When most people think about business reputation, they think about the reputation of the business itself. But a business cannot really have a reputation. No, the reputation is set by the people within the business, and the example starts with you.
It does not matter if you’re the CEO of a Fortune 500 company or a one man band, your personal reputation can’t help but be synonymous with your company’s reputation. Now here is the tricky part. Most people understand that you have to be polite, helpful, and courteous to your customers. This really goes without saying, so pretend I did not even mention it. What we really need to examine is our reputation with our employees, service providers, vendors, and even other businesses and professionals.
For example, it always amazes me when I see a business owner treat a salesperson (simply trying to do their job) with disgust, disrespect, or even just indifference. Back in 2011, when I was first getting started, I had a potential client literally cuss me out after seeing the cost of the proposal he asked me for. This was not even a lead that I sought – he came to me. I quickly voided the proposal and politely told the not-so-gentlemen that I would not be doing business with him. This was a guy trying to start a new business in town, trying to create a reputation.
The really funny (sad) thing is that he came to me because he knew how well connected I was in town. Imagine that. I don’t think it ever occurred to him that whether we did business together or not, what I thought about his business mattered to his success. Not because I am all powerful and decide who succeeds and who fails in Boise, Idaho (though that would be kind of fun!): the reason his response was so important was that showed his true character. You can be assured that I was not the only one he was talking to like that and, sure enough, he was oddly never able to get off the ground. Instead of building bridges, he burned them and stranded himself on the wrong side of the river.
Another example was a failing business that I took over many years ago. The original owner was very polite to his customers and had a great product, but he could not keep employees around for more than a week or two. Further investigation showed that he treated his employees very poorly. He did not pay well, he belittled them, and had impossible expectations. Long story short, after a year of going through college student after college student, his business had a reputation for being a bad place to work. More than that, dozens of college kids (his primary clientele) were running around town saying how bad the place was. Business dried up quickly.
The moral of both these stories is that everyone you encounter, an employee, a vexing vendor, an annoying salesperson, are all vital to your businesses success. The way that you are known for treating these people will define your true reputation. Don’t forget that everyone you meet could become your greatest ally or your worst enemy. Always strive to make allies.