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Want to build trust in your small business? These experts can tell you how

By Will Stevens - February 21, 2014

When you think of the factors that persuade someone to buy a product or service online what springs to mind? Price is certainly a consideration, as is the visibility generated by aspects such as marketing and search engine optimisation. However, the significance of all of these is dwarfed by just one thing – trust.

online shopping graph

Doing business with companies we trust is so deeply ingrained we often don’t realise its significance – the visibility of huge brands such as Amazon makes people confident that they will get what they’ve paid for, even if it isn’t a conscious part of the buying process.

Engendering trust doesn’t require a huge marketing spend, but it is something that needs your constant attention. With that in mind here are ten expert tips you can use to ensure people view your company as trustworthy, allowing you to reap all the benefits that brings.

profileJoel Klettke of Business Casual Copywriting on writing

Building trust with your copy starts with putting the focus on the customer’s state of need and off of yourself. Your website actually isn’t about you, it’s about how you can meet the customer’s need better than anyone else can. If you’re too busy singing your own praises and talking about yourself, you’re missing the chance to establish empathy and eliminate doubt.

Address the customer directly, talk about their problem and show how you can solve it, using language they know and understand. Avoid wallpaper statements like “We offer the best quality X”, which are utterly meaningless. And hey – you’re a small business, so show some personality!

Brian Dean, founder of Backlinko

Brian Dean of Backlinko on personal branding

The fact is, people like buying from people. In fact, we’re hard wired to put a face behind almost everything we buy. So even if your run a huge company, you can generate trust by marketing as a people-powered brand. If there’s no single “face” of your business, highlight the people that make your company what it is. You can do that by showing them on your homepage (like Wistia), giving them a voice on your blog (like Boeing), or highlighting their human side like SEER Interactive.

Jen Sable LopezJen Sable Lopez of Moz on community

One of the best ways to help build trust with your community is to show that you are actually also a part of the community. If your community is local, it means participating in parades, showing your support for an upcoming sports event, and talking about the weather (no, really… like giving discounts to those who brave the snow). It’s also important to show your love for the community.

You can post photos of people in your store (be sure to let them know what you’re doing with the picture), or posting about local events like concerts nearby. For an example, you can check out the way Cupcake Royale, a local cupcake shop in Seattle runs their Facebook page.

When it comes down to it, there are so many different ways to be a part of the community yourself. So think about how you as a person would interact with the community, and have your business do the same. You’ll be amazed at how much people enjoy being loved and included.

Taylor AldredgeTaylor Aldredge of Grasshopper on customer advocacy

The best way to build trust with your customers is to let them talk to each other instead of talking at them. For example, there was a tweet from someone looking for phone system recommendations. I jumped in and connected the guy with two awesome Grasshopper customers. From there, they both responded and engaged in a solid conversation online.

This sort of practice builds awesome trust because it’s not me or Grasshopper saying anything. Rather, it’s our current customers telling other people why they use us at their businesses and how it works out for them. We’ve done this for years, and it’s allowed us to build lasting relationships with customers and non-customers alike.

chris-dysonChris Dyson of Hit Reach on reciprocity

We humans are hard wired to reciprocate good deeds and favours. It’s a huge part of our evolution in developing complex relationships and large communities. A lot of business owners can utilise this persuasive technique to increase sales by offering something that has a highly perceived value but actually costs you little to create and then giving it away for free.

I’m not talking about “sign up to our diet club for 12 months and we’ll send you a free pedometer  or “buy two get one free deals”, that’s not free that’s asking the customer to pay with an obligation.

The best way to use this is with offering free trials, free samples or quite commonly giving away free information such as a report or ebook,

Don’t use this as an opportunity to off load low-quality versions of your product, you want people to be impressed that you gave them such a highly-valued gift for free so that they will reciprocate the favour by becoming a future customer.

Thomas SmaleThomas Smale of FEInternational on making a good impression

If you want to build up trust with people online then invest in your about page. Our about page is one of the most visited pages on our website every month. We see this as an important page to help customers get to know us, get to trust us and start a conversation which will hopefully lead to a business relationship.

On our about page we mention our value proposition, have photographs and bios of all our staff with links to their LinkedIn profiles and we also have testimonials from previous clients as this can be important social proof.

Paul May

Paul May of BuzzStream on relationship building

One of the biggest lessons I learned from the launch of BuzzStream is that you need to build relationships in your community as early as possible. Eventually you’re going to want to reach out to people in hopes of gaining some kind of advocacy, and your chances of success go up dramatically if you’ve established a relationship beforehand.

Find the most interesting, active and followed people in your community and engage in a real way. Of all the marketing activities we’ve engaged in, nothing has had a bigger long-term impact on our business than the advocacy of niche influencers in our market.

Michelle K GeibMichelle K Geib of Xperiencedays on partnerships

Align the brand with other trusted and well-known brands (local or national). Specifically, we were able to gain the trust of national brands and develop partnerships with Land Rover North America, Saks Fifth Avenue and American Express. These associations created credibility in the eyes of consumers as well as other potential service providers.

Patrick JohnsonPatrick Johnson of GoMammoth on customer experience

The main way we try to build user trust on our website is by building a cohesive user experience around our brand values. Our mission is to make sport fun, so we’ve tried to project the sense of fun on the website through a bold and playful design. Customer experience is also really important, so we put a lot of effort into customer service, offering a live help service and regularly surveying our clients to find out what they like and what we should change. We feel that social proof is a great way to build trust, so we use social share figures in our header and incorporate customer reviews into almost every page on the site.

One of the biggest advantages a small business has over larger competitors is the ability to project their personality, whilst remaining authentic. Use this advantage wherever you can – through your voice and tone, your design and logos, and through content you create and share. This approach will enable you to enhance your user experience, reinforce your brand and engage your customers more completely.


Will CritchlowWill Critchlow of Distilled on tying it all together

You need to shoot for the intersection of three things:

Having something real to say – this could be a truly unique service offering, a strongly-held opinion or an deep expertise in a subject.

Showing your human side – small business owners are closer to every element of their business than big corporations – use that to your advantage.

Being memorable and remarkable – great design and great photography should be a part of every small business’s arsenal.

At a tactical level, I highly recommend getting started with video content right now for the ability to hit all these things at once, and for its relative novelty among small businesses. Check out Chris Savage’s presentation at our conference last year for advice on how to make this work for you.


Trust needs to be earned and as the tips above demonstrate it’s not something that you can to leave to chance. By taking an active approach to building trust you will be more likely to attract and retain customers and that’s the key to running a successful business. Thanks to everyone who contributed to this piece.