I’m a code monkey by trade. Software development pays my mortgage.
I’m also–and separately–a small business owner and have been for years. I’ve actually got several side-hustles going, but only one of them is formal, organized, and incorporated as an LLC. A few years ago, a friend and I decided to go into business together, got certified by the state and start making some extra money.
I have recently discovered that two of the government agencies related to our business have been referring students to us. When our customers call the certifying organization, they are–at least some of the time–recommending us over nearly 200 of our competitors. You can’t buy that kind of marketing. At least, I hope you can’t.
How did that happen? How did two faceless bureaucracies decide that we were the company to recommend?
People talk. Over the last few years, we have worked to make sure people want to say nice things about us. What did we do?
1. We never lie. Our business is training. If one of our students asks a question I can’t answer, I admit it and promise to find the answer. Then, after class, I find the answer and email it to everyone.
2. We are reliable. If we schedule a class and just one person shows up, we hold the class. We have had classes with two instructors and one student. Our hourly rate sucked those days, but the students loved the attention and sent us business afterward. I’d never cancel if even one person is planning to be there.
3. We give it away. We give a lot away. If our customers have questions before or after class, we answer them. I spend time on related forums answering questions. Veterans take our class at cost. I try to give away at least as much value as I get paid for.
Now, this sounds like a sales page, but it’s not. I’m not mentioning the name of my company or even the industry, just so nobody thinks I’m trying to drum up business.
We have dropped a crazy amount of time and effort into building our reputation. With a firm foundation of knowledge and the 3 items I mentioned above, a good reputation is easy to build. A bad reputation is even easier. It’s been said that a happy customer will tell 1 person about his experience, while an unhappy customer will tell 100. Repairing the damage from the unhappy customer is much more expensive than just doing it right the first time.
Building a good reputation is absolutely critical for a successful business. Be ethical, honest, and helpful. Always be there when you say you will be, and try to give away as much as possible without actually hurting yourself. People will talk, so don’t give them a chance to say bad things without being liars themselves.
Reputation isn’t everything. You also need knowledge, marketing, and a product. Without a good reputation, however, the rest doesn’t matter.