“Business is about people, and your reputation is built on how you treat people.” – Bruce Rauner
Like most creative entrepreneurs, I had absolutely no idea what I was doing when I launched my business 3 years ago.
I didn’t know how to find clients. I didn’t know what to share about on my blog. I didn’t know any strategies for marketing my business on social media.
Did I need a mailing list? What website platform should I use? How much should I charge for my services? Do I need to set up an LLC? How much should I be setting aside for taxes?
I figured out most of those questions through a process of trial and error.
But there was one word that always laid at the foundation of every decision I made for Elle & Company, and I attribute it to whatever amount of “success” I’ve had over these past few years in business.
It’s a word that’s often overlooked by many business owners, maybe because it seems so simple.
Or those who don’t overlook it often toss it aside and focus on other business strategies and tactics, because it requires patience and endurance.
There’s no instant gratification when you pursue this word.
But I can tell you from experience that it’s worth pursuing and building your business around.
That one word is trust.
Your business will flourish when you focus on building trust with others.
But if you haven’t built trust with your audience or your peers, you won’t have a solid foundation; your business won’t be sustainable long-term.
The most successful entrepreneurs have gotten to where they are because they know they can’t go it alone.
At the heart of it, a business is centered around relationships.
Peers, followers, customers, clients, employees - all of the above have to trust you in order for your business to thrive.
And while it takes time to build trust (I’ll share some practical ways for doing that in just a moment), the hard work of establishing trust will pay dividends in the long run.
Why building trust is crucial
1 | Marketing becomes easier when you focus on trust
I’ll let you in on a little secret: I hate selling my products and services.
The word “sales” conjures up images of a sleazy used car salesman who’s trying to pull one over on me and sell me a piece of junk in order to make a buck.
Selling seems selfish, manipulative and pushy - all words I would rather not associate with my business.
A couple years ago, after spending a half hour on the phone with a prospective design client, my husband, Jake, made a comment that still makes me cringe.
“You’re a really good saleswoman.”
He meant it as a compliment, but I was mortified.
I had just spent the last 30 minutes outlining my design process from start to finish. I explained all that was included in the package, I answered questions and I walked my potential client through the next steps to book her spot in my project calendar.
I wasn’t trying to manipulate her into buying something she didn’t need. Instead, I was being honest and upfront about my offerings and how they would help her. I wanted to do right by her.
And in my effort to build trust with her, I sold her on my services.
This should be a relief to those of you who, like me, have a negative view of sales.
Because when you focus on building trust with potential clients first, you don’t have to be pushy or manipulative in order to sell your products and services; purchasing from you will be an easy decision.
2 | Your client process becomes easier when you focus on trust
Hopefully you’ve never had a client walk all over you.
But if you have, their lack of respect for you most likely boils down to the fact that they don’t trust you.
You either priced yourself too low, displayed a lack of confidence, offered too many exceptions, or failed to set boundaries (all of which shake client trust).
The most glorious words I’ve ever heard during the client process: “Here’s what I have in mind, but please feel free to do whatever you think is best. I completely trust you.”
When clients trust you, they don’t second-guess your decisions. They don’t take over the client process and walk all over you.
Instead, they take to heart what you have to say because they consider you to be the expert.
The client process runs much more smoothly and is much more enjoyable when you focus on building trust first.
3 | Networking becomes easier when you focus on trust
What would your initial reaction be upon receiving this email?
You would probably disregard it as spam and delete it without even thinking twice.
Why? Because this stranger did all the wrong things.
They didn’t take the time to figure out your first name. They wanted something from you before ever connecting with you or getting to know you. And as a result, they don’t seem trustworthy.
Chances are, you probably won’t even take the time to respond to this email, let alone work with this person in the future.
If you don’t trust someone, you won’t work with them, partner with them or spend resources on them.
So in order for someone to want to work with you, partner with you or spend resources on you, you have to earn their trust.
4 | Conversions become easier when you focus on trust
Would you rather:
(A) Follow along with someone who constantly promotes their work and seeks their benefit above yours?
(B) Follow along with someone who has your best interest at heart and constantly provides value?
It’s kind of a no-brainer. You’d choose B, of course.
And you would probably be much more inclined to purchase B’s products and services, too, because they’ve taken the time to build trust with you without asking for anything in return.
They sought your benefit before their own.
Conversions come easily when you focus on trust first and place it at the foundation of your business.
"Contrary to what most people believe, trust is not some soft, illusive quality that you either have or you don’t; rather, trust is a pragmatic, tangible, actionable asset that you can create.” – Stephen Covey
Now, I know what you’re thinking.
“Okay, Lauren. All of this sounds good in theory, but what does this look like in practice?”
I’ll share several tangible ways that you can build trust in just a moment.
But first, a disclaimer: Building trust takes time.
There’s no quick fix or 5 easy steps for this one. The steps I’m about to share aren’t easy and they do take time.
But you have to consider the long-term benefits. I’m with Walter:
“Success is more permanent when you achieve it without destroying your principles.” – Walter Cronkite
I would rather build my business genuinely and experience success long-term rather than build it quickly and see success fizzle out.
How to build trust
1 | Demonstrate your expertise
In order for someone to trust your skills and knowledge in your industry, you have to provide proof.
You have to demonstrate that you’re capable of carrying out the service you’re offering, you have experience, and you know what you’re talking about.
And while proof often takes many different shapes and forms, it often looks like:
- Blogging about industry-related topics and educating your audience
- Sharing recent projects on your social media accounts
- Including testimonials on your website
- Guest posting on prominent websites
- Partnering with well-respected peers
This is often intimidating for those of you who are just starting your business, especially if you don’t feel like an expert in your industry.
But remember that many of your ideal clients and potential customers don’t follow along with all of your industry peers; they aren’t measuring you up against the people you look up to in your industry (they probably don’t even know who those people are!).
So share what you know. Let this challenge you and encourage you to learn more about your field.
"If you can learn something new every day, you can teach something new every day." Martha Stewart
2 | Share transparently
It’s tempting to want to hoard the tips and strategies that have helped you get to where you are.
One of the questions I’m asked most frequently revolves around the topic of sharing too much. Because after all, can’t your competition copy you and keep you from getting business?
Yes, they could. But the truth is that they’ll try to copy you regardless of whether or not you share transparently.
And the trust you’ll gain with potential clients by having open hands with your information will far outweigh the risk of sharing your secrets.
Sharing transparently will also help you stand out from your competition and differentiate your business. You’ll become a trusted resource.
I’ve never - not once - regretted sharing the details of my 2-week client process, the programs I use, how I set up my Squarespace site, etc. The trust I’ve gained with my audience is well worth the risk of others copying me.
Withholding your secrets could be holding you back from a great opportunity to build trust with your audience and grow your business.
This goes hand-in-hand with demonstrating your expertise.
Sharing valuable tips, strategies and practices will validate your credentials and experience in your industry. Potential clients will be less hesitant to work with you because they will see that you know what you're talking about.
I dare you to try it. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised by the outcome.
3 | Value people
“Never lose sight of the fact that the most important yardstick of your success will be how you treat other people.” – Barbara Bush
Think about the most trustworthy people in your life.
Do you trust them because they seek their own interests? Or do you trust them because they always have your best interest at heart?
I’m a big believer in doing right by people.
Not to make a sale or get in good graces with others, but because I’m passionate about loving others well.
For me, this looks like replying to every email, trying my best to reply to every comment and tweet and taking the time to answer questions and point people to helpful resources.
It looks like doing my best work every time, whether it’s writing a blog post, designing a logo or launching a course.
It even looks like sharing transparently (yes, I’m going there again) in order to help other people and benefit them in the long-run.
So while I don’t set out to earn trust by valuing others, trust ends up becoming an outcome. It’s a win-win!
4 | Have explanations for your business decisions
Good business people have explanations for business decisions because they’re strategic. And I’m a big proponent of that - strategy is great.
But I would also encourage you to have explanations for how your business decisions help other people.
A couple months ago, Mariah Coz and Megan Minns invited me on the Femtrepreneur podcast to talk about my Freelance Academy launch (in case you missed it, you can listen to it here!).
In the interview, I discussed why I didn’t offer pricing tiers and some methods I used to help my students follow along with the course.
Some of those decisions may have required more work on my end or would have even been looked down upon by other marketing experts in the industry because I could have earned more money from the launch, but I never wanted to sacrifice the benefit of my students and ultimately sacrifice trust.
So when you’re building your service packages, coming up with a launch strategy, brainstorming content, etc., consider how those decisions not only benefit you, but how they benefit your potential clients and customers.
When you have your audience’s best interest at heart, you’ll earn their trust.
Seth Godin summarizes this best.
“Earn trust, earn trust, earn trust. Then you can worry about the rest.”
You can never go wrong by building your business on a firm foundation of trust. It may take more time and effort on your end, but it will pay dividends in the long run.
How do you focus on building trust with your peers and potential clients? What word lies at the foundation of your business?