PR advice – Reputation for startups may seem like putting the cart before the horse.

One of the many challenges startups face is the fact that they are known for nothing, have no track record nor any established clients to vouch for them.

But the truth is – reputation is the single most important intangible asset a business possesses.

Startup or not, reputation is an important currency in a risk-averse purchasing environment where customers constantly look for the reassurance a good reputation provides.

The key for new businesses is understanding what reputation actually is.

PR Advice – Company Culture

There are many definitions but in commercial terms, few have topped this formula from Harvard Business School; behaviour + communication = reputation.

With that in mind, starting up is the best point rather than the worst to start establishing the behaviours that will define a company and communicate its reputation to the marketplace.

This is about instilling a culture in your company that reflects its values.

As a company grows, and with careful management, those values become ingrained in what corporates like to call their DNA. They become self-perpetuating.

The best starting point then is, to quote Ronald Reagan, “don’t just do something, stand there.” In the remorseless action of establishing a company, it’s very easy to forget why you did and what its aims were.

Stop, pause, remind yourself daily. These are the principles on which your company was founded and should be shot through everything you do. 

Among them, should always be we do as we say.

At this point, more than any other in a company’s evolution, reputation is experiential.

Without a track record, you have little to communicate and your advances are likely to be a series of small victories rather than headline triumphs.

With that in mind, your customers must do the communicating on your behalf and the supreme behavioural message is delivery.

PR Advice – Reputation Management

Similarly, and to quote Richard Branson, a man who has had his share of startups, mistakes are inevitable, dissatisfied customers aren’t.

In other words, handle cock-ups well. They happen. Most people realise that so give them the right story to tell about how you fixed it.

Information has particular importance here – Keep your customers informed.

Imagine your own experience with that delayed flight, that absent builder and extrapolate from there.

Remember too, that smallness is your friend in a world where big business is in deep trust deficit. Reputation is founded on trust so be human, accessible and credible.

Together they add up to trust – none of which quite makes up for that lack of history.

You may not be able to do it as a company but you can do it as individuals, so make it personal.

If you or your team have the background and achievements from work done elsewhere, there is nothing wrong or dishonest in importing that kudos to your new venture.

This is your experience as much as the last company you donated it to. Don’t be ashamed to project that through your sales collateral and website.

People ultimately buy people so make sure you’re an attractive purchase.

And finally, don’t push reputation to the bottom of the pile while you do something more pressing.

Reputation is in everything you do – remember that you are putting down the foundations of what customers and the market will later know you for.

As the great American financier Warren Buffett said: It can take 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. Think about that and you’ll do things differently.”

Opinion post by Patrick Barrow, founder, Reputation Communications – Has over 25 years of experience advising big companies and small, locally, nationally and internationally on reputation management.
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