Six Ways to Earn Trust as a Startup

Got your startup launched, and are you looking for that second-round funding? Good on you! How are you doing on the trust front? Yeah, I hadn't thought about that yet, had you? It's time.


Trust as a startup

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First impressions matter, and if you aren't gaining the respect you need from investors, potential new hires, or your competitors, it may be time to look in the startup mirror and see what you can do. Today we're looking at the top six things you can do, now, today, to gain some respect for your startup.

#1—Learn how to say "No" 

This may seem counter-intuitive initially, but it will change your world once you learn how to do it effectively. There are a couple of caveats here, of course.

You can't just say "No" to a customer request and leave it at that. If a customer is asking for freebies, you know, because you're new and they promise they'll talk you up to all their friends, you need to be able to say, “That's not a request we can fulfill at this time, how about we do XYZ instead…"

 When you turn down a customer's above-and-beyond request, return later with an offer to do something extra, but on your terms. This way, you don't set the precedent that you'll do anything asked of you while showing that you're more than willing to go above and beyond when appropriate.

All this comes down to showing that you respect yourself, your company, and your available resources and aren't willing to sacrifice any of these. Yet, it also shows that you value your customers and are willing to demonstrate that by doing what's necessary to keep them happy.

#2—Solve a problem

People are looking for solutions. That's probably how some of your early clients found you in the first place: they hit Google looking for an answer and found you. Be there to provide that answer; you’ll have a customer for life.

This can take several forms, from your marketing materials to your company's social media presence (you are doing content marketing, right?). Craft your marketing to show how your widget will solve the pain points you know folks are experiencing. Then be sure your sales team knows to focus on this in their spiels. Then be sure your marketing and social media people (even if that's just you) know to direct click-throughs to the landing pages that house this information.

Now start creating more content in the form of images, videos (if you can), and blog posts highlighting all the different ways your widget does what it does. Talk about all the industries it can be used in and all the various problems it will solve once it's implemented. Now you have multiple streams of content that show a unified front of usefulness. This approach shows potential customers how you and your widget will solve the problem they came to Google to solve, and they're all yours.

#3—Don't grow too big, too fast

It's always easier to be a big fish in a small pond than a guppie in the Pacific, right? Keep yourself at the size you need to be to serve your existing client base + what you foresee in the coming six months. That way, you stay nimble enough to pivot if necessary while being able to keep your existing customers happy.

This also applies in the other direction: think about the size of your clients. SMB (Small to Medium sized Businesses) clients are nimble and have proven willing to take chances. After all, these companies are taking a chance just by existing in today's business market, making them more likely to take a chance on another small business to support their needs. These businesses can also make decisions quickly without getting bogged down in the bureaucracy that larger companies generally develop, which helps everyone's bottom line.

#4—Keep It Simple

OK, we mean the acronym K.I.S.S. or Keep It Simple Stupid. But that didn't sound like a great heading. It is a fun little saying, though... with big implications.

There's some overlap here, as one of the primary ways to keep things simple is not to outgrow yourself. If you try to take on too many clients too quickly, you risk being unable to support your existing customers, who will pack up and leave, taking their referrals.

Finally, it means don't try to be everything to everyone. That never ends well. You end up with burned-out employees, underwhelming sales numbers, and more fires than you can possibly put out. Keeping it simple lets you focus on your people, product, and customers simultaneously.

#5—Under promise, over deliver (at least at first)

Going above and beyond has already been discussed, but it also comes into play here. This is an excellent way to impress your early customers, especially if you can do it in such a way as to highlight how much your product is helping them. These early successes are also fantastic tools that give you marketing fodder going forward. Testimonials and awards look SO GOOD to potential clients and investors alike.

Be careful with this one,  however. Don't let it become standard operating procedure to go above and beyond, or soon you'll find that it's no longer above or beyond and has become an expected part of your services.

#6—Be genuine

This one can cover a lot of ground. Be yourself, be transparent, and be sure your company's voice is yours. Being genuine also encompasses knowing your business inside and out and being willing and able to prove it. Daily.

Don't lie. People don't like liars.

If you lie about your industry knowledge, for example, once you're called out, you'll never earn back that lost respect.

This also covers the willingness to pivot. Not for just any old reason, mind you. But in response to market feedback, customer requests, and team member suggestions. This willingness shows that you truly care about each of these audiences and that you're not so full of yourself that you can't admit when you were off base and make the course corrections necessary.

Remember, first impressions matter.

We said this initially and happily repeat ourselves here - first impressions matter. You're looking for respect, and these are the top ways we've found to garner it as a startup. Demonstrating as many of these tips as possible when you first sit down with a prospective client or an investor will show that your priorities are with your company, people, and customers. And this will help gain you the trust you deserve right from that first meeting, helping you move from startup to scaleup


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Jesse hails from Seattle, WA. When he's not creating great content or staring at his laptop screen waiting for inspiration, he's probably walking in the trees somewhere in the foothills of the nearby Cascade Mountains.

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