Establishing credibility is a lot like establishing credit. Both are about trust. Both afford greater leeway to a person who has them. And, at least in broad terms, the path toward credibility resembles the process of building a good credit history: you might need someone to vouch for you at first, you have to be able to fulfill your promises, and you should to be ready to continually leverage your privileges in order to earn more.
Unfortunately, there’s no such thing as a credibility card. (Not yet, at least—feel free to take that idea and run with it.) Unlike credit and other forms of codified trust, credibility has no objective standard, measure, or governing agency. Rather, like brand awareness, it’s an amorphous quality: something you hope and strive for, but can’t exactly quantify.
That said, most small business owners acutely understand the benefits of being seen as credible. Credibility is what warms up leads and gets investors’ attention. It’s the key to word-of-mouth—or referral—marketing. It surrounds everything you do with a halo: partners, stakeholders, and consumers are quick to see the best in you and forgive your mistakes when they believe you have credibility.
The good news is that, for as difficult as it is to pin down, credibility is actually somewhat simple to earn, particularly for startups and other small operations unencumbered by institutional weight. While you may lack a corporate marketing budget, as an entrepreneur, you have a greater opportunity to gain trust the old-fashioned way—that is, through authentic service and excellence.
Underpromise and Overdeliver
If you’re able to make a living working for yourself, you place a high premium on your time and energy. By necessity, you’ve may have had to embrace a “good enough” attitude. You may have even read studies that suggest underpromising and overdelivering doesn’t affect your bottom line. But credibility is deeper than competence. It’s a matter of proving yourself and standing out in a competitive environment. In a world ruled by skepticism, trust is a precious commodity. Consider your own attitudes: You’re probably willing to take a chance on a new product or service, but how many businesses and individuals can you implicitly rely on?
Emphasize Consistent Quality, Everywhere
Doubt is the enemy of credibility. Most people, unconsciously or not, evaluate an untested business by looking for red flags or warning signs. A poorly designed website, an unprofessional social media presence, rude or unresponsive customer service, annoying advertising, or even something as seemingly minor as a typo can turn leads away from your business. If you labor over quality and finesse at the outset, you won’t have to waste time figuring out what small mistake undermined you later on.
Suggested Reading: See how outsourced accounting helped medical care crowdfunding platform, Watsi build credibility with donors by providing radical transparency into where their funds go via accurate, up-to-date bookkeeping:
Know Your Team
Your employees and partners represent your business. If they aren’t aligned with each other or the company as a whole, you lose credibility as their leader. Don’t take their confidence in you for granted. Instead, give precedence to team engagement. Work toward earning your team’s trust by communicating your expectations and recognizing their accomplishments. Show them, in private and in front of others that you understand and appreciate what they do. By confirming others’ positive attitudes about themselves, you instantly seem more credible in their eyes.
Solicit Reviews and Testimonials About You and Your Business
When new information isn’t readily available or apparent, don’t be afraid to ask for it. Customer testimonials serve a dual purpose: they show you what a customer finds valuable about your business, and they function as promotional material. Maintain a presence on consumer-facing sites such as Yelp, Google, and Facebook, as well as employee-centric review sites like Glassdoor. Don’t attempt to hide or delete criticism; instead, respond to and learn from it.
Prioritize Learning and Listening
Don’t become stagnant, and always challenge your assumptions. Leaders who are credible can balance their convictions with new information. Show the world you’re paying attention and that while you’re always striving to do the best for your company, you’re aware of the limits of your knowledge. If you can actively listen, you’ll find that your staff, customers, advisors, friends, and family are beyond happy to offer feedback.
This directly relates to one of inDinero’s six core values, radical candor. Here’s the description from our about page:
Feedback isn’t easy for everyone, but it's a necessary part of building a strong team and healthy place to work. Radical Candor sits at the intersection of caring personally and challenging directly, so the intention is always humble and helpful, the delivery is immediate, and the content doesn’t personalize.
Pivoting is essential on every level of a business. It comes from leadership’s ability to open their mind to things that aren’t perfect and should change.
Give Your Mind Some Set Boundaries
…But that doesn’t mean you always have to take their advice. There’s a big difference between self-understanding and self-doubt, and though it requires discipline, you can have pride in your accomplishments as well as uncertainty about the future without feeling the urge to veer sharply in either direction.
One way to protect your sense of confidence (not to mention your time) is by establishing clear boundaries around feedback. Institute a periodic block in your schedule—perhaps an hour a day, or a portion of a weekly meeting—for nothing besides attending to thoughts, opinions, and suggestions outside of your usual streams of information. From there, let these ideas inspire you, but remain within reason and what you can control.
Are some of these concerns something you can address within the scope of existing plans? Or do these thoughts point you toward unanswered questions about your mission? Let these thoughts run through you but don’t dwell on things if the time isn’t right or momentum isn’t already there.
Be a Transparent Business Owner
As your company overcomes obstacles, wear your scars with pride: each is an achievement others can learn from. There’s no bigger leadership problem than hiding from problems or pretending mistakes didn’t happen. To that point, transparency can inspire confidence in your company and mission.
Every blog post, video, interview, and company report is an opportunity to own your mistakes and show how and why you intend to avoid making them in the future. Credibility doesn’t arise from immediate perfection, but a long track record of consistent performance and development. Essentially, it’s a story. And without transparency, there is no story.
This is a topic where you can absolutely take our word for it. If you aren't sure, check out our article in The New York Times.
Whether you lead an established business or are just getting started, we know understanding your financial performance is a key aspect of your company’s larger story. That’s why inDinero focuses on helping entrepreneurs, startups, and other small businesses looking to reach the next stages of their development. We take care of accounting and tax services, so the back of your office has the credibility to match its front. Learn more about what makes inDinero a perfect match for businesses focused on growth.