Keeping trust means speaking and acting in ways that support a firm belief in your reliability, truth, ability, and strength. Trust is an essential element to establishing and maintaining a business relationship, either at a personal or organization level.

Building, Borrowing, and Keeping Trust

Entrepreneurs are comfortable being measured by the results they have delivered, which serves them well because meeting commitments is essential to building trust. Trust is built slowly over repeated interactions when entrepreneurs deliver time and again, the results that they promised. Entrepreneurs and startups also build trust when both individuals and businesses live up to their stated values with their actions.

Entrepreneurs like to be efficient with their time. This desire can work against building trust with prospects so that they become customers, because effective communication takes time and patience. This same desire for efficiency can lead to overuse of automated methods for communications like web forms and mass email. While this automation saves the startup team time, but can make them appear impersonal and distant–and therefore less trustworthy.

Building TrustBuilding Trust

Maintaining good standing in the professional world is less about personality and likability, and more about authenticity and predictability. Don’t start building trust with a “how do I get people to like me?” perspective–although it’s a good idea not to antagonize people. Likability may play a large role in business relationships if you are selling a commodity: they can get it from many people, so why not someone they like. In most situations, the performance of the product or service makes a bigger impact than individual personality.

Borrowing TrustBorrowing Trust

“In my early twenties this idea was impressed upon me. I had been doing newspaper work, and as a reporter for a leading daily I was usually received promptly and affably by mayors, bankers, manufacturers, actors, United States Senators, and even presidents of the United States.

I quit my newspaper work and called on a few friends of my newspaper days. I was not insulted when I presented myself, but I was not offered cigars with quite the same alacrity as in my newspaper days.

[…] most of us in our working hours are like actors. The power and dignity and age and good repute of the corporations for which we work clothes us, and adds to our effectiveness and acceptance by those whom we serve and who serve us.”

William Feather in “A Jolt” collected in his “The Business of Life”

Many entrepreneurs get a jolt in their new venture when they discover that their credibility with strangers, which was once freely granted by virtue of their employee, must now be earned one painstaking step at a time. They must make and meet commitments so that they prove their reliability and the value of their word.

If they fell into bad habits, if they leveraged their employees brand and reputation and were not strict about meeting commitments, then it’s an even harder climb. I had a conversation with a sales guy a few years ago who had left a large company to work for a small firm. He confessed that when he worked for the established firm, he did not have to worry about honoring his promises to follow up and call people back. The product was in high demand, so prospects would follow up. Instead of uncovering opportunities and enabling sales, he had become a speed bump that slowed and deterred sales. In the small firm prospects stopped calling and customers disengaged when they realized he was not reliable. It was a candid and painful admission. He was not logging every commitment, taking care when he made one, and acting diligently to follow through and deliver.

You are trustworthy to the extent that your actions are predictable and your words align with your actions. This means that you follow through on your commitments. In the same way we don’t casually loan strangers our credit cards, or hand them blank checks, you need to be very careful about what exactly you are promising, and who you allow to make commitments on behalf of the company.

Keeping TrustKeeping Trust

Trust takes time to develop but can be lost very quickly. Worse, people don’t tell you when they view you as unreliable or untrustworthy. Trust requires mutual respect. Don’t say anything behind a customer’s back, whether criticism or name-calling, that you would not be willing to say to their face. Because sooner or later, it will get back to them and affect their attitude toward you. In the interim, it will infect your attitude toward them.

If you mislead, lie to, or take advantage of someone, they will find out at some point. From then on, they will be significantly less likely to help you or do business with you. If you–or your product–fail to meet your commitments–then customers may very well decide to do business with someone else. But they probably won’t mention anything until they’ve found an alternative. If it’s a sales situation, then the prospect may stop responding.

Another aspect of trustworthiness is being committed to creating value for the customer. You have to be committed to win-win solutions. Making money at the expense of your customers’ happiness is not good business. It’s not a win-win. And it’s not something that’s going to build trust and lasting business relationships you can rely on.

The best way to check on trust is to ask for feedback. Ask customers where they feel you delivered value, and where they feel you could improve. Fair warning: if somebody has no complaints whatsoever, they might not care enough to tell you how to improve, or they might just be waiting to swap you out. The key is to focus on constructive criticism.

Finally, keeping trust means respecting an appropriate level of respect and confidentiality. If you’re helping my business, and consequently learn a lot about how I operate my service or product, I’m going to assume that you will treat that information as confidential. And it would be a terrible move to violate that trust and share in-house secrets.

SKMurphy Can Help

Office Hours ButtonIt’s essential to understand all three types of business assets you will need to succeed: financial, intellectual, and social. Trust is the currency of social capital. Contact us for an office hours session to help you evaluate how current and potential business processes are impacting how trustworthy prospects and customers find your startup.

Related Blog Posts

Working Capital Series

  1. A Primer on Business Assets for High Technology Startups
  2. A Practical Introduction to Financial Capital for Bootstrappers
  3. Basics of Intellectual Property for Bootstrappers
  4. A Practical Introduction to Intellectual Capital For Bootstrappers
  5. A Practical Introduction to Social Capital for Bootstrappers
  6. Building, Borrowing, and Keeping Trust
  7. Taking Stock of Your Business Assets
  8. How to Leverage Current Business Assets For Growth
  9. A Holistic Approach to Launching a Bootstrapped Startup

Image Credit: “Social Network”, “Conversation”, and Execution (Gears) images (c) SKMurphy, Inc. 2020; all rights reserved.