But in our increasingly web-connected world, business owners tend to think only in terms of online reputation – what customers and prospects are saying on Yelp, Facebook, Twitter or other in other social media.

What sometimes gets lost is that your online reputation is an extension of your reputation in the real world – a kind of baseline business reputation that starts with delivering a great product or service. It takes place across all touch points you have with customers and prospects.

Social media is not a shortcut to reputation riches. Sure, reputations can soar – or sink – rapidly online. But for most small and local firms, reputation is something earned over time.  

Key elements of reputation-building that business owners most frequently cite include the human qualities of integrity, honesty, reliability and exceeding expectations. In addition, building trust and a good reputation requires that the business delivers good quality products and services, along with good value.

Here are nine ways to bolster your baseline business reputation:

  1. Build bottom-up credibility. Start by delivering what you promise. And the best way to do that is to first under-promise, and then over-deliver. A sure-fire reputation buster is to make claims or promises that aren’t met – in your advertising, in person, by your employees or in the hours you post but don’t keep. This means vastly more than posting a plaque on your window, wall or website touting membership in the local chamber of commerce, Better Business Bureau or your professional association.
  2. Deliver some R&R – as in Responsiveness and Reliability. To develop a good reputation for responsiveness, be a stickler for communication and resolve complaints quickly. If there’s a mistake or delay, own up to it and make extra 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. At the same time your baseline reputation benefits.   
  3. Offer exceptional value. Customers and clients 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 discounts and special perks to loyal customers.
  4. Provide something unexpected. Offering giveaways or free samples can be a good reputation-building tactic. And paying attention to details – making sure a product is spotless on delivery, for example – scores big reputation points.
  5. Be privacy sensitive. In addition to guarding sensitive information (credit card data, for example) and honoring permission-based mailing and email lists, this also means providing a discrete area to discuss financial or other sensitive matters, such as medical issues at a drug store.  
  6. Demonstrate tech proficiency. A business that uses antiquated technology will have a reputation as being, well, antiquated. These days, being tech and internet savvy is critical to being perceived as competent and capable as a business. Keep your computers, mobile devices, printers, email and voicemail systems, software, websites and social media pages up to date. 
  7. Communicate selectively and effectively. Keep letters, emails and voicemails short, to the point, professional and productive. Use correct spelling and always leave contact information, even if you think the recipient has it. Make sure your company information – full name, address, phone, website URL, toll free number, hours and other vital information – is displayed in prominent locations.
  8. Make your website polished and professional.  A clean, up-to-date, professional looking website is absolutely vital today, regardless of the type or size business you have. It doesn’t need to be big or fancy, but it does need to be accurate, up to date and optimized for mobile.
  9. Do community service. A little selfless generosity toward local organizations or your community goes a long way toward helping building trust and a positive reputation.
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