoor hiking brand needs to relate to a certain ‘outdoor audience’, so by managing its reputation theme, it is able to relate to people who enjoy the activity.
“Organisations build their reputations around the types of customers they wish to attract. Businesses can be publicised directly to the audience they want to target. For example, a luxury brand is less likely to target tabloids than broadsheets, whereas a mass-consumer product is likely to target tabloids due to their larger audience and the lower spending of readers.”
Ensuring you and your business have a good reputation is essential to building a strong brand, especially when you’re just starting out and your business is tied up in your personal brand. As the saying goes, people buy from people, so you need to make sure that people trust you and want to buy from you.
Business owners increasingly need to give audiences a glimpse into their personal lives says Sammy Blindell, and make sure their customers know they’re relatable and approachable.
“Consumers have grown suspicious of faceless conglomerates,” she says.
“Instead they want to build business relationships with real people with personalities and values they can relate to.”
Sara Tye is founder of redheadPR. Building a personal brand starts immediately, says Sara, so if you haven’t started you’ve got a bit of catching up to do.
“I was building my own brand from the day I started work.
“What I wore, how I carried myself and how I acted were all linked to this. It was long before we had mobile phones or social media – business in those days was done via landline phones or in face-to-face meetings.
“Now, we do the same amount of work, but through multiple channels.”
Making sure you’re always on social media doesn’t have to be time consuming says Sara, and depending on your industry it might be essential. “I work in the media industry, so I have to demonstrate best practice.”
Building a personal brand and reputation is all about telling a story and conveying the right messages to customers and stakeholders.
“Keeping yourself in the media helps to build your personal profile and enhance your website’s ranking in search engines. It also helps customers and your other stakeholders understand you and what you do. It’s about building a story.”
Building trust in your brand is difficult to do but it helps build your reputation as an expert in your industry and provides a solid base for your business.
Samantha Mercer runs bridal makeup and hair styling business The Dollz. She recently branched into wedding and party styling, and says that building up a strong and reliable reputation has been one of the most important things in her line of work.
“Brides-to-be rely on us to turn up on the biggest day of their life!
“Social media has been one of my biggest achievements. As our work is very visual it’s perfect for online, especially Instagram.”
In today’s digital-first world, social media plays a huge part in building your brand – both personal and business – and in building a good reputation. A presence on social media is essential, but some people may be wary about sharing too much of their lives or businesses in the pursuit of ‘thought leader’ status.
Rebecca Lees runs communications and PR agency Chatterbox Comms. She thinks that building a good reputation on social media is all about balance.
“I think one of the biggest mistakes people make is blurring business with the personal,” she says.
“You’ve got to be really strict about what goes on your personal Facebook page as opposed to your business Facebook page. A lot of people blur the two and you must decide that you’re going to separate them.
“It’s a balance of not being scared to talk about yourself and the things you’ve done, without giving too much of your personal life away.”
From acquisition to loyalty
Frank Marr emphasises that reputation not only gains customers – it ensures brand loyalty too.
When a company doesn’t maintain its reputation – if something happens, such as a scandal or drop in service, then customers will leave the brand and try another company.
Marr says: “Reputation management also ensures brands maintain loyalty to their customers. Should a brand be tarnished or have a small crisis, reacting with a strategic response can ensure consumers are not put off by a brand.