How to build business relationships based on trust – Suzy Sanders, Alchemy VA

Why should anyone trust your business? It might not be a question you’ve asked yourself before, but it’s certainly one that your potential customers will ask before they hand over their money.

To me, trust is split into two elements. There’s the relationship building element of trust and there’s the practical aspect.

Alchemy Virtual Assistance, the business I founded, has been built on building long term, sustainable and trusting professional relationships – mostly online. Building trust is something that we are all used to, even if we haven’t run a business before.

The practical side of trust – let me explain…

The practical side of trust in business is something that you can only truly get to grips with when you’re running a company. What do I mean by the practical side of trust? Well, at Alchemy Virtual Assistance we handle a lot of commercially sensitive data and information (from new project ideas to customer data) and our clients need to know that anything they share with us is always kept safe and secure.

With any professional relationship, whether your outsourcing your admin or something else entirely, it is absolutely imperative that you carry out essential due diligence checks to protect your business. This means taking practical steps, exploring things like cybersecurity, GDPR compliance and legal policies, agreements and terms.

By taking these all-important practical elements into account, you can look at what measures are in place to keep their data, reputation and operations safe, efficient and legal.

It’s essential to understand what concerns your potential customers might have about your business, what steps you can take to reduce their anxieties and start to earn their trust.  Little things can sometimes make a big difference and taking simple steps like featuring your photo and contact details prominently on your website and adding them to your email signature can help people to see that there’s a real person behind your online business.

Other more significant practical elements include registering with the Information Commissioners Office (ICO) for Data Protection purposes and having professional insurances as well as terms and conditions. Our terms and conditions set out how we work as a business, it’s another way of being transparent and managing expectations which both allow trust to grow.

These practical steps are a good foundation for building trust with your audience and connections, but on their own they’re not always enough, especially to a virtual business like mine.

Forget the ‘quick wins’ – let’s talk about trusting relationships…

The relationship a professional virtual assistant has with their clients is a particularly close one, they are a powerful strategic business partner and work with clients in a very holistic way. To me, this relationship is very universal, it’s not ‘just’ about the admin. Our clients really value our rounded approach which can include things like brainstorming new initiatives, regular accountability calls and activities that strengthen relationships with their clients and key stakeholders. For it to work, it needs complete trust and its vital that everyone is always on the same page when it comes to communication, timescales, commitments and expectations.

I admit that by always having the best interests of our potential clients at heart, as a business we might miss out on a few ‘quick wins’. But, to me, it’s the long-term sustainability, profitability and reputation of my business that’s more important.

We’re very fortunate in that most of our clients come to us via word of mouth, which means that they’re being referred to us by people who already have confidence in us. But word-of-mouth recommendations don’t remove the need to develop a successful relationship – deep trust with each and every client is so important, as every business and business owner is so different.

Take your time – keep your integrity and be open, transparent and honest

With any new client relationship, it takes time to build trust and we always start slow and steady so we can make the time to get to know each individual we’re working with. Explaining the practical steps, some of which I mentioned earlier, that we’ve refined and have in place really helps relieve any commercial anxieties a client might have around outsourcing work to us. Having the practical elements in hand allows us to dedicate more focus to building trust and ensure that we’re completely aligned.

Integrity is my number one core value, both personally and professionally and in my opinion, integrity is the essential foundation to building trust. The greatest expression of integrity is when as a business owner you have the courage and awareness to say, “Look, I don’t think we’re going to be the right people for you”. From my own experience, this could be because your prospective client doesn’t feel like a good fit from a values perspective, or it could be because you don’t think you can make a massive practical impact to them.

I started my virtual assistant business to help people, to make a positive difference and on the rare occasion that this has happened, I always refer them onto someone who I know that can help. To me creating trusting professional relationships is all encompassing, it should be with ALL your connections not just with your clients and customers. By being open, transparent and honest from the start, you can avoid stressful and expensive issues that could arise further down the line as well this honesty being used to forge a deeper level of understanding and trust.

And now for the practical tips

We all do business with those that we know, like and trust. If you’re just starting out and don’t yet have the luxury and comfort of word of mouth to bring you new opportunities, then the same advice applies but you’ll need to first get to know people. Whether you have an existing network or audience, or you are looking to build a new one, taking the time to build the trust is imperative. It’s not about selling, no one really likes being sold to.

Instead, take the time to ask questions, to listen and learn about your connections, audience and peers. What challenges do they face? What motivates them? What successes and accomplishments are they celebrating? What frustrations and anxieties do they have? What solutions do they need access to?

From those conversations you can start to understand how you fit in, how your business can make a positive impact without the hard sell.

When reflecting on the decision that I made to franchise my business, as you might imagine, that’s another area where trust is vital! My aim has never been to sell as many virtual assistant franchises as possible, but instead is to commit to the right people. Quality not quantity. This approach allows us the time and focus to build the kind of relationship that makes the arrangement a mutually beneficial and wildly successful one.

Put simply, building trust starts with putting in the groundwork in and taking a long-term view. It’s a marathon not a sprint. It’s the approach that Alchemy Virtual Assistance has taken, and as a result has brought us a steady stream of the type of clients (and franchisees) we absolutely love to work with!

Find out more: www.theafa.org.uk/members/alchemy

You can download Suzy’s guide to hiring a virtual assistant here.

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