In a way, the Internet may be compared to the Wild Wild West. (Where do you think the acronym ‘WWW’ came from?) There is no real central authority that is in charge and many scam artists take full advantage of this. Especially as a small business owner with no large company name behind yours, building credibility in the prospectís mind becomes crucial. Refrigerator Buying Guide

Here are seven ways to build your online credibility.

1. You may find it beneficial to place your picture (even a smugshot) on your website.

Brick and mortar stores have the advantage since the clerk has a direct face-to-face conversation with the customer. It is therefore easier to ëconnectí and form a relationship.

I recently read an interesting thread on a marketing forum message board with several people giving their opinions on the pros and cons of placing your picture on your site. Most of the fears expressed were that people might be turned off by the ownerís ethnicity. Even though this is a real fear I think that the best reaction I read on this point came from an Italian-American small business owner. She said that she would not want to do business with someone who was prejudiced against her anyway ñ I thought to myself ñ ìProblem solved!î

Your photo helps your visitor to reach across the great chasm of the Internet and touch your customer -ñ right from their monitors. Why do you think cellular phone customers are trading in their ëold phonesí for the new ëtalk-to-me-and-see-me-at-the-same-timeí models?

2. Provide an audio message in your own voice.

This is closely tied to the former tip. It all has to do with feeling connected and human. We are not computers ñ we just use them. We have emotions and use them to communicate. There is nothing that can communicate emotions like the human voice.

I can still fondly remember those days before my family could afford a television. As children we often listened to those radio dramas. You were there in the center of the action. ëThe Loooooonee RRRRanger!î the gallop of the horses, the crackle of gunfire Ö trust me, you were there. You smelled the gunpowder and rode those horses!

What can you use your voice to do? At least it can say, ìThere is a REAL person behind this websiteî. In this our automated age REAL counts.

3. Place your PHYSICAL address and contact information on every page.

Here again you are being transparent and in the open about your identity and how you may be contacted. You have nothing to hide, and you do not intend to take their money and close down your website the next day.

Your address also adds a sense of structure to the very fluid environment of the Internet. It is much like the sign on a brick and mortar store ñ this is where Iím located. That is why just a post office box number would not suffice.

Can you be reached by fax, landline phone, email, and mobile phone? This information adds to your credibility, not to mention your perceived availability.

4. Do not use a free email or hosting service as your main site.

Tied closely to credibility are the perceptions that you create of your business. Some say that in business image is everything. That may be taking it a little too far but you are NOT who you think you are but what the customer perceives you to be!

If you use a free email service such as hotmail.com what does this say about you? You are so successful but you cannot even afford a paid email service? Most spammers use these free email accounts anyway ñ thatís another count against you. It may be best to use the account associated with your paid websiteís domain. I think that almost all web hosting services provide POP email accounts.

5. Have an ëAboutí page.

When a surfer appears at your site for the first time it is like going on a blind date. The visitor may have heard a little about you and know where to find you but she is practically just window-shopping. The ëAboutí page gives her a good chance to get a quick background check on you. She can then know if you are the one she really wants to build a relationship with.

Information you should place on this page includes:
– a personal and professional biography,
– maybe a photograph of yourself,
– name, address and telephone number,
– your company objectives,
– a comprehensive description of you and your company.

Just knowing this ëoutlineí of who you are places the visitor at ease and most of the nervous jitter hopefully disappears. Why? She sees you are not afraid to be checked out.

6. Include a ëPrivacy Statementí.

Internet users are becoming more and more sensitive to how their personal information is being used. This makes it almost imperative for you to provide a page with your privacy policy.

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