07 September 2009

How to Boost your Business by Developing Bulletproof Trust

The other day, while we were on the phone, a client sent me $500 via PayPal for a series of tech consultations. Toward the end of the call, I noticed that I hadn’t received the money. She thought for sure that she had sent it, but offered straightaway to make the payment again.

I said, “Maybe you want to wait. I mean, what if you’re paying me twice?”

And she said, “Oh, I trust you.”

Which was a really interesting thing to say, given that this was the first time I was speaking to this woman. We had never met in person; she didn’t have my address or phone number; I hadn’t exchanged more than three or four random emails with her. For all intents and purposes, neither of us knew who the other was. But the more I thought about it, this kind of thing happens all the time. Most of my clients never hear my voice. Few have the slightest idea where I live or what my background is, and I’ve only been truly visible online for maybe six months. Yet over and over and over again, people pay me in advance for work they’d like me to do.

It kind of destroys the paradigm of the internet being a skeptical place.

So I thought about it: Why, in a realm where Verisign has to vouch for the security of a website, will customers pay some merchants in full, in advance, without question? Why are some people trusted while others are not? If a man can pose as a woman online, if an adult can pose as a child, if a scam artist can pose as a legit businessperson — then what does it take to make customers feel that a person is true to his or her word?

If you want to conduct business online — if you want to turn passive readers into active customers — you need to find a way to build that kind of bulletproof trust. Here’s how.

1. Be human

If you’re on Twitter and Facebook as “Thermodyne Systems, Inc.,” knock it off and start interacting as yourself. Talk to people online person-to-person rather than business-to-customer. Be funny if you’re funny. Be deep if you’re deep. If it strikes you to write somewhere about your dog or kids, do so. Personally, I write a humor blog that has nothing to do with my area of business. Through that site, people see how I am when I’m not being a tech guy. They see that I’m a person, just like they are.

2. Admit when you don’t know something

People seem to feel a need to appear infallible in business. If a client wants to know X and you know nothing about X, the rule is to tell him about X in as much double-talk as it takes to make it sound plausible. But here’s the thing: Nobody is perfect, so infallibility always comes across as phony. But if you buck that trend — if you’re truthful when you don’t know an answer — readers will begin to trust your honesty. Put succinctly: If you’re honest when you don’t know the answer, people will believe that you’re being honest you when you do.

3. Interact with readers in public

When readers comment on your blog, respond to those comments. Get the “Subscribe to Comments” plug-in so that commenters will know when someone (like you) comments after them. When readers ask questions of you anywhere in public, answer them as fully as you’re able. Interact on Twitter, forums, other blogs, or wherever your readers hang out. You want them to see you as one of the group, not as an untouchable speaker on a high podium.

4. Be responsive in private

It’s amazing how many people thank me for simply responding to emails. One or two people have even given me permission to “blow them off” if I didn’t have the time. You don’t have to send detailed, lengthy replies to everyone who contacts you, but it’s amazing how much goodwill you can engender by being one of the (apparently) few businesspeople who respond to inquiries quickly, thoroughly, and personably.

5. Give away a ton of free information

Writing your blog is a great way to give away your knowledge, but think even deeper. Should you publish a newsletter? Can you answer more personal questions from readers? This may feel like a time drain, and you may even be tempted to charge for time spent giving answers, but tough it out. What you gain in favor and trust from answering gratis will net you far more more than a shortsighted hourly billing mentality. The $500 consulting client I mentioned in the intro? She came to me because months ago, I helped someone she liked, without billing that person a dime.

6. Tell customers what’s in it for you

There’s a big debate around whether you should disclose affiliate links on your blog. Personally, I love disclosing them. I love any opportunity to open my books, to show readers exactly where my money is coming from. Why? Because many of my services are inexpensive, and can remain so because part of “what’s in it for me” is an affiliate commission. I could hide that, but then customers would wonder how I could set up a blog for only $39. Are the blogs of poor quality? What’s the catch? By revealing my sources of income, I remove those suspicions and show customers that I have no hidden motives.

7. Genuinely, honestly, truthfully look for the win-win

Be careful on this one. Everyone gives lip service to the idea of a “win-win,” but most people are really trying only to benefit themselves. I never, never, never steer clients toward something I feel they don’t need. I will actually steer them away from a sale I think won’t benefit them. But — and here’s the rub — I can’t count the number of times one of those people have come back, given me more business, and told their friends about me because we both “won” in our interaction.

8. Establish social proof

Buyers want to know that other people have purchased before them and have been satisfied. Your goal should be to create raving fans — customers who can’t say enough good things about you. Solicit testimonials. Ask satisfied customers to refer their friends. And if you can swing it, try to write for (or otherwise associate with) well-trusted websites and personalities. You’re judged by the company you keep, and association with trusted people allows some of that trust to rub off on you. My business ratcheted up when I started writing for, and again after I had a few posts on sites like Problogger and Copyblogger. Intentionally or not, authority sites give at least a little bit of tacit approval to everyone who appears on them.

If you want to do business online, you have to know your stuff. You have to be credible. You have to be good at what you do. But without trust, you’ll never make it. So, how trustworthy are you? The answer may well make or break your business.

1 comment:

alaJoAnn said...

I especially appreciate points 6 and 7. It is smart to reveal "what is in it for you" because people intuitively know that everyone needs to receive something of benefit from any interaction. This is what honest business is about. From a psychological perspective, only win-win relationships can be healthy.