As a small business owner, your reputation is everything. It will make or break your business. Warren Buffet understood the value of a good business reputation when he said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it. If you think about that, you’ll do things differently.”

But protecting your reputation in the days of social media is hard. According to the White House Office of Consumer Affairs, an unhappy customer will tell between nine to 15 people about the incident. This number gets amplified when they choose to do it in a social stream. Sometimes it’s not even anything your business did wrong.

How about this TripAdvisor review?

Can someone please get on that?

Sure, we may snicker about some of those bad reviews but when they happen to your business, they’re not funny. So what do you do if your reputation is in need of a little help? Don’t worry. We have a list of things that can help those minor blips in the road. However, please note these won’t solve major PR problems but they are a start. Ready?

12 Ways to Improve Your Business Reputation for Free
Whether you are a new business looking to build your reputation, a seasoned business needing to do some reputation management, or if you simply want some ideas to get your business name out there, here is a list of ways you can positively build your business reputation:

Volunteer
Volunteering is the easiest way to build your reputation, and there are so many different volunteer opportunities within your community. You can volunteer on a committee, volunteer with local charities, or volunteer in a leadership role. there are literally thousands of nonprofits in our area that can use extra hands. Speaking of, if you’re looking for a volunteer opportunity involving business…

Get Involved With Your Local Chamber Of Commerce
Now, we may be biased, but this can really work! According to the Shapiro Study, customers who know that a small business is a member of the chamber of commerce, say they are 49% more likely to think favorably about it and 80% more likely to purchase goods or services from the company in the future.

Value Your Employees
Let’s face it, if your employees are unhappy, they won’t actively promote your business because they don’t feel like a valued part of it. In fact, truly unhappy employees could be spreading more negativity than you realize if they complain to friends and family about you and your business. Find ways to show your employees how much you value what they do – they can be your best ambassadors.

Coach The Local Baseball Team
Or really any team. If you have a lot of kids (and most kids playing sports have parents or guardians with purchasing power) in your community, a great way to be more involved and promote your reputation at the same time is to give back to children. You can also organize adult league games to get others participating and having fun in your community through organizations or even the Park and Rec department.

Attend School “Career Days”
When kids hear how cool it is to be an entrepreneur, they will go home and tell their parents and friends all about your business.

Be Responsive
Responding to emails, social media posts (good or bad), customer concerns, and questions might be time consuming, but it’s free. It will also increase your customer retention rate. Even if they aren’t happy with the product, they will appreciate that you wanted to make it right.  Think about it – one of your major complaints about automated phone systems and generic emails is that you can’t talk to a real person.  Change that within your business and you’ll be heads and shoulders above a lot of your competitors.

Attend Community Events
You don’t always need to have a booth or be selling your products to attend events. Simply attending the event shows that you are supporting people and causes in your community.  Care is a hot commodity nowadays.

Address Bad Reviews
Know that not every customer is going to be 100% satisfied. Address bad reviews in a courteous and helpful way, without being defensive. Having said that, I’m not sure how you get less sand on a beach short of ordering up a hurricane (see review at the top of this article). In that case, you may just want to thank them for their suggestion and tell them that many people use baby powder to keep sand stickage on the body to a minimum. Add value. Be helpful.

Ask for Feedback
Ask your fellow business owners and friends to critique your Facebook page, website, and/or storefront. Be open to the feedback they provide, and make any necessary changes that fall in line with your ideal audience. Think about how YOU consume digital media and a lot of solutions will pop up.

Don’t Share Anything Controversial on Facebook (or the Internet)
Even if you have strong opinions on a subject, it is much better to keep those to yourself to avoid possibly offending a group of your customers. Your business Facebook page needn’t be all business all the time, off-topic entertainment often gets the most shares and interactions. However, no matter how funny, posts about politics, religion, sexual orientation, ethnicity, and other sensitive subjects are best left off social media. If you’re wondering if it’s appropriate, always err on the side of caution. Cheap engagement is just that and probably not your core demographic anyways.

Partner with the Local Newspaper to Write a Human Interest Piece on Your Business
Don’t be afraid to ask to be interviewed in the local paper; chances are, they are looking for stories as it is. Creating a good relationship with the local newspaper is a great way to build your reputation and they’re always looking for angles. Just make sure your pitch is not an advertorial. They want human interest and your next sale doesn’t qualify. Consider your founder’s history or story int he area, a special anniversary or a topic of that nature. Even if the local paper isn’t interested in your story, your customers are. So make sure you share it.

Keep Your Word
Really, this isn’t just a business lesson, it’s a life lesson. Do what you say you are going to do, and people will notice. Go back on your word, and people will notice that, too. No one wants to work with someone they can’t rely on.

Remember, a positive reputation is your business’ backbone, and these suggestions won’t cost you anything but your time!