Five ways to protect your reputation as you grow

You’ve built up a good reputation. You don’t want to lose it.

To achieve good strong profits for the long haul, you need to grow. Win bigger and better projects. Be able to command higher prices.

Unfortunately, as you grow, it can be hard to keep control. If staff are messing up jobs, fixing mistakes can be costly. When work is not done to your standards, it gets stressful, clients get let down, and it’s your reputation on the line.

This is why many business owners get stuck at their current level of income. Or they try it for a while, but then scale back, deciding it's not worth it.

The thing is, running a local business comes down to relationships. Reputation is everything.

Here’s how to protect it:

1: Keep the main thing, the main thing

Consistently delivering a quality outcome for your clients is essential. That’s number one and the best insurance policy for your reputation.

If you build a great experience, customers will share their experience with others.

As you grow, you’re going to have increased costs. To cover this, you need to charge more. You can only charge more if you give the value. Meaning you have to hold yourself to a higher standard of service.

Don’t be the same. Be better. Let your team know that customer service is everyone’s job. Set standards for behaviour. Include things like: punctuality, respecting property, leaving things tidy, polite language, and having a helpful accommodating attitude to customers and other trades onsite.

Keep lines of communication open. Keep customers informed. Use a client portal. Give multiple contact numbers and emails for all team members up the chain, including yours. Sort out problems early on.

Check in with clients at end of the job. Show them what you’ve achieved. Wow them with a thank you gift at handover.

Also, it’s important to manage customer expectations. Make sure they’re realistic and everyone’s on the same page. Explain your process. Educate them around what they’re trying to achieve.

Be honest and transparent. When everything’s out on the table, there are no surprises.

Make sure variations are agreed on and clearly documented so there are no arguments over the bill later.

2: Deliver exactly what you say you will

Quality is the best business plan. But you (and your high standards) can’t be everywhere. It’s vital to start documenting systems, checklists, policies and procedures ASAP.

Everything should go through the system, not through you. Get everything out of your head so there is a benchmark for whether work is up to scratch or not.

Robust systems allow you to: keep your team organised, keep projects on schedule, ensure all resources are available onsite, ensure everything is done right, and minimise mistakes - all while juggling multiple jobs.

Systems will set you free – and keep staff accountable to the same level of care and commitment you have (or close to it).

Remember your team is working within the infrastructure you’ve created. 94% of problems are a result of the system, not the people.1

Reputation comes from consistency. Consistency makes you reliable and easy to deal with.

3: Don’t cut all the ropes

Your employees are out there, representing you and your business every day.

You want them buying into your vision, your standards - and taking responsibility for their part. You also want to create an environment where they perform at their best.

Set them up for success. Make sure they know exactly what's expected of them. Set targets so they stay motivated, on track, and always know if they’re winning. Install a reward system.

Invest in the best tools and equipment to get the job done to the highest possible standard (and boost productivity).

If you look after your staff, they’ll look after your customers. Provide interesting projects. Give recognition for a job well done. Let them in on things that are going on in the company. Provide ongoing training. Put an emphasis on safety.

Put the necessary checks in place so you’re keeping tabs. Check in with your team at regular intervals, especially at critical points in larger jobs. Then you’ll be able to intervene early if the job is going south.

Hold team meetings to ensure everyone’s heading the same way. Touch base often in 1 on 1s. This should ensure you’re well informed of any issues and not blindsided by a call from an irate customer or disgruntled employee ranting on Facebook about his boss that doesn’t care.

Don’t be afraid to move on a staff member with a bad attitude. Deal with it sooner, rather than later.

Staff theft is also not uncommon. Your name can get dragged through the mud if the media gets hold of the story. Your best chance of preventing this is background checks when hiring and keeping careful track of tools/materials so you know if anything goes missing.

4: Stack the odds in your favour

93% of customers are influenced by online reviews.2 Build and manage your online reputation with purpose.

Maintain an active online presence (with a website and Facebook page at the least). Showcase your expertise and talk about what sets you apart from the rest. Explain your quality guarantee. Promote your awards and trade association memberships. Display before and after photos of your best work, and share success stories.

Make it easy for customers to leave a review.

Why not incentivise your team for positive reviews? Reward them anytime their efforts get your company a 5-star review!

Monitor for new reviews and mentions using Google Alerts.

Respond quickly to all comments on the same platform. Always be professional, helpful, polite. If you’re in the wrong, own it, fix it, put things right. This is an opportunity to turn this client into a raving fan. If they’re being unreasonable, a solid humble reply explaining the situation should make this clear to all.

Future clients will read your replies (especially replies to complaints) and formulate an opinion on what you’re like to work with. They’re looking for any hints you'll perform shoddy work, that you’ll be hard to deal with, dishonest, a poor communicator, untidy, or whether you’ll fix things if there’s unforeseen problems.

5: The faster you go, the bigger the mess

82% of businesses fail because of strangled cashflow.3 Don’t try to grow too big too fast. Don’t try to run too many projects at once.

Growing too fast gets you into trouble, hurting your reputation as things quickly spiral out of control.

Suddenly you’ve run out of cash for suppliers, you’re on stop credit, you’ve got no money for wages, and customers are furious you can’t finish the build.

I’ve seen this play out too many times. It comes from not having the strong foundation and infrastructure needed to support your growth.

Remember what’s happening in your business now is the result of what you put in 12 months ago.

Are you thinking strategically, playing the long game, pacing yourself, with a good business model and solid game plan?

You’ve got to watch your numbers like a hawk.

Make sure you have margin in the jobs (there’s no point “growing” if there’s no extra profit). Know which jobs you want and say no to the jobs you don't want. Play to your strengths. As a specialist you’ll be able to build your reputation quicker.

by Daniel Fitzpatrick
Next Level Tradie

Want to set yourself up for success as you grow? Get my free “Next Level Your Profit” here: www.nextleveltradie.co.nz/guide

1. Doug Andrew 2018, https://medium.com/the-mission/whos-to-blame-94-chance-it-s-a-system-failure-not-you-26396b2b3811
2. Laurie Fullerton 2017, https://www.thedrum.com/news/2017/03/27/online-reviews-impact-purchasing-decisions-over-93-consumers-report-suggests
3. Michael Flint 2018, https://www.preferredcfo.com/cash-flow-reason-small-businesses-fail/