The Importance of Reputation in Business: If You Have Nothing Nice to Say…

My dad doesn’t have a website, or any kind of digital presence really, which I find strange given that he has a business. This is advice that goes against just about anything I would tell a client myself. In the digital age, not having some kind of social media or web-based presence is akin to walking into a job interview without a resume. And naked.

I learned what a bad client is before I learned what a bad boyfriend was. My dad has been in business for himself for several decades, as a roof consultant in northern New Jersey. But there’s a slight difference between my father’s business and mine, outside of the fact that he’s been around since long before the late nineties internet explosion, and that my work doesn’t involve ladders (usually). When it comes to marketing, he doesn’t do any: his business is built entirely upon referrals and word of mouth. Old school, I say.

But it poses a really interesting perspective around operating a small or micro business in today’s economy, and the importance of establishing and maintaining a positive, credible, reputation in your industry. Think about it – what good are even the most innovative and viral marketing tactics if… people don’t like you?

A few weeks back we were “talking shop” and my dad shared an interesting story that got me thinking about the importance of relationship marketing and reputation building. He got called in for a new job by someone who was a potential new client, but also a guy he had run into occasionally in his career, and had some acquaintance with. The client wanted an estimate on some roof damage, and then wanted to meet my dad in person to discuss the proposal – not entirely uncommon. On his way into the meeting, he recognized a competitor of his walking out the door from what was probably the same meeting he was about to walk into. “Hey Pete, how are you?” and the two “colleagues” cordially acknowledge one another.

After my dad gave his presentation and was wrapping up on his way out the door, the client asked him, “Hey Mike, by the way – what do you think of Pete?” referring to my dad’s competitor, who had met with the client right before. My dad replied,

“Well, Pete has a good reputation in the industry, and I’m sure he’ll do a great job for you if you hire him.”

The client smiled, and my dad left.

Why endorse your competition, Dad? I wouldn’t go so far as to say they were testing him, but had that been the case, he passed brilliantly. Demonstrating an obvious respect for another competitor not only showed that he possessed the utmost professionalism, but that he was confident enough in his own reputation that he didn’t feel the need to downplay someone else’s credibility in order to win the job. The client hire him an hour later.

I myself am a huge believer in the importance of maintaining positive relationships and a reputation of credibility. So a few weeks later I decided to test that theory, and use my dad’s example for myself. I got an inquiry from a new client asking if I, or someone I knew, offered a particular service that he was looking for. It was certainly within my consulting capabilities, but it was also an area that a colleague of mine particularly specializes in. While I wanted to win his business, I decided to err on the side of being honest and forthcoming about that information (as I believe it is important to be always – not just as an experiment).

“I can certainly help you with that,” I responded, “But if you’d prefer to speak with someone who specializes in that particular area, I’d be happy to put you in contact with my colleague Rachel as well.”

I ended up getting the job, even though my colleague may be slightly the more expert in that particular niche. It’s no secret that I go above and beyond on a regular basis for my clients – it’s just how I prefer to run my business. It’s not a sales pitch, it’s simply the fact that I have a business model based largely upon the ideology of creating positive user experiences. And as a result, clients come back to work with me, and they refer others in return.

And my business has grown exponentially this year, a significant piece of that due primarily to referrals and repeat business. Sure, I’m a business at the end of the day and my goal is to make a living doing the work that I do, and that I enjoy. But nobody wants to invest in or work with someone who’s in it to make a quick buck, or worse- shortcut their way to winning the business by nay-saying their competition. If you’re better than your competitor, don’t be afraid to clearly communicate your unique value in a professional manner, and the client will come to that decision. If they don’t, perhaps they weren’t the right customer for you. But from an accountability perspective, great customer service, honesty, confidence and transparency go a long way. You should have the utmost confidence in what you do, and your ability to service your audience, otherwise you should be rethinking your entrepreneurial approach.

In any industry, particularly one with a high-level of competition, reputation is of the utmost importance, and it’s a marketing channel of its own. Don’t underestimate the value, reach and impact of word of mouth marketing – it can make or break your business. My dad will tell you that. He’d probably say it in on his website. If he had one.


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