There is definitely not a lack of discussion on the challenges small businesses face in today’s highly competitive environment. Type “number one challenge for small business” in Google and you will get about 9.2 billion results. But, all you have to do is ask anyone starting a business or who has an established business and a few common themes rise to the top: staying relevant and growing my business.
It goes without saying, in order to grow you need a mixture of new and returning customers. Small businesses have a distinct advantage when building relationships with customers. These businesses are an integral part of the community and can connect with customers on a more personal level. However, being visible and existing in the community is no longer enough to establish trust in every customer relationship.
Trust has been a buzzword over the last couple of years in the business world. Figuring out how to establish trust means figuring out how to build a community of advocates for your business. Now, I can remember back to a time when certain institutions were afforded a type of “blind trust.” Meaning, certain people and institutions were automatically trusted without regard to demonstrated reliability or trustworthiness.
Over the years, as these organizations were rocked with scandals, bias, and a lack of transparency, this blind trust evaporated. As a matter of fact, the 2020 Edelman Trust Barometer study found that people do not trust certain societal leaders to address the challenges facing the world today. The study found people distrust the very wealthy, government leaders and religious leaders the most while being neutral on the media and CEOs. But here is the good news, they believe and trust that the people in the local community can address these challenges (pg. 17). The local community is made up of small businesses just like yours. So, what does it mean for your small business?
Take a look at most local business websites and hidden behind multiple clicks you may find a couple of sentences or some pictures about their community involvement, maybe even a list of nonprofits that they support. It is common for businesses to get some media coverage about good deeds they do in the community to receive a short-term public relations boost. These actions remain important but it lacks what is needed in the new “business as usual” model to build advocates for your brand.
So, what do you need to do to pass the threshold for trust? You need to provide transparency. Gone are the days when it was enough to just talk about what you do in the community. Now you have to show them what you did, how you did it and the result. So how do you do that?
How to Create Brand Transparency
We live in the Information Age. Consumers expect instantly available information for every interaction. This has brought the ability to get information on what we want, and where we want to buy it with just a few keystrokes. This places a new requirement on “business as usual” for small businesses.
When people want to know about you, what will they be able to find? Are you building enough trust through transparency? Are you using what you give back to the community to help build deeper connections? These are all important factors to consider as you look to grow your business. Here are the four things I find small businesses can use the most to help grow:
1. Your commitment to community matters.
I recently hosted a webinar talking about a simple formula for growing your business. You have to spend time and energy (i.e. resources) to show that you care. You need to care about the people in the community or something that matters to them. This will lead to building trust. The easiest way to show you care is by being kind and doing something that helps make the community better. Time and time again, it has been proven that being kind and giving back is the right thing to do.
2. Before you can create transparency, you need to know what you are doing.
There is a popular saying, “you measure what you value.” If you value your connection to the community then you need to track and measure your commitment to the community. When I speak with small businesses about tracking what they do in the community, I’m often met with a common theme: I don’t have the time. And I can understand that.
Time is the most limited resource we have in business. But, focusing on where we spend our time matters. It is likely you know the key measurements of your business: sales revenue; cash flow; expenses; customer acquisition costs, retention rates and lifetime value; inventory, and profit margins. If your number one objective is to grow your business, then why don’t you know how much you are investing in the community to deepen relationships with your customers?
Tracking is not just tabulating the money you gave or the hours you volunteered. You should also track who you are doing it for and the result of the action. These additional measures help to close the transparency loop.
3. Every act matters.
Aggregation is your friend. Your commitment to the community likely runs deeper than you realize. When we talk to businesses about what they give back, the most common answer is money. As a matter of fact, most businesses give money as a way to sponsor an organization or help advance an important cause. However, we find that small businesses do so much more.
Are you volunteering on the board of a nonprofit? Or, perhaps, providing in-kind products and services for a cause? Every minute, every dollar, and everything you give back matters. All of these things have a value.
I recently sat down with a business owner that said they didn’t give back a lot of money to the community. As we started to tabulate what was given—time donated, gift certificates, in-kind products and free use of his space—over the last several months with a value, it ended up being thousands of dollars. Let’s just say the business owner was surprised and had a new understanding of the impact they were making in the community.
4. The winning formula: combine your transparent commitment to the community in a visible way.
Now that you have a view into what you are giving to the community and have aggregated it to show your total impact, it is time to make it visible. I enjoy walking into local businesses and seeing the pictures of the organizations they support on the wall. I enjoy reading about their stories in my Google Alerts. It makes me want to support them more.
The new “business as usual” will require that you go beyond these traditional ways of making your community involvement visible. Your current and future customers are looking for you online. They are reading third-party reviews about your business. It’s time to take control of your brand image and give them what they really want: a view into how you are making a difference in the community and proof that you care.
Customers want to support businesses that are doing good in the community. The more you can make your transparent community giving visible, the easier it is for them to find you. You can use social media to share updates with your followers and fans. You can also use your newsletters, your websites, and your storefront as sounding boards. You need to create transparency in the places your customers are looking for you. The more you can show you care about the things they care about, the more likely you will be able to build trust and grow your business.
The demand for information will only increase over time, so it is unlikely that transparency will fade from the American consumer's priority list. Actually, the demand for transparency will only increase as we become more closely connected. Are you prepared to meet this new “business as usual” requirement?
The Value of Creating Transparency:
In this day and age, businesses of all sizes are evolving to include doing good and giving back as a core business value. To create emotional bonds with consumers, businesses need to provide insight and transparency into the good they do for their communities.
If you are interested in learning more about how transparency around tracking and measuring what you give back to the community can help grow your business then join me for a free webinar on March 19 at 2 pm eastern time.