By Darrah Brustein, founder, Network Under 40.
Pop quiz: What form of currency never fluctuates with the market?
Answer? Your reputation.
Your actions + what others say about you = your reputation. This small formula is the most powerful leverage you have in business — and in life, for that matter.
While people say you shouldn’t be concerned about what others think, I’m wary of that advice. Whether it’s a vendor cutting you a great deal, a hiring manager considering offering you a position, or someone with purchasing power, others often decide your fate. All it takes is a small sway from a trusted contact to either get you in or push you out.
Today, we have to think more about reputation management even more than we did in the past. Not only do we have to worry about how we present ourselves in the flesh, but we also have to be aware of how we come across online. I’m not here to teach you the basics, like avoiding immature or offensive content on social media pages. Hopefully, you know that. I’m here to remind you to create a great impression in real life and then leverage that work to create a strong reputation currency online.
Here are 10 basic guidelines to consider:
- Do what you say you’ll do. It sounds so darn simple, but think about it: How many times did you request that your banker send you something, that your assistant pick something up, or that your vendor call you back, to no avail? You then have to remember to follow up and hope that they keep their word. Now think of a time when someone told you they’d do something and delivered on it. You probably think of them as reliable and dependable. You trust them. And in all likelihood, you’d give them a strong recommendation or referral, right? Aim to be that person.
- Go out of your way to help others reach their goals. Being reputable goes beyond a concern for yourself and your own advancement. Foster a mindset of helping other people. Is your friend’s child in college and looking to get some insights into the business world? Offer to spend some time speaking with him/her to offer guidance and answer questions. Do you know someone in sales who is looking for a deal? Ask them if you can help by making the right introduction. Does one of your co-workers need to leave 30 minutes early for a family commitment? Offer to cover for them.
- Make other people look good. Have you ever been thrown under the bus? No fun, right? It’s important to find ways to make other people look good (for reasons other than not being a jerk). Did someone refer you to a company as a possible client or for a job? Make sure to make them look great as a thank you! Get there early, be prepared, and follow up accordingly in a timely manner with both parties. By making the referring party look great for introducing you, your reputation continues to grow.
- Go a step beyond what is expected. Did someone ask for a reference from you? Offer three. Did you say you’d save them 10 percent? Save them 15. Did you say you’d follow up in 24 hours? Follow up in 12. If you had a great meeting, send a hand-written thank you note. These small gestures go a long way and will make you stand out.
- Look the part. An often overlooked and undervalued component to your reputation is your first impression. And like it or not, people make judgements before you open your mouth. Be sure to dress for the environment you’re in. Don’t be too casual. Always err on the side of being too dressy if you aren’t sure of the dress code. Make sure your attire is clean, unwrinkled, well fitting and modern. Have your hair groomed, and if you wear makeup, make sure it’s not distracting. Don’t lose your chance to impress someone simply because you don’t look appropriate.
- Consider your body language. Your body language tells people a lot. Make sure you have your body facing your audience, your feet pointed towards them, and a tall stance. Nod your head to show agreement, leaning into the other person at times, and smile here and there. Check out body language expert Vanessa Van Edwards, founder of the Science of People, for some great tips on how your body language is speaking for you.
- Be consistent. Being inauthentic will do you no good, because you won’t be able to remain consistent. You need to show the same great qualities to everyone you meet, bad days included. If you are great in one setting and nasty, rude, and/or cold in other environments, your reputation will suffer. People are willing to share negative experiences much more readily than positive ones. And as you know, they can spread quickly.
- Act with integrity. This should be the foundation of everything you do. But, especially in the world of business, small acts of greed, selfishness and jealousy can work against you (in ways you may not even notice) and showcase your lack of integrity. If you wouldn’t buy the deal you’re selling, don’t sell it. If you know you can’t get back to someone when you promise, that is not being forthright.
- Get engaged with your community. Your community can be as small as your office or as large as your city. Your engagement will have everything to do with your values and goals. Being engaged means getting to know people, giving back your time and resources, and being available.
- Be likeable. Being likeable directly relates to being you. Smile more, approach someone you don’t know, offer a handshake, or wish someone congratulations. These small things can all make you more likeable. What is unlikeable is being fake. Be careful not to falsify who you are just to be likeable.
The people in your life who demonstrate most or all of these traits are probably the people you hold in the highest regard. Their reputations precede them (in a good way) and they don’t have to sell themselves or brag, because others are doing it for them. And there is no greater value than a positive reputation, as it will open doors for you that you otherwise never could.
Darrah Brustein is the co-founder of Equitable Payments, a merchant services brokerage, and founder of Network Under 40, a monthly networking event for young professionals. Darrah recently authored Finance Whiz Kids, a series of kids book that teach the basics of financial education.
Originally published at www.forbes.com