From the December 2000 issue of Startups

Sure, you know you're the hottest homebased business to grace this planet or any other. But why should potential customers believe you? Not many homebased entrepreneurs admit that they blow, after all. But what if, say, Dr. U. Rock of Zebulon, Georgia, were the one singing your praises? Now that people know an actual customer has been pleased with your product or service, they can rest assured that you won't disappear with their money to a New Orleans strip joint.

Since assuring prospects that they'll get their money's worth should be the number-one priority for every homebased business owner, read on for the who, how, what and where of snagging and using testimonials.

Who
Since Oprah probably won't give you the time of day, you'll have to settle for regular people. Don't worry-the buying public won't scoff at testimonials from John Q Neverheardofhim. "In most cases," says Shel Horowitz, author of Grassroots Marketing, "what they say is more important than who they are."

What
Okay, so what your customers say is more important than who they are. Got it. Now what is it that makes a mind-blowing, tear-jerking, wallet-opening testimonial?

Drool marks and tears on the paper? Good. Dry language and all the emotion of the Terminator? Bad. "If I can 'feel' their words," says Barbara Sybal, owner of homebased business GFX Printing in Toronto, "so can others."

Did your weight loss program help a customer lose 452 pounds? Did your copywriting increase a client's business by 6,000 percent? Try to get results into your testimonials.

If possible, get the customer's permission to use his or her full name and e-mail address. Otherwise, who's to say you're not making it all up?

How
Now that you know what you want, how can you ask your customers to pour their hearts out onto a sheet of paper for you? These homebased business owners have all sorts of tricks up their collective sleeve for getting the goods:

"I always follow up with customers-first by letting them know the item is on the way and then asking if it made it safely," says Sherri Breetzke, owner of The Creativity Zone in Melbourne, Florida, which offers handcrafted gift items. "These two contacts provide great opportunities for customers to respond with positive feedback. I then ask for permission to use those comments as testimonials."

Sybal entices clients by offering to provide a link to their Web site with the testimonial.

Not all clients are budding Hemingways, and they might feel dread at the thought of their rambling prose being shared with the world. "If I want a testimonial badly enough, I'll even offer to write it for someone," says Horowitz. "But I don't have to do that very often."

Where
Try a sprinkling of testimonials on your Web site, in your brochure, in the signature of your e-mail messages. On your business cards. On your forehead. Anyplace where prospects will see them and where you'll get that much-needed dose of credibility.


Linda Formichelli has written for more than 70 magazines, including Entrepreneur's Start-Ups, Redbook, Woman's Day and Psychology Today. You can visit her online at www.twowriters.net. She also runs a site that's against intrusive advertising at www.badads.org.