As a startup, attracting opportunity to Influence & Co. was extremely difficult. We were a content marketing company operating on a national level from Columbia, Missouri.
That’s right: Columbia, Missouri.
I can’t count how many times I had to repeat that to people who thought they’d misheard me. That detail is now something that helps us stand out in a sea of lookalikes in big cities like New York City and Los Angeles, where dozens of media and marketing companies emerge every day.
It takes a long time to build a reputation that people not only respect, but are also familiar with. At this point, there’s not a day that goes by when an opportunity of some sort doesn’t come to me simply by virtue of someone familiar with our reputation wanting to partner with us or work with us. It’s a much easier way to drum up business than the early days of hustling to the point of exhaustion just to get somebody on the phone.
I’ve learned that developing a solid reputation that drives opportunity your way requires three things besides hard work.
1. Be honest, and do your absolute best to set expectations.
Years ago, I spoke to a home builder in Columbia, MO about constructing my home. The owner, Russ Anderson, was crystal clear with me. He said that with homebuilding, there are three things that are important: speed, quality, and price.
He then said, “I can only do two out of the three really well, but you can’t have all three.” That stuck with me. Other homebuilders promised that they could change my world and give me everything I wanted. Russ was the only one who was real with me about what I could expect. What he said made sense: You sometimes have to wait on subcontractors who take a little longer but do high-quality work at a good price.
I ended up being extremely happy with the service I received. It wasn’t a flawless process, but Russ was honest with me. I had friends who went with different builders who’d promised them the world, and their expectations were completely undershot. Since then, Russ has (unsurprisingly) become one of the premier homebuilders in Missouri. He taught me years ago that expectations are everything — don’t sacrifice long-term success for short wins.
2. Ask yourself, “Am I OK with this becoming a public story?”
Regardless of how excellent their services or products are, businesses encounter upset customers. That’s why customer service is an essential part of any successful business. However, having good customer service doesn’t mean that you just do anything somebody demands because he’s angry.
When I’m brought into a tough situation in the office, I try to ask myself, “Would I be OK with this being covered in a major newspaper?” or “Would I even tell this story to the people closest to me?” In other words, do I want people knowing how we handled this situation? “Nobody will ever find out about this” is a dangerous thought for leaders to indulge. It’s important to cultivate a fair approach, no matter what situation you’re in, so a public story about how you handled a situation isn’t devastating to your reputation.
Recently, one of our bigger partners recommended a client. From the start, this client was challenging at every step. Our team tried to work with the client each time a problem came up. In the end, it was just too much, and the client threatened to smear our reputation. As I dealt with the situation and communicated with our partner about it, I thought, “Treat the client fairly, and you’ll be OK with anyone being told about this.” This reminder keeps me grounded and prevents me from letting emotions get in the way of being professional.
3. Own the content in your space to become a trusted source of information.
Reputation is about trust. Does someone trust that hiring you will be the right decision? If you’ve read my book “Top of Mind,” you know that I truly believe one of the best ways to earn trust is by helping others.
However, your own capacity sometimes limits how much you can help people. There are only so many times I can get on the phone with a contact and provide information that really makes a difference. To overcome these limitations, you have to scale knowledge. By committing to being the source of information in your industry who values delivering more success to your customers, you’re able to spark trust.
That doesn’t mean you only give people information about your product. What’s valuable to them? Use IDEA communication to determine how you can offer information that identifies patterns, provides data, offers insights, or simply makes others laugh. Realizing that people have needs beyond your services makes them more likely to think of you — and trust you’re the best choice.
Simply put, if someone feels you’re trying to help him make better decisions or maximize the value of a trend in your industry, he won’t think of you as a self-interested salesperson. Go beyond a transactional relationship to establish a personal connection — you’ll turn each person into a brand advocate and build a strong reputation that will draw new opportunities to your door.