In 2017, over 50 million people worked as entrepreneurial freelancers across the United States, and 71% of them reported an increase in work obtained online over the past twelve months. By 2027, the majority of the US workforce will be freelancers according to Upwork’s “Freelancing in America.”
Whether you’re a weekend Upworker, supplementing your full time income to finance those skydiving lessons, or making million dollar investment deals for breakfast, the competition will be close and whether people do business with you or not will likely be decided from what people find out about you online.
With freelancers contributing $1.4 trillion annually to the American economy, the Gig Economy seems to be in full swing, which would strongly signal more entrepreneurs paving their own financial path than any other time in history. While this is great news for the self-motivated, it also increases the need to maintain a well-groomed online reputation.
Potential clients, investors, and business partners (just to name a few) can and will scrutinize your current online reputation (at least as far as the first page of Google.)
From an embarrassing weekend photo on Facebook that made its rounds across the office, or that prickly customer that left your pristine restaurant a nasty review, your reputation is galvanized by what can be found about you online.
Ask yourself, would you trust a new company or individual if a Google search coughed up your most embarrassing moment? What about when you see a business with a steady string of few one-star ratings or reviews? Or a full blown news article of negative press.
If you’re like 88% of consumers who trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations, the answer is easily, “No thanks, I’ll take my business elsewhere.”
So, how do you fix or build your online reputation to increase the success of your business?
1. Google Yourself, Google Your Business
Search for your name or business on Google to get a clear picture of what your current online reputation looks like to everybody else. Absorb the first three pages completely and open every piece of information you find about yourself – just one negative result could lose you as much as 22% of business. Two negative results could cost you up to 44% of business, and three negative results increases that number to an eye-popping 59%.
“Hey there’s nothing about me online…so that’s a good thing…uh right?”
Not in your field. Especially when it comes to investing in an individual or making a significant purchase. You always want to leave positive online footprints that reflect a history of good character and honest business.
You want people talking about your business the same way they would talk about you as a person: positively.
No results = Bad results.
2. Speak to an Online Reputation Management Company
If you’re serious about maximizing your online reputation, your next step after a thorough online audit should be to research online reputation management (ORM) companies and learn as much as you can about the subject. Objectively assess how serious you are about what appears and what doesn’t about you on the first page of Google. It’s a lot to take in and that’s ok!
Starting a conversation with an ORM specialist is a great exercise in beginning to learn about and managing your online reputation.
3. Audit and Claim Your Social Media Accounts
Log into every personal and professional social media account tied to your name and your business. If you haven’t registered for the big ones, like Twitter and Facebook, claim and register these sites with your actual name. Even if you do not plan on using them. You want to control the online real estate of your business.
Already registered? Even better.
For personal accounts, set your accounts to private to prevent wandering eyes from snooping through your social accounts. In any case, delete compromising photos of yourself, hide potentially embarrassing social media updates, and remove any material which may be considered offensive.
There should be no images or posts that would make someone question the integrity of you or your business whether they are confined to your circle of friends or not. If the main asset of your business is yourself – which as an entrepreneur, it is – leave no social media post left dangling for others to judge.
For professional accounts such as LinkedIn, remove anything that does not relate to your business as an entrepreneur. Create a professional and friendly biography to use across all accounts in order achieve brand continuity.
If you find anything that you cannot remove or hide, save it in a new folder to discuss with an Online Reputation Specialist. Remember: It’s not the end of the world if there is something bad about you online, even if it seems like it is there forever for everyone to see. Like any other challenge, the steps needed to improve an online reputation need to be measured and focused. It takes time but the results are worth it.
4. Define Your Brand
Personal branding is a top priority for successful entrepreneurs heading into 2018. Modern customers and clients want to put their money into personable brands that they connect with. Follow a branding guide to walk you through choices about everything from your logo and color scheme to your tagline and message. You’ll likely want a minimum of a memorable business name (if you don’t use your own), a support team, necessary legalities and brand guidelines to follow.
If you presently work under multiple brands, consider refining a personal brand to apply to every iron in your fire. This aligns your endeavors to a common message and tone, making you appear genuine, transparent, trustworthy and likeable.
5. Claim Your Name and Your Business
Before you can build your online platform, you’ll need to claim your name (or that of your business) in every form possible. Buy the .com with your name and/or that of your business, or secure a similar one if your preferred domain name isn’t available. For example, if you can’t purchase www.JaneDoe.com, consider www.JaneDoeConsulting.com, or better yet, secure both.
Think of your name and business as two squares on a monopoly board that are the same color. You want to possess as much online real estate about yourself as possible, but your name and business are Boardwalk and Park Place.
Claim your name on LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest, as well as on popular industry-specific business networks. Grab everything you can.
When your clients or customers search for you, your website, social media accounts and business accounts will appear high in the results. This creates a wall that lowers the likelihood of any negative or irrelevant information appearing on the first couple pages.
The more online real estate about yourself you control, the easier it will be to manicure your reputation.
6. Schedule Online Activity
Owning your online real estate is a great start but next you don’t want to leave your internet presence idle. Your social media accounts, website and professional profiles should be updated regularly if you’d like them to rank high in search engine results. This means scheduling updates and following a regular posting schedule. As you create your content, keep it aligned with your brand.
Today’s entrepreneurs must be authentic with a unique voice, a memorable design, a succinct slogan and a strong connection to customers or clients. Be yourself and steer clear of odd fits. Think about your past successes, when both you and your client have felt positive about a deal, and try to recreate that genuine feeling in your content and posts.
For those “busy bees” whose hands are tied, or the idea of creating your own content doesn’t align exactly with your business strengths, outsourcing this work may be your best option to drive traffic to your page.
An ORM specialist will generally cover content creation and marketing in their services.
7. Monitor New Content
Recent content will appear earlier in search engine results. Monitor your name or that of your business with a service like Google Alerts or Mention to receive updates whenever anything new about you or your brand appears online.
You want to stay on top of this – just as you would doing your laundry or mowing the yard. Set a calendar reminder to dedicate some time to your online reputation maintenance. The sooner you make checking your online status a routine, the easier the road ahead will be.
Many entrepreneurs face fierce competition and an overcrowded market. If someone posts something slanderous about you, knowing the moment it happens allows you the best opportunity to launch crisis control. Furthermore, reputation monitoring will help alert you to new places that your clients could be posting reviews about you.
8. Never Communicate Unprofessionally
Everything you say or do online can and will come back to you if it is negative. Do not engage in arguments with trolls, post negative comments about other local businesses, argue with clients who leave bad reviews or otherwise communicate unprofessionally online.
If anything that you’re writing will be visible to the public, it should be something that you would say in front of your clients, without them fully understanding your situation. Using this guideline, you’ll be able to better identify and eliminate communication that will present you or your brand in a negative light.
While your first and natural instinct will be to defend your position against online attacks, take a step back, breathe, leave the review and come back to it later, when you aren’t as heated. Don’t ever respond to any negative review when you are upset. Approach them objectively, sympathetically, and positively.
9. Become an Expert
The most successful entrepreneurs in the last several years have been by nature pioneers and thought leaders. These are the people who have something original to say, a unique approach to their industry and an unyielding dedication to progressing their craft to the greatest possible extent.
Brainstorm ways that you can set yourself apart and make waves as an entrepreneur.
Establishing yourself as an expert isn’t just to help you branch out your endeavors – becoming a leader creates an additional protective barrier surrounding your digital name.
10. Study Communication Skills
Learn about active listening, public speaking skills and other aspects of communication to improve the image you are projecting. Study written communication, watch your spelling, improve your grammar and otherwise polish how you write.
Improving upon your communication skills will make you better prepared to deliver presentations, attend interviews, appear in videos, write blog posts and talk to your clients. Your written communication is especially important, as it can by pasted into any online forum, opening you up to ridicule for even the smallest errors.
11. New Avenues of Exposure
The more positive exposure you and your brand can achieve, the better. Generate new avenues of press in a manner appropriate for your area of specialization and watch as your reputation grows.
One example of how to approach this is to write guest posts on popular blogs. This will help cultivate you as an expert, gain readers for your blog and increase your potential clients. You might also attend community events, work with local journalists and otherwise gain media exposure within your city.
Other ways to generate new exposure might include speaking at seminars, volunteering or donating to aid local nonprofits, or offering classes on your area of expertise. If you are unsure of how to get your news out and online, speak with a PR specialist for their insights and assistance in generating exposure.
12. Be Consistent
If you’re new to online reputation management, it’s easy to jump in full force at first and then taper off your efforts as time passes. This is a critical mistake that can sabotage your efforts to improve your name online. Don’t stop communicating with clients, increasing your network, posting on your social media accounts and otherwise adhering to your entrepreneurial brand. Consistency is key.
13. Handle Negative Feedback Positively
A negative review of your business or services could be a strictly-bad thing, but only if you let it. In fact, 30% of consumers assume that online reviews are fake if they do not find any negative reviews, and 26% feel that it is important for a local business to respond to reviews.
With these numbers in mind, take negative feedback in stride, do not respond from a place of emotion. Offer to speak with the customer privately to resolve the matter. This helps keep the negativity out of the spotlight while showcasing your dedication to customer satisfaction and your willingness to work with each person objectively.
Also, as you handle negative feedback, know that 95% of unhappy customers are willing to return to a business if an issue is resolved quickly and efficiently.
14. Embrace Transparency
Entrepreneurs have not always needed to be transparent, but today’s age of information demands it. If your transactions and interactions with clients aren’t honest, this will only hurt you in the future. Provide full disclosure about everything you do professionally and don’t get involved with clients or partners who don’t embrace transparency.
If you’re building a business, a lack of transparency gives your competition or any disgruntled parties ammunition to attack you and damage your brand. Transparency takes away much of your competition’s ammunition.
15. Take Responsibility
You will make mistakes and that’s ok. That’s part of the process. The key, along the same line as making opportunities out of negative reviews, is to take responsibility for your mistakes. Own your problems, admit that you dropped the ball and then do everything possible to rectify the issue.
If, for example, you forget to complete part of a project, address your error with your client as soon as you notice. Apologize professionally, offer a discount or partial refund and complete the missing work as soon as possible.
16. Protect Your Online Reputation
Any professional needs to make money to succeed, and as an entrepreneur, your online reputation plays a huge role in how much you’ll earn. Protect your online reputation with your life, because it impacts the quality of life you can live.
Waiting until something negative happens to your reputation will come back to haunt you. Even if you’re working with a clean slate, the sooner you begin building your layers of protection, the harder it will be for someone or something to ruin your name. Proactive reputation management builds a secure and positive digital foundation that in many cases can act as a shield for a negative event.
17. Ask for Testimonials
An entrepreneur’s website isn’t complete without a few highlighted testimonials. Instead of repurposing reviews online for your personal website and other professional use, ask clients for specific testimonials that you can feature. Consider including a short survey with this request to get a better feel for what your clients do and don’t like.
After reading positive reviews elsewhere, 48% of customers will visit a company’s website. When they find additional positive reviews there, they’ll be more likely to give you their business.
18. Build Brand Awareness
As you improve your reputation, spreading brand awareness will make your job much easier. Tactics like creating a referral program, posting unique infographics, partnering with local brands, holding giveaways, offering freemium services, running contests on social media and appearing on popular entrepreneurial podcasts can do wonders for your brand.
Remember, everything you offer should provide value, represent your brand in a positive light and increase consumer awareness of your entrepreneurial endeavors.
19. Respect All Customers, Clients, Partners and Employees
Any customer, client, business partner and past or present employee is a potential reviewer. If you’re building a business, you must respect every person you interact with on a professional level with the full knowledge that they can post about your interactions.
In approaching people with this mindset, you don’t just avoid negative reviews, you generate positive feedback that will polish your image as a successful entrepreneur.
20. Set a Reasonable Timetable
When you’re repairing your online reputation, you must be patient and think long-term. Fixing your Google results isn’t something that happens overnight. Though an expert ORM team can dramatically speed up the process, it can still take months and, in some cases, years to restore a damaged online reputation.
What matters is that you begin working on reputation repair today and that you continue working on it for as long as you’re pursuing your entrepreneurial endeavors.
So… What Now?
Ask yourself this: if the front page of Google is your business card (which it effectively is), how do you want to design it? Now that you have a better understanding of what your online reputation is and how to manage it, you’re ready to begin.
Every entrepreneur is different, and you’ll likely need a unique approach based on your industry, experience and current online reputation. That’s what makes you, YOU after all. As you mend and defend your online reputation, you’ll likely gain more business than ever, enjoy more exposure and begin achieving your goals much more quickly.