From the June 2004 issue of Entrepreneur

Trust is an intangible asset that has the unusual characteristic of being granted upfront and tested afterward. When I drop my clothes off at a new dry cleaner, for example, I trust that they won't be lost. When I pick them up and everything is in order, my trust level increases, and I return. However, if the new dry cleaner breaks the buttons on my favorite dress shirt, my trust level disappears completely.

If your message is believable and genuine, those people who have a need for your services will trust you upfront. This is why sales between people who have never met occur all the time.

Even more magnificent-once someone believes in you, he or she is inspired to help you. Whenever someone asks for a reliable dry cleaner, I recommend mine with complete confidence.

To build and maintain this kind of customer loyalty and trust:

1. Figure out why people should trust you. If my dry cleaner advertises that he is the fastest in town, I trust him only if I get my clothes back quickly every time. What are you asking people to trust? Find the true reason people should conduct business with you by examining your motivation and desire for being in business. Be specific. Then bring your greater focus to that element of your business so that it's always delivered flawlessly.

2. Widely spread your unique trust factor. People remember what they read and hear. Make sure your brochure, Web site and phone conversations are peppered with sentences and phrases that back up your business's biggest value. People will recognize and remember it-spreading the word about your business even faster.

3. Create a process of action steps. People love plans. Most businesspeople only talk about how they work with others-creating abstract goals that aren't solidified in writing. When you begin a new business relationship, clearly state your objectives and goals. Then write down the action steps you are going to take to achieve those goals, naming the party responsible for the action and the expected completion date. Even if it's only a few steps, an action plan in writing creates an immediate foundation for trust, as well as a source for future reference so misunderstandings can be mitigated.

4. Align your actions with results. Trustworthy people let their work speak for them. Always state the results people have achieved from working with you. It reinforces your value and makes for wonderful testimonials.

5. Keep your promises. It sounds simple; however, always underpromise and overdeliver. People love it when they unexpectedly receive something extra. If you get off track or make a mistake, let the client know. It's OK! Always tell them the next action you're going to take to achieve success.

Referral businesses are particularly reliant on the trust of others. There is no better advertising in the world than having someone say "You have to do business with this person-I really trust him (or her)."

Editor's note: Looking for our "Countdown to Startup" series? We've compiled it into one easy-to-use feature. Click here to read it.


Speaker and consultant Romanus Wolter, aka "The Kick Start Guy," is author of Kick Start Your Dream Business.