Thursday, 8 September 2011

How To Improve Your Business Reputation

If you don't say what you mean or mean what you say, it stands to reason that little, if anything, that you say will intrinsically make any sense. In a volatile job market, the quality of integrity makes all the difference to clients and employers.

Janus the double-minded
Double minded - or forked tongue?

It's been quiet for me lately, with a few maintenance jobs coming in from existing clients but little in the way of new commissions. Having complained about potential clients who seem enthusiastic at first, then cool off, I've been talking to my friends about this and it seems I'm not the only one who is going through this. But what can you do about it?

5. Ask for feedback effectively

It's common to see mini-surveys on websites asking what people think. When Richard and I were at Housesteads, we were collared by an English Heritage rep for feedback on a survey that went on and on and on — I'm sure I'm not the only one who hates doing surveys so I don't recommend them unless they're really short or there's a chance of winning a prize or something. I've got methods of contact up the wazoo, including a linked email address, a contact form and live chat, but it's rare that I actually get feedback from them.

I usually find out by myself if there are timeouts or I've made a typo somewhere because random strangers just don't like to rock up and announce that there's an error on your site or it just doesn't appeal to them visually. The best person to ask about your website or other work is someone with a critical eye whom you trust to give advice on best practice. I turned to Linda Mickleburgh at SHV Training and North West Business Link because they're professionals best placed to know the impact of my design choices on potential clients.

4. Act immediately on advice

I came across an old email exchange when cleaning up my business email address. In it, I was discussing the advantages and disadvantages of putting my contact details at the top, and had dismissed the idea as being aesthetically displeasing. When the lady pointed out that most people don't like to dig for information, I realised that she was right and sorted it out straight away. The drop-down CSS menu was Linda's idea. She likes to get an idea of what is on each web page and uses drop-down menus for that. I ended up changing the layout of my website to factor that in.

3. Be honest about your abilities

I've had to turn a few jobs down because I'm either not qualified, I lack experience or I work in a different way to that which is required of me. Lacking Photoshop, Illustrator or Dreamweaver, I use hand-coding, Kompozer and Gimp to get my work done — with lovely results. What if I tried to blag my way through anyway? I'd be found out sooner or later. That's why I make it clear from the outset who I am and how I work. That way I save myself — and everybody else — a great deal of time and trouble.

2. Give ballpark figures

People like to know how much things will cost. There's a reason I don't charge by the hour -- I could price myself out of the market if I did. The quality of work I can produce for a HTML website with eye-catching features such as fading slideshows, rounded corners and gradient backgrounds is worth at least £200 and that's my basic fee for a four-page website with a contact form. It takes about two days to get the basic structure online and the best part of a week to complete the job to the client's specifications. This is because clients aren't always happy with the first draft and like to make changes while the work is in progress. What really takes up time, though, is image-smoothing and hand-coding. When you consider that initial consultation is free and I advise on SEO and social media as a matter of course, it's an excellent deal.

1. Let your yes be yes and your no, no

I don't like to spend my life not taking other people seriously. Generally speaking, if someone says they'll do something I expect them to do it. When they don't, I give up and move on. The thing is, when you do that to other people, that's exactly what they think of you -- it's the kiss of death to business. If you say you will do something, do it straight away or tell the client when to expect it to be done. If you can't do something, tell the client you can't do it and point them in the right direction. If you're going away, give notice to your regulars so they know you're not available. If you lie, be sure that you will eventually be found out: it's better by far to tell the truth — it makes you look better in the long run. And whatever you do, be as reliable and trustworthy as you possibly can because that is what gets people's attention: they want to deal with someone they can trust.

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