Building credibility (part 2)

24 08 2007

Part 1 was looking at you as an individual. This one focuses on the corporation.

In the first years:

* Look after your image.

Business cards at “1000 for 20$” may be practical and cheap but they don’t speak much for you. Logo, stationary, envelopes and flyers must be well thought out. If you do not have the means of developing them with a pro, hire a college student studying in graphic design: they will help you to translate into “images” your business personality.

* Credibility by association!

Find a mentor, an adviser, a supplier, ready to support you publicly, better, to invest time and money in your small company. These associations can take several forms.

A satisfied customer will not hesitate to recommend to you. Ask for a testimonial. Get their permission to use it your advertising. Integrate them into your Web site or your newsletter. If they ask you to write it yourself (you will be surprised how often that will happen) ask them some questions:

Why you chose us ?

Are we fun and easy to deal with ?

Anything special in the way we treated you as a client ?

Anything special in the way we solved the problem ?

How do we compare with your previous supplier/solution etc. ?

* Volunteering

In certain cases, volunteering is another way of proving your worth. A friend of mine, Robert Astell, had hardly left law school when he got to plead a case in the most important courts of the country because he had offered his services to a charity organization who couldn’t afford the normal fees. This expertise enabled him to obtain good customers more quickly than he thought he would.

* With customers

Don’t bad mouth anyone. Don’t complain in front of a customer or a supplier: that gives out a very bad image and people will not want to be associated someone like you.

Your youth is like an ace at Black Jack. Learn how to gauge if it is an advantage or not.

Accepting a challenging project can force you to learn but don’t fool yourself, you won’t be able to get your credibility up if you can’t do it.

It is normal to be a little less expensive when you are the new kid on the block but don’t cut your rate. It will only attract clients that want to pay less and less. They will always be looking for the bargain not for quality work. To stay in the game, don’t charge all of your time. That way you’ll still be competitive without giving the impression you are cheap. If you play the slash the prices game, not only will you harm your credibility; you know the old saying you pay for what you get. Basically, always under promise to/and over deliver…

* On the Web

It’s not the Eldorado anymore but it still is an enormous source of opportunity. See Killer startups or Techcrunch for you to give you an idea of how it is still active. A computer and a high speed connection are enough to start. Watch for my next post on a 17 y.o. girl with no specific expertise that rakes in from 50 to thousand dollars a month, mainly on AdSense revenues!!!

On the other hand, the level of mistrust is extremely high. If you want to inspire trust, here some basic rules.

* Be transparent:

  • Make information easy to find on your site: your name, addresses, phone numbers and people to contact.
  • Your purchase policies and payments informations
  • How information given by your customers will be used (or not used).
  • Share your knowledge
  • Have your own domain name, with a secure server.

* Be constant:

  • Do not change the terms of the guarantee once it is on line.
  • Respect your delivery schedule.
  • Answer quickly any questions put on your site.

* With the investors

Obtain the support of a financial analyst With investors you better stick to the facts and really know your competition. Strike the expression “my financial forecast is very conservative ” from your vocabulary. After having read more than a thousand business plans and following up, I can say to you that, in reality, the “conservative forecast” will be the one you’ll be busting your a.. to reach!

Never forget: YOU don’t need a scandal to lose your credibility! To falsify some of the facts or to hide your true financial situation, to change your mind half-way thru a deal, to turn away on what was agreed upon, not taking your responsibilities, to make a promise and not deliver on it, are the small shortcuts that a young start-up could be inclined to take. Resist, because a bad reputation is very, very, difficult to change…





Building credibility (part 1)

22 08 2007

“What is the common point between the financial scandals of Enron, World COM and Arthur Andersen and the small company thatyou want to launch or the one you already have?”

Trust

The mistrust of people. People don’t forgive and forget easily these days and with the phenomenon of social bookmarking and Web 2.0, the news is propagated even more quickly.

If it is difficult for a large corporation to regain credibility (even with important PR spinsters working for them), imagine for you!

If you believe that you don’t have anything to lose because you’re a small entity, you are wrong! The world is a small place and information circulates quickly.

How to avoid errors building your credibility

Remember, it is as long to build as it is fast to crumble…think about those castles made with playing cards.

In part one, I’ll focus on you. On part two, we will focus on your company.

1. Appearance, The look.

OK, being an entrepreneur makes you a little rebel. That reassures you because you are not the “suit and tie”…type

However, unless you are dealing only with other young people of your age, you will be confronted with the prejudices of the others, the “old” crowd. Moreover, if you are a young company, there are no reasons to trust you, especially in the “goods and service industry” where the “human” factor is so important.

If you want to sell, do not give the other party a chance to say “no” even before negociations have started.

Some details can make all the difference like a good quality watch, polished shoes, and a nice pen. In short, it is necessary for you to have “style and personality”. However, remain coherent! If you operate in an artistic sector, adopt an artistic flair.

Likewise if you are in the business planning stage. One of the visusally saddest business plans I have seen was given to me by a graphic designer… Difficult for me to believe in its chances to succeed. The same thing for an accountant who had made errors in his financial plan! Even if I’m not a business plan fan anymore, they are still widely used. Even if you use other form of venture presentation, the same principle applies;you are what you project.

2. Adopt a positive attitude.

Out of the gate, you are full of energy, you’ve got everything to prove. Don’t let your eagerness betray you. Learn to “slow down and smell the roses” because you cannot afford to “burn” a contact or a customer at the beginning of your entrepreneur’s “career”.

Show confidence without being arrogant. It’s a fine line but a very important one. It is the difference between inspiring confidence and giving the impression of “bluffing” your way.

You must be even more “on top of things” that the others. Be sure to always be well prepared and take notes on your calls, meeting and networking acquaintances. To help you, personal data processing tools will keep you one step ahead.

Also make sure you to have done your work on your credit history BEFORE negotiating your first contract. The investigations of credit ratings and the like, are frequent at startup times. You could be surprised at the lenght of time a “spot” remains in your personal files when it comes to money.

3. Make your skills known

Attend conferences in your professional field and do not miss the chance to walk up to the microphone, present yourself clearly and ask relevant questions. If you make the audience think, reflect or dwell on what you are saying, you will be noticed. On the other hand, taking the microphone to show off could turn against you.

If someone offers you to give a conference, be generous. The idea is not to provide solutions, which would be too general in any case, but to pinpoint flaws, sow the seeds of doubt in their way of operating and give hints of solutions using real examples, all the time using the least possible technobabble.

Writing an article, even if it is short, will often have a major impact on your credibility as an expert. To have a blog is very useful and can be a powerful credibility building tool. Blogs have become a place of choice for journalists and TV recherchists of specialized programs to find expertise. They are always on the lookout qualified people.

Give your opinion in daily newspapers or in the specialized reviews on your topic of expertise. If a subject is too one-sided, offer to write another point of view on the same subject. if you really beleive in it.
Know the journalists who cover your sphere of activity. Don’t be afraid to call them and give them leads. If they call you back, answer quickly: they have deadlines to respect.