GUIDE | 10 MIN READ
5 Small Business Reputation Management Strategies that Work
Simply put, reputation matters. For independent business owners, this statement is more than a mere suggestion. It is a mantra that drives all that you do. The stakes are even higher in the digital age when bad news not only travels fast and far, but lingers longer.
When you transition from traditional employee to independent worker, your reputation and your brand go hand-in-hand. In the words of the esteemed Warren Buffett, “it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” We have witnessed reputation failures of high-profile politicians, sports stars, and other public figures. These failures erode trust and can have a significant impact on your earning ability. Similarly, people with “good” reputations can get jobs and opportunities not afforded to others, simply because of pre-established opinion.
As an independent professional, there is no greater tool than your professional reputation. A good brand identity and online reputation makes people feel good about doing business with you. Conversely, a poor online reputation can close doors and negatively impact your ability to profit in your profession.
In this guide, you will learn
Why reputation is important
Reputation matters. For the solo entrepreneur, this statement is more than a mere suggestion. It is a mantra that drives all that you do. The stakes are even higher in the digital age when bad news not only travels fast and far, but lingers longer.
Reputation, both good and bad, impacts one’s:
- Credibility. Credibility allows one to stand on one’s own prior experience and back up promises with results. A credible individual will fulfill their words and promises with action. A lack of credibility will make it hard for prospective clients to trust you and may even jeopardize your current contracts.
- Referrals. A referral is an endorsement. The company or individual making the referral most often sees that referral as a reflection of his or her own reputation. A negative reputation will make it difficult for people to recommend you to their trusted network of peers, clients, and colleagues
- Word of Mouth. Today, word of your reputation can travel person to person or person to millions, thanks to the internet. While there are steps that you can take to mitigate the damage you see, even more troublesome are the words that you do not hear.
YOUR REPUTATION IS YOUR BRAND
When you transition from traditional employee to independent worker, your reputation and your brand go hand in hand.
In the words of the esteemed Warren Buffett, “it takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.” We have witnessed reputation failures of high profile politicians, sports stars, and other public figures. These failures erode trust and can have a significant impact on your earning ability. Similarly, people with “good” reputations can get jobs and opportunities not afforded to others, simply because of pre-established opinion.
rep-u-ta-tion [rep-yuh-tey-shuh] noun: the estimation in which a person or thing is held, especially by the community or the public generally; repute: a person of good reputation.
What is Reputation Management?
In the past decade, how we connect personally and professionally has dramatically changed. More than ever before, external influences can frame our reputation. Today, even before a face-to-face, or even voice conversation, we turn to Google to do research. This means that your first impression may happen without your direct participation. Even if you primarily do business offline, any discussion of reputation management inevitably includes online management strategies.
Your offline reputation is typically based on the relationships that you have developed with people, including family, friends, work, and associations. Your reputation is a result of who you have presented yourself to be through your words and actions. Those same people, however, may also have a role in framing your online reputation. A peer may tag you in a photo taken at an industry event. A client may post a comment on a review site, or social media platform. Any encounter offline can land online and the big picture contributes to your overall reputation.
THE FIVE D’S OF REPUTATION MANAGEMENT
Now that we know the value of reputation, it is important to develop a reputation management strategy. Personal branding expert, and author of Reputation 360, Lida Citroen, recommends using the Five D’s to manage reputation:
- Discover. It is critical to understand your current reputation. How are you perceived today? What does your brand stand for in the market?
- Desire. What reputation do you want to have? It is important to have a clear description of your desired reputation so that you can design a strategy to bring about your desired results.
- Define your target audience. Citroen rightly emphasizes the importance of knowing and focusing on your target audience. This is the audience that will buy your brand, so you must ensure that your reputation is relevant and compelling to them.
- Design. Take an active role in designing your reputation. Create a strategy that includes your goals and benchmarks. Your strategy should also include channels to promote your brand reputation.
- Deploy. Once you have accomplished the previous steps, it is time to deploy your strategy. Your messaging, communications, image, and body language should all align with your brand strategy. Be consistent and true to your strategy in person and online, and thoughtfully use.
USING TECHNOLOGICAL TOOLS
Technology is a critical asset in assessing, managing, and promoting your reputation. If you use Google Chrome, sign out of your account and then do a search for your name. It is wise to also search for common misspellings and variations. For example, if your name is James, but some call you Jim, search for both. Go beyond the first page of results, as information could be hidden deeper. It is wise to review three to five pages of results.
Take note of what you find or don’t find. Being invisible online also has an impact. Not having a presence on the web can be interpreted as a lack of transparency or authority, or signal that you are not “up to date” with technology.
Actively manage your reputation with technological tools. It is important to monitor both positive and negative mentions. Stay on top of reputation mentions with Google Alerts. Schedule an alert for your name and business name, if different. Include abbreviations and common misspellings. You should also set up alerts for trademarks, copyrights, and employees, if applicable. Google Alerts are free and will deliver alerts to your email inbox immediately, daily, or weekly.
In addition to Google Alerts, you can use other tools such as:
- BrandWatch. Paid tool that monitors brand mentions and specific keywords across several social media platforms.
- BrandsEye. Paid brand management and monitoring tool.
- HowSociable. Free tool with premium options that monitors brand mentions across numerous online platforms.
- Whos Talkin. Helps you find online conversations, images, videos, and other content that is relevant to the keywords you provide.
- Buzz Bundle. Allows you to track brand-related mentions in real time.
MANAGING NEGATIVE INFORMATION
If your assessment turns up negative information, you can take steps to minimize the damage. If you find negative information on page 5 of your search results, it is less of a concern than information on page 1. The key to managing negative information is to balance it with positive feedback. Create positive links to your brand name by using profiles. Create a profile on social networks relevant to your career. These sites include resume sites like LinkedIn, but can also include social networks like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Google+. These sites carry a high authority in search results and can push negative information further down in search results. Be sure to choose a “handle” that matches your name and/or your brand’s name, and create a comprehensive profile that aligns with your desired brand reputation. Each profile should include your name, along with keywords of how people search for you. For example, “James ‘Jim’ Doe is an experienced management consultant who helps small-to- medium sized technology companies with organizational effectiveness.”
PUBLISH OR PERISH
You can also push down negative information by publishing. Create a blog on WordPress, use the “Pulse” feature on LinkedIn, or share content on your own website. This content provides an additional place to link to your online profiles, thereby creating a positive reputation loop.
In addition to your own blog, guest blogging on highly trafficked sites is a great way to amplify your reputation. Review sites in your industry to see if they accept guest posts or articles. You want to seek out highly reputable, well- trafficked sites. Content is at a premium, and you will likely find many opportunities for you to share your knowledge on other sites. Being interviewed is another way to generate positive reputation links.
ASK AND YOU SHALL RECEIVE
If there is a negative post online, you can contact the publisher and ask nicely if they would remove it. Generally speaking, this tactic works best if the information posted online is both negative and inaccurate. Use this tactic carefully, as some will use your request to create more negative press. If a negative mention is from a client, or former client, address the underlying issue. Acknowledging the issue and working toward a positive resolution can go a long way. If you find negative information that is illegal, abusive, or threatening you can report it to the website’s hosting company.
Tip: it is important to not only claim your name but use the services, even if periodically
A strong online management strategy is essential to maintaining a respected reputation, and it starts with your website. Read MBO Partners’ blog, “5 Reasons Why Independent Consultants Need Their Own Websites”, to learn more about why all independent professionals need a strong professional website.
How to Promote your Reputation
A key component of reputation management is promoting your desired reputation. You want to make sure that your good reputation is visible to your desired audience. Below are several tips to help you pump up your presence.
1. BE AMAZING
One of the best ways to promote your brand is to walk the talk. Be passionate about what you deliver best to your clients. Be attentive to every detail from your responsiveness to your invoicing. It is not simply how you perform client work that matters, but your overall client management. There is nothing more powerful than your actions in creating a good brand reputation.
2. ASK FOR TESTIMONIALS
Ask clients, former clients, and colleagues for testimonials about your work. People tend to like what other people like. Positive reviews can go a long way in establishing trust with prospective customers. Include reviews on your own website and in marketing materials. LinkedIn offers a number of tools for reviews, including skill endorsement, recommendations, and reviews. Utilize all of these tools to boost your reputation.
3. DEVELOP A THOUGHT LEADERSHIP PLATFORM
There is no better boost to your reputation than being viewed as a thought leader. There are a number of tactics to help you become known as an expert, including:
- Write a book or ebook
- Teach a course, or seminar. You can also teach online via webinars or podcasts.
- Share presentations on your subject matter using tools like SlideShare
- Speak. Share your expertise with speaking engagements. This is not only a great way to build thought leadership, but drive new client engagements.
4. PROVIDE STATUS UPDATES
Use LinkedIn, Twitter, and/or Facebook to share your expertise. Social media is a great way to share your area of expertise. You can provide an answer to a common problem; share and comment on articles in your area of specialty; and share solutions that you are working on for other clients (without disclosing confidential information). By talking about your profession, people will associate you as an expert in your field, so do not be shy about sharing.
Use social media accounts to:
- Network with others
- Promote your business
- Create awareness of your products and services
5. MARKET YOURSELF
You can take an active role in shaping a strong brand reputation by using marketing channels to communicate to your audience. There are a number of marketing channels that can help you to promote your messaging including direct mail, email, press releases, and online and offline advertising. You cannot always control the external factors that impact reputation, but marketing does allow you to promote your desired reputation message.
Asking can be difficult. We offer 5 tips in our online resource area.
Your reputation is one of your most valuable assets. While you cannot control all external forces that influence reputation, you can proactively cultivate and manage your reputation. Reputation management begins with an awareness of how you are perceived today and how you want to be perceived. Solicit feedback and work to address any deficiencies that contribute to a negative reputation. Don’t allow your reputation to “just happen,” but actively pursue building a strong reputation that represents your brand. No one has a bullet proof reputation. At some point, someone may have a negative opinion. Taking steps to build a strong reputation will enable you to withstand the one-off negative mention or review. You have worked hard to develop your reputation; work equally hard at preserving it.
Take a moment to identify the top five goals you have when assessing your personal brand. What would you like to achieve? Is there anything you learned in this guide that you hadn’t considered before?
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