One Thing That Can Build—Or Kill—Any Business
This insight comes courtesy of Hilda Awad, owner of TheGuestTable.com, an online platform that allows event hosts and their guests to create seating charts (it also allows guests to RSVP to the event, which is pretty cool, too). I asked Hilda if she could share with me the things she wish she had known before starting her business, so that I could share it here, which she did (Thank you, Hilda!).
I have to admit, the first item on the top of Hilda’s list was somewhat surprising to me. Instead of any type of tactical issue, such as project timelines for her software platform getting out of hand, etc., Hilda said, “Unfortunately, I realized the hard way that you can’t trust everyone.”
Ahhh, yes, as it turns out, Hilda was reminded all about that one thing that can build—and kill—any business: trust.
Spoiler Alert: Customer Trust is the Secret Sauce of Business Success
Trust is something that every entrepreneur should carefully nurture, both in the relationships we have with those we work with and those we seek to work with. Not to mention all of the other relationships in our lives. In today’s consumer-centric, customer-owned, cyber sensitive economy, trust really is the ultimate currency. Hilda’s experience illustrates this perfectly:
When she was initially building TheGuestTable.com platform, Hilda had searched on Craigslist for a web developer (wanting to keep costs down, understandably) where she, “Met a really nice guy, a local freelancer, who I thought was great!”
Sadly, Hilda recounted, “This guy told me everything I wanted to hear and his website looked legit. Plus, he had a lot of "Likes" and good reviews on Facebook. I fell for it!”
Five thousand of Hilda’s hard-earned dollars and a lot back and forth with no response, later, Hilda still didn’t have her website. All she had were a lot of excuses from the freelancer. “He came up with every excuse in the book as to why the website wasn't done,” she sighed.
Trust is a Two-Way Street in Every Business Relationship
Another important lesson that Hilda learned from this experience—the need to get all of her legal and contractual ducks in a row. Hilda had the foresight to make the freelance web developer sign a nondisclosure agreement, and it is a good thing that she did because as Hilda found out when she did some additional research on his business, he was not actually building her a platform that she would own as they had initially agreed. Instead, the freelancer was using open source software and modifying it. If Hilda had stayed with this freelancer, she would have risked not having proprietary control over her product. A potentially devastating blow to her business.
The last straw for Hilda’s relationship with this untrustworthy web developer, however, was when she found out that he had bought most of his “good” Facebook reviews. “He admitted that to me and told me, ‘We are going to make your website look good, you can buy your Facebook Likes and reviews as I did.’”
Hilda said she is, “Thankful every day that her original website didn’t work because if it did, I wouldn't own my software. I am also grateful that I have a great team by my side now to get this baby on its feet.”
Does Your Business Convey Trustworthiness to Potential Customers?
With hindsight being 20/20, Hilda added, “I wish I would have researched more and called big companies as well as small companies. Yet, I'm glad I went through the bad experience because it makes me appreciate the great, hard-working people that really care about their business and know how important word of mouth is.”
A practical corollary to Hilda’s lesson that she applies in her own business today: “I would never pay anyone to say good things about TheGuestTable.com, I would rather give away the service to customers that are willing to try it and have them give me their honest opinion so that I can work on making it better. If people like it they will share their experience with others and that trusted review will help grow our business the right way.
Trust, as Hilda’s experience highlights, is absolutely foundational to having success long-term. While this may seem like a beyond basic point, it’s still something that a surprising number of people are willing to compromise on in the short-term in order to get the immediate gratification of present day revenue instead of investing in building a trust-based customer relationship that has the potential for much higher value over the long-term.
Keeping trust as a central value of your operations is one of the few proven ways to ensure that you will build—rather than kill—your business.