Without credibility you will have a real hard time to get potential clients. Unfortunately for you building credibility is a slow process that takes time and effort, and especially if you are just starting out it can be a really hard job! Credibility is based on building trust and the relationship with potential clients.
In many ways the credibility building process is very similar to going on a blind date!
Would you meet somebody you hardly know, or would you want to have more information about them, and build a picture of what they are like? You are more likely to meet your date if your best friend had organised it than a stranger.
Building your credibility is about building relationships over time, but also about how you present yourself to the world in the best possible way. And, if you do one thing ‘wrong’, it can damage your credibility beyond repair (like many banks are currently experiencing!).
So where do you start to speed the process up?
1. Identify your niche and specific target market
Are you a small fish in a big pond, or a big fish in a small pond? You will build your profile and credibility quicker if you selected a small pond, as it is far easier to identify exactly who you need to meet and talk to.
Depending on what you do, there might only be 5 specific people in the whole world who need to know about what you do and how you do it, and that can result in more work than you ever expected! So firstly, identify who your specific potential clients are, who are the actual decision makers (this can be tricky as they might be hiding!), what they want and need, what their worries are, how you can solve their challenges and issue, and what is stopping them buying from you. If you know the question to this last question, you will be nearly there! Then be creative in how you approach them and start building a relationship with them.
You can learn more about how to identify your niche market here.
2. What are your features and (most importantly) benefits?
Your features include the ‘facts’ about you i.e. your strengths, skills, special talents, background or life experience, qualifications, previous career or training. But people rarely buy on factual info, they want to know what the benefits are for them, why should they bother? Do you know why people are really buying from you? Help your clients by identifying the benefits for them:
Ask yourself the question: So what?
Write all the different responses to each different feature. A great example of how this can work in practice was a PR graduate I worked with a couple of years ago. She was worried about her lack of experience, but still managed to land herself a biggish job against a far more experienced agency. At the end of the project she asked her client why they had selected her (in her own eyes she was an inexperienced, young graduate). Their answer was: ‘We were looking for somebody who was really hungry to work with us, passionate, with lots of new ideas, and that is what we got’ (and probably cheaper too!)
So, if you are able to identify any questions or obstacles that potential clients might have about working with you and are able to answer them or even better turn them around to your advantage, then you will be landing work.
3. Take it in steps!
Building a relationship takes time. Just like going on a blind date! Firstly identify who the person is, find out more about this person (Linked In and twitter are great for this), make contact, see if there is an interest, set up a meeting or presentation, see if you like each other and can work together, and only then start discussing business.
Start small and grow from there.
If you jump too quickly and are too pushy, then you will not get anywhere. When you first meet them, find out what they want, what their needs are, try to get a meeting to discuss it further, but don’t straight away start selling yourself, as it will put people off.
4. Answer questions before they are asked
Provide information but especially demonstrate by doing that you can be trusted to do the work in time and on budget. Your potential clients need to believe that you can deliver what you say, that they can trust you with personal or confidential information, that they like you and feel safe with you, that working with you will be at least worthwhile and ideally very beneficial to them.
Recently I overheard a conversation with a bride-to-be and her mother. They obviously just had seen a couple of potential photographers for the big day. Instead of discussing who took the best photographs, the bride just kept on saying ‘I really liked her, she made me laugh, she made me comfortable’. Very clear again that the benefit of feeling at ease at a stressful time was top priority for this client.
You can improve your credibility by presenting previous client projects (through testimonials or case studies, or in your portfolio), share your knowledge and expertise, have a Q&A on your website. Approach potential clients and really listen to the questions that they have, and answer them honestly and confidently. If they have got questions then they are positively engaged already, they might just not yet be ready to purchase from you.
5. Follow the basic rules of engagement in your tribe.
It is a must that you know how to speak the lingo, dress, know the latest gossip or have an opinion about certain discussions. Attend networking, training events or get your professional news on line.
Body language more than anything you say or write will impact on your credibility!
Are you confident but not arrogant, do people like to talk to you? Know what the discussions are, who the important people are, what is going on. Knowing when the best time is to approach people for sales is part of building credibility and knowing your market (for example I don’t offer any business training to crafts businesses in the Autumn as they will be too busy selling their work at Christmas shows!)
6. Get the basics right!
Having a business name instead of using your own name might improve your credibility (except for artists, but even then you might want to think about what name you will use). Being a Limited Company can also provide increased credibility.
It is a given that you have at least a basic website (a one pager will do for some!), a professional printed business card, and a professional email address (foxylady1966@yahoo will not do).
Photography is often the most important selection criteria for potential clients!
For some people it might be important to have a professional looking address or indeed work in a specific postcode area (Shoreditch or Soho is a must for some of my clients). I am still surprised how often I see new businesses failing at this first hurdle.
7. Let others do the hard work.
Testimonials, referrals, and good case studies are one of the most effective ways to build your business (more about this below). Ask your ex-clients or ex-employers for specific testimonials that you can use on your website or Linked In profile.
The more specific and results orientated the better (i.e. ‘John is a great photographer and great to work with’ is less powerful than ‘John really understood what I wanted from our wedding pictures. He really captured this wonderful day for us, and will keep the memories so much more alive. Thank you John’.
8. Who do you work with?
If your business looks bigger than it is will help with credibility if you are looking for bigger projects. I have seen a graphic design company hiring some ‘bumps on seats’ when an important client visited for the first time, just to make it look like they could handle the large contract (PS it worked)!
Who are your current and past clients, partners, freelancers, board members, mentors and advisers? What level of business do they work at, how well known or respected are they, do you understand their challenges and needs? Being associated with certain people will lend you credibility. Mention them on your website (ask permission first!), or get recommended or recommend them.
9. Provide more than you promise.
You will build up your credibility by going the extra mile for your clients, give them something extra, and in return they will start recommending you to their contacts. Be honest on what you can do and what you can’t. If you overpromise and can’t deliver your reputation will be damaged.
10. What do you charge?
Your price is directly related to where you position yourself in the market, even before people are actually ready to buy.
Your price level will set certain expectations and aspirations.
If you are charging a price much higher or lower than the going rate that will tell potential clients that you don’t know the market. Offering the lowest price will not help you build your credibility, especially if you value great quality or developing longer term business relationships.
11. Small businesses do business with small businesses, large businesses with large ones.
This means that very often unfortunately you need to start at the bottom of the ladder, and that you build up your reputation and experience over time. So it is not necessarily your fault that you are unable to open the doors of a big organisation, you just need to be patient!
Especially if you sell to trade clients (who are notoriously more risk-averse) they wait often 3 years or so to see if you survive, then will place a small order and will see how that goes, and then will hopefully start placing bigger orders. Start small, proof yourself and keep people informed about the great work you are doing!
(PS I am very happy if you proof me wrong on this statement! Especially if you provide a very unique service or solution you might be able to jump the queue.)
Do you want to do more credibility building? Check out Do’s and don’ts to build your credibility effectively.
How have you built your credibility? What will you start working on to build credibility in you and your work? Would love to hear your suggestions and ideas, please add them to the comments below.