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Last Updated: Wednesday, 27 October, 2004, 17:15 GMT 18:15 UK
Putting reputation first
In the first of a new series of articles on small businesses and entrepreneurship, we look at the importance of ensuring your company's good reputation.

You are invited to email any questions you may have to today's author - Radio Four's Liz Barclay - via the link below.

By Liz Barclay
presenter, Radio 4's You and Yours

Basil Faulty
Basil Fawlty did not exactly help his hotel's reputation

A small firm's good reputation is one of its most important assets.

Who wants to work for a firm with a poor reputation for looking after its staff?

Who wants to buy from one with a poor reputation for customer service?

But if you build up and keep a good reputation everyone will be flocking to your door.

And in times when competition is fierce and many skills are in short supply, that can make the difference between your firms' survival or its untimely demise.

It's your reputation that's at stake - take control of it.

Customer perception

Everyone involved with your organisation from the managing director to the receptionist; from the bank manager to your customers; should be your reputation protectors.

C Montgomery Burns
Monty Burn's reputation strikes fear into people's hearts

A good reputation can be severely dented by a dissatisfied cleaner or by a disgruntled customer.

Rebuilding a damaged reputation is much harder than building a good one from scratch - customers have long memories.

Many people still have negative associations of one of the big five UK banks because of its connections with South Africa during apartheid.

Others shudder at the thought of a particularly famous brand of vacuum cleaner because of the so called 'flights fiasco'.

Free flights were promised with each appliance purchased, and while it was a genuine offer and everyone eligible did eventually get their free flights, the firm's reputation was damaged in the long term because staff couldn't cope with demand.

Disappearing customers

You may not be big enough for your fiasco to hit the national press, but bad news still travels a long way so you can't afford to get it wrong.

Most products now are of uniformly good quality so customer service and treatment of staff, more often that not, make or break a reputation.

Add value and delight your customers and they will keep coming back and recommend you. Get it wrong and you won't see them for dust.

Your customers may not be individuals but bigger firms. Because they have their own reputations to look after they often refuse to give contracts to smaller traders who don't meet their standards.

You may miss out on a new contract or lose an existing one because of a poor health and safety record.

Free range

Restaurants are increasingly particular about where their meat comes from because their customers want to know the animals have been humanely treated.

Can you deliver produce to those standards? If not the contract will go elsewhere.

You can't afford to ignore laws on employees' rights or health and safety.

You can't treat people differently because of their sex, race, disability or age.

You can't ignore the issues that concern your customers or their customers.

Talk to your customers, big and small, staff and anyone else who has an interest in your business. Listen to their concerns.

Extra effort

Work out how to best serve everyone so that they will want to buy from you, hire your services, work for you or invest in your firm. Be entirely honest about what everyone can expect.

If staff or customers have complaints deal with them quickly and fairly.

If you have made a mistake, admit it and let everyone know what you've done to stop it happening again.

Give that little bit more than your competitors and your reputation will be the best. And then go on working to keep it there.

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