Despite the complex interconnections and technical innovations of our modern global economy, most of our daily business transactions and interactions are ultimately based on something old and simple: trust.

Buyers trust sellers to sell them a quality product and to keep their promises. Sellers (especially B2B sellers) trust buyers to pay their bills.

Sure, we have contracts and lawyers and government regulations to ensure a fair playing field and protect everyone’s interests. And it’s prudent for every business owner to incorporate using LLC business structures or other corporate structures to protect our personal assets.

But once you start a business, you quickly learn that the biggest part of every business transaction is still a simple matter of trust between two people: I trust you to do what you said you would do, and you trust me to uphold my end of the deal.

Trustworthiness is one of the cheapest and most effective tools for small business marketing. When people trust you, they are more likely to buy from you – and to tell their friends to buy from you.

How can businesses improve their credibility and build trust with customers? Here are some ideas:

  • Keep your promises: Small business owners need to be vigilant about keeping their promises, and only making promises that they intend to keep. Do you offer your customers “guaranteed” levels of service, quality or on-time delivery? Do you tell your clients, “I’ll deliver the work to you by next Monday afternoon?” Make sure you back up your words with your actions. And don’t let your business get over-extended or bogged down with work that’s the wrong fit for what you do. If you don’t have the capacity to fulfill a new order or to serve a new client, you need to find ways to respectfully decline. It’s better to miss out on a sale than take on the wrong customer or the wrong project.
  • Don’t get “too big to succeed.” Is your business growing too fast? It’s natural for a business to change and evolve as the company gets bigger, but be careful not to grow so fast that you lose touch with your customers. Make sure that even as your business grows, you are able to keep creating a high standard of customer service and a high level of product quality. Nothing loses trust faster than a situation where customers start to feel like, “I don’t know this company anymore,” or “It used to be so much better/friendlier/more reliable/more personable.”
  • Build trust into your customer experience. Consider how your overall customer experience creates (or undermines) feelings of trust. After all, trust works both ways: if you have a retail store, do you really want to include metal detectors/scanners at the front doors to prevent shoplifting? Do you really want surveillance cameras visible on the walls of your restaurant? Do you demand that all of your customers, even your most loyal and reliable customers, have to pay in advance every time? Sure, you might save some money by preventing shoplifting, theft and late payments, but are you ultimately damaging your company’s trust factor by telling customers “we don’t trust you?”

Building trust with customers is a constant process. It’s more than just the words you say; it’s integrated into everything your company does: the way you hire employees, the way you train and promote people, the way you handle customer complaints and problems when they arise.

Coming soon: Part 2 of how to build trust to improve your small business marketing.