Since 40 million people use online dating services in the U.S. alone, a little profile enhancement evidently isn't a problem even when the disconnect between profile and reality is a little jarring.
But exaggeration can be a real problem in the business world. If your website doesn't reflect the reality of your business, the disconnect can drive potential customers away -- possibly forever.
See if any of these apply to your business website:
1. Your business appears to be taller, thinner, wittier, and more successful than it really is.
Small businesses naturally want to appear bigger. You should always describe your business in positive terms. But don't go too far -- a potential client who doesn't see what they expect to get is likely to walk.
What to do:
- Never use "we" if your business is an "I." I know; "we" and "our staff" sounds more impressive than "I" and "me." If you don't have other employees, be proud of it. Many people prefer dealing with one person. The best book designer I know works alone. The best web designer I know works alone. I like knowing that when I call I will deal with one exceptional person. Plus, addressing clients in the first person on your About Us page may help establish rapport and lets you show a little personality. If your business is an "I," make "I" a selling point.
- Provide details and facts, not platitudes and fluff. If you're a web designer, are you really "passionate about web design"? You may be... but I don't believe you. Not until you prove it. Show me the hundreds of great websites you've designed, or if you're just starting out, show me a few works of web art. The passion proof is in the delivery pudding. I doubt the guy who writes, "I just want to find that special someone I can share my true feelings with as we talk until the sun comes up over a bottle of Bordeaux from an amazing winery I found while backpacking through France leading a group of children on their first venture outside the orphanage..." is sincere. Platitudes make no impact. Describe your company the way it is.
- Skip the fancy titles. Should a four-person company have a President, two Vice Presidents, and a Director of Marketing? (I once visited a 20-employee company with 14 Vice Presidents.) The smaller your business, the sillier lofty titles come across. Customers don't care about titles; customers care about what you can do for them. Describe what you can do.
- Describe aspirations with care. If you have a vision or mission, describe it. But tell potential customers how you plan to achieve that vision or mission. Make sure your website isn't all vision and no action.
(Photo courtesy flickr user cliff1066TM, CC 2.0)
2. Your photos show an idealized, Photoshopped, hyper-attractive version of you and your business.
Think about a businessperson you know, preferably someone with a reasonably high profile. Find their website photo. They look pretty good, right? Now go to their Facebook page or look for photos on Google Images.
Look like the same person? Not quite. (Obviously the guy to the right is an exception.)
Don't get me wrong. You should try to look good in your photos. Studies show people tend to want to do business with attractive people.
Just don't try to look too good. Customers also want to deal with real people, and someday you will meet your clients. And if you won't, while they're checking out your business, potential clients will probably Google you, too.
Either way, potential customers will eventually find out you're not that handsome, not that thin, not that young, and definitely not that intense-yet-sensitive-artist-with-an-old-soul looking.
What to do:
- Use personal photos that flatter but don't mislead. Pick photos that look natural. Think about how you will look when you first meet a customer, and try to match that look. Avoid disconnects between photos and real life (or website photos and Facebook photos) as much as possible. Look good, but look real. Otherwise, when customers meet you they will naturally wonder what else you're hiding or misrepresenting.
- Never use stock photos. Ever. Stock photos look cheesy. And no one is fooled. A poor photo of the real you is better than any stock photo.
- Don't misrepresent your facilities. Ever been to the Alamo? Ever seen the Leaning Tower of Pisa? Bit of a letdown in person? In photos many landmarks look a lot different because the surrounding area is usually cropped out. Try to show your facilities to their best advantage without misrepresenting the reality. Someday, someone will visit -- and if no one ever will, why show photos of your facilities at all?
- Most of all, remember, you're not a celebrity. Actors, performers, etc. make a living based at least partly on how they look. You don't. You make a living based on what you do. Always keep that in mind and you won't go too far wrong.
(photo of Hugh Jackman courtesy flickr user Surrealistic Scenes, CC 2.0)
3. You've removed anything even remotely negative about your business.
Ever seen a dating profile that said, "My last relationship only ended after she took out a restraining order on me"? Of course not. Highlighting the positives about your business is expected.
But just like the people who Google other people to find out more about them, potential customers can find out about your business from a variety of sources and not just from your website. Aside from sites like Yelp, hundreds of smaller niche review sites may also list information about your company. If that is the case, deal with the situation head on.
What to do:
- Know what's out there. Check out review sites, Twitter, etc., and find out what customers said. Then make sure your website reflects what you know. You don't have to admit to every mistake on your site, but don't claim a "100% on-time shipping record" if a number of customers have complained on review sites about late shipments. When that happens, for right or wrong the average person will assume the company is lying and not the consumer. Never make unsubstantiated claims, and definitely never make a claim that can be disproved with a little online searching.
- If you've overcome an issue, say so. Say a number of customer complaints appear about a payment processing issue caused by a breakdown in your merchant services system. If you addressed the problem, let potential customers know: Describe what happened and the steps you took to overcome it. Customers will forgive errors as long as you fix them and work to make sure they won't reoccur. Transparency goes a long way: If you mess up, 'fess up, and explain what you did to resolve the problem.
- Monitor and address your reputation. Regularly review online comments, complaints, etc. But don't just view them -- respond. If a customer complains, resolve the complaint. A number of businesses use Twitter to address complaints and resolve problems. Never forget that your website is just one point of information about your business.
(Photo courtesy flickr user Jennifer Leigh.'s, CC 2.0)
Every business has an ideal customer in mind. (Even if "ideal" just means "paying.") If you decide to target your website to potentially ideal customers, great -- just make sure the customers you say you want are really the customers you want, and can handle.
For example, lots of businesses hope and dream of landing an enabling customer that will take them to the next level. Enabling customers are like Vegas whales, though: There are very few to go around and every casino wants them. Spend too much website time focusing on landing a big fish and you may miss a lot of small fish that could have built a solid business.
What to do:
- Identify your ideal customer. Think about how your website can attract, market to, and land ideal customers. Then...
- Identify the customers you are more likely to land. Don't think of it as settling; think of it as a reality check. You may want a certain type of customer, but at this stage in your business, what is realistic? Then...
- Make sure your website messaging focuses on the customers you have a strong chance of landing, while never excluding your ideal customer.
In that case, make sure your website targets the mid-sized companies while describing, briefly, what you can also do for larger companies. If your message focuses on "comprehensive, multi-week training programs for industry-leading multinational corporations," you may lose your target market -- and the big boys won't call either, because they can tell by your website you really can't handle their business.
By the way: If you think I'm exaggerating in the last paragraph, I'm not: I did a little searching and found a number of consultants whose websites do exactly what I just described not to do.
Landing whales is tough. Fish in waters where you can make a living, and occasionally cast a line into deeper waters.
Bottom line: Be who you are. Work hard, service your customers well, and who you are will be more than enough.
(Photo courtesy flickr user striatic, CC 2.0)