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Separate your business from the worst before you compete with the best

How to instil confidence in your customer.

My husband isn’t the biggest fan of my brand.

He’s a designer and he likes things to have hidden meanings, be clever and most of all, cool.

However, I know that I have less than a second to let people know what I do and that I am a business who can potentially solve their problem. There are many people within my industry, and probably yours too, who are conmen at worst and incompetent at best.

Before you even begin to think about competing with the best in your industry think about how you can quickly differentiate yourself from the worst.

Anyone in the world (pretty much) can set up a website. With things like Canva, Creative Market and Envato, you don’t need to hire a professional designer to look like a legitimate business from a design perspective. You can get a professional enough looking logo and website for under £50. Your potential customers know this. One of the first things people do when they visit your website with the intention of buying anything is to check that you are legit.

Think they will go to the trouble of searching for you on companies house? Forget that. You are lucky if someone spends more than a few seconds looking at your website when they are shopping around.

When I first started out in business, I didn’t realise this. I wanted to make myself look bigger than I was. I had the intention of building to an agency (I hadn’t thought it through properly, I am still mulling it over). I thought I may as well present as an agency and try and get some clients in that way. I thought it would be easier than being a freelancer who later turns into an agency. I was 27 and way ahead of myself there. I was punished for my mistake.

It was hard for me to get in new clients even though by all regards, my website and brand were at the same level (or even above) some of the agencies around me. Why wasn’t I getting work in through my website?

When I did turn up for arranged meetings through my website, people were surprised when it was me that turned up. They were expecting a man. Fair play, as all of the agencies in Sheffield at that point were owned by men. It made me start thinking about how I was presenting myself. My personality wasn’t coming across through my website. People wanted to hire me. Not a logo or an idea. If people were incorrectly guessing my gender, what other things did I not put across clearly?

I decided to switch things up. I wanted to make who I am and what I do crystal clear, which is when the Katie Barber Marketing domain came into fruition. I wanted my domain to be long term, and no matter what I end up doing or specialising in, I knew it would be marketing related. I started to get leads and enquiries through my website, but things really popped three years ago when I attached photographs to my site. Now people could not just know but see who they are going to be working with. With regular tweaks on my site, I have a web presence that generates a high level of conversions and brings me in a good quality enquiry every single day.

Like it or loathe it, when you look at my website you know that I am Katie Barber, a real person in Sheffield, who does marketing. That’s far more than I was getting across when I was trying to look bigger. I see so many of my competitors go out of business because they make that mistake of trying to look like a bigger company to make themselves seem more legit. We’re past the stage in time where only corporations are trustworthy. In fact, people avoid corporations nowadays. Often I get people asking to work with me because they don’t want to work with an agency. I was shooting myself in the foot the whole time I tried to present a bigger front.

Here’s how I think you can attract people to make enquiries and buy from you, and let them know you are an honest, decent business.

Photography

There is a major lack of trust for people who don’t put their face on their social media profiles. Even though I think social media should allow anonymous users (I feel quite strongly about anonymity rights) people take a sense of pride of putting their face as well as their name to what they have to say. Not putting your face on your website may seem sketchy to some people. It could seem like you are participating in something that you do not want your face associated with. Names can be faked, but your real face is a modern signature.

I was lucky enough that Anete Lusina, a fantastic local(ish) photographer offered me her time. If we weren’t in the middle of a global pandemic, I’d be getting her to refresh my site (they are 3 years old now, eep) but as it is, I haven’t been able to get a hair cut this year.

It’s important to me to start getting yearly photo shoots for my business. I can use it on my site and on my social media. It’s worth the money.

So many businesses are reluctant to part with their cash when it comes to photography or film. Yes, it’s expensive, but photographers put a lot of time into their editing and a lot of money into their equipment. You can’t replicate that with anything on your own without spending much more money and time.

Some people say they’re too ugly to put their face to their brand. You may be ugly but as long as you look like a clean, warm and reliable person you will have achieved your goal of being someone who your client wants to do business with. And the best thing about a good photographer is that they will be able to make you look your best. Let’s be real, none of us are doing our jobs because they demand that we be hot. It’s okay to not be sexy!

Get your photographer to convey not just who you are, but how you work and where. Do you sketch ideas out, or do you have extremely fancy tech systems in your office? Are you a dog friendly office? Do you have loooooaaaads of employees, but try your hardest to know and understand every single one?

An address

You probably already have your address on your website (if you don’t put it there – you will immediately come across as scammy if you just have an email address or a PO box). But most people use their address so that people have a means to know your address. The thought process might be, well we will put the address on the footer, so people can find it if they need to send an invoice.

But your address is more important than that. Consider using your location as a way to appear more trustworthy. A marketing tool. I can work from anywhere, but my prospects like to know that I’m sat at a desk in Sheffield complete with northern accent. It’s not really relevant, but it shows that I’m real.

Say you’re a software company who can sell to anyone in the world but your office is in Edinburgh. Make it a thing. Not the main thing but a bigger thing than an afterthought.

Social proof

It’s extremely risky to buy from someone when no one else has. Even if you know the person extremely well. Say the teenager across the road wants to mow your lawn for £5, you’ve known him all his life but you’re the first person he has approached. There is a risk there that he will destroy your mower or chop all your plants down, never mind actually do it well.

If you have a website on the internet and there is no social proof on your website, you can kiss goodbye to the idea of ever making a sale. Not only may your product or service be shoddy – you might actually be a criminal.

What is social proof? I’d say you need as many of these things as possible:

  • Reviews from a third party source: Google, Facebook or Trustpilot.
  • Testimonials from clients.
  • Case studies.
  • Logos of clients who you currently work for.
  • People raving about you on their social media. (You can embed these posts on your website.)

I have two of these things; reviews and testimonials. It’s been hard for me to build up case studies that I can show off, as for the last few years the majority of my clients have been with third party agencies. My solution to this is to have good testimonials from key people within those agencies who are prepared to not only vouch for me, but attach their name to my product. Making it more trustworthy.

This year is the year I went completely solo from agencies and built up my own client list. Case studies and client logos are my marketing priority at the moment.

Spelling and grammar

Typos, spelling mistakes and grammar issues happen to everyone. Even highly experienced copywriters make mistakes. Generally, people will be quite forgiving of typos on social media. We understand that tweets are rarely proof read, happen on the spur of the moment and are perhaps written by someone who is dyslexic or who’s first language isn’t English. But on your website? Big red flag that you cant speak English well and/or your website has been knocked up in a hurry. Both signs that you could be a scammer.

As an entrepreneur, you’ll understand that it’s important to delegate well. If you didn’t get top marks in English language, pay someone who did to write your website. Get a grammar nazi (or your mother) to go over your website and look for mistakes, that’s their idea of fun.

Social media following

When the pandemic started I went through a comfort online shopping phase. It was late at night, I was stressed and I fell for a Facebook ad that was selling a fake product. The website had been mocked up to look exactly like the real thing, and the ads looked legit. If I had clicked through to the “businesses” social media profiles, I would have seen that the profile had a limited amount of followers, no engagement on previous posts and that no effort had been put into marketing except for these Facebook ads.

I ended up £50 out of pocket, but an important lesson learned. Now when I’m shopping I check the businesses social media profiles to see how many followers they have and how much engagement they are garnering. If it’s high followers low engagement, this can also be suspicious.

I use Twitter and LinkedIn as my “professional” channels but I don’t hide my personal Instagram and Facebook account where I simply post pictures of family life and other non-work related stuff. They show that I’m real.

It’s unwise to advertise straight after knocking up some social media channels. If you’re new, let people know that you’re new and building yourself up. If you’ve had a social media profile for years, keep it. Don’t delete it and create a new one for some trivial reason.