Post by Laura Thompson, contributing Women On Business writer
When driving your car, do you prefer to stare at the road through a clear, unobstructed windshield, or one rendered opaque by dirt, dust and smoke? Obviously, the latter is fraught with problems, and might result in a wreck as well as frustration.
What about your friends? Are you drawn to people who are open, honest and candid, or do you resonate with those who always seem to be holding something back?
Transparency is a concept we use to make dozens of decisions every day, whether we realize it or not. You are more likely to try out an unfamiliar restaurant, for example, if you can easily discern the type of food served from the sign by the side of the road than if you had to go in blind.
The same goes for your business. If you are not consciously and actively striving for transparency on a daily basis, your clients will look for someone who is.
Building Trust Through Transparency
Many women run businesses primarily over the Internet rather than in brick-and-mortar stores and office buildings. This is a convenient and low-cost way to make a living, but it also heightens the need for transparency in business.
Your clients probably never meet you face-to-face, and even if they do, it isn’t until after you’ve established an initial relationship via e-mail or telephone. In the absence of body language and the other physical indicators we use to determine someone else’s personality and intent, your clients are forced to rely on less reliable measures to decide whether or not they want to work with you.
Why make it difficult for them? By increasing transparency, you communicate indirectly that you are a trustworthy and genuine individual who wants to conduct business in a safe, secure atmosphere.
Dare to Be Unique
One of the reasons women in business do not make transparency a high priority is because they are afraid of the consequences. “If my clients see who I really am, will they want to work with me?” This is a common fear, and one you should shake off as quickly as possible.
If the Internet has taught us anything, it’s that unique is better. If you’re like every other business in your industry, why would your clients choose you over the competition? What draws people to your business that wouldn’t send them away just as quickly? To set yourself apart is to increase your chances for success.
For example, when I started by horse business consulting firm, I was scared that no one would hire me because I was a sole proprietor. I figured most horse business owners would want to work with a larger company with unlimited resources. I considered passing my business off as a larger operation, but decided against it because such a thing just doesn’t resonate with me.
I needn’t have worried, however, because my very first client told me how refreshing it was to work with a single professional throughout the entire process. Since then, she has referred six other clients to my business.
Don’t assume that you have to compete with the big boys just to make a living, and don’t think that your special qualities are not deserving of attention. If you try to be like everyone else, eventually you will get your wish and probably go out of business.
Five Ways to Increase Transparency
Now that you understand why transparency is so important for women in business, you’re probably wondering how you can increase transparency in your business.
Be Honest. Sounds simple, right? But how honest is your average politician? And most of them got started in the corporate world. If you can be totally honest with your clients, employees and associates 80 percent of the time, I’d wager you’d have 90 percent of your competition beat.
Provide Frequent Updates. Transparency in business means keeping your clients updated on everything that’s going on. If you’re about to make a change, let clients know ahead of time so they aren’t surprised. If you think clients might react negatively, outline your reasons so they understand your decision.
Spell Out Pricing. This is a deal-breaker for me when I hire someone as a service provider. If you can’t tell me why you’re charging me a specific rate, or how the price on the invoice is calculated, I’m walking out the proverbial door. Don’t let your prices be a mystery; explain to your clients exactly how they incur specific charges.
Admit Your Shortcomings. I hate to tell you this, but you are not good at everything. If you try to become everything to your clients, they will quickly realize you aren’t capable. I have the utmost respect for a professional who feels comfortable saying, “I’m sorry, I’m not qualified for that project, but can I suggest another professional who might be more suitable for the job?”
Laugh at Yourself. If you run a blog or hold an account on Twitter or write articles, feel free to open yourself up to criticism. Tell embarrassing stories, admit mistakes and give your readers a reason to believe you are human. If you constantly project an air of perfection, readers and clients will recognize the deception and move on.
I’ve given you the building blocks for increasing transparency in your business, but there is certainly more to explore. Share with us in the comments the ways that you promote transparency in your business.