Based on my experience with startups, trust is the most valuable asset you can have, especially when asking people to step into the unknown by funding your innovation, by joining your team, or by buying your new product as an early customer.
You need to understand the unfortunate fact that, because of the realities of life struggles, trust does not come by default from anyone these days.
You may be able to invent or even produce a new solution by yourself, but you will soon find that you can't build and run a business without other people, and these people have to trust you.
Thus I recommend to every business owner and entrepreneur that you focus constantly on building and maintaining personal trust through the following strategies:
1. Use storytelling to highlight previous trustworthiness.
The best business leaders are adept at relating anecdotes and prior experiences that humbly and subtly convey that you have already built the trust you need, through previous challenges and results. Demonstrating passion, intelligence, skills, and an innovative solution is not a substitute.
2. Express your commitment to a higher purpose.
People who see your commitment to an important social need, or saving the environment, as a balance to driving for profit will give you extra credit in the trust department. Similarly, if you demonstrate trust and commitment in your life outside of work, your trust factor at work will increase.
3. Take full responsibility for key business milestones.
In business, few things are totally in your control, so many of you find it easy to put the onus for negatives on someone else or the market. This approach is not conducive to trust. Your strategy must be to accept responsibility, communicate continuously, and work effectively on backups.
4. Quantify commitments as results versus effort.
Promises to work hard or to do your best are not conducive to generating trust. These are heard as a hedge, or efforts to avoid accountability. In the same fashion, spoken promises are much less credible than written ones. It pays to listen to feedback, rather than just trust your own perspective.
5. Proactively market and defend your trust image.
Trust is your personal brand, and it must be marketed and protected much like your business brand. Take advantage of advocates and testimonials before you are forced to defend a potential negative trust incident. Don't assume that no visible negatives means your trust is not questioned.
6. For multiple party contracts, always document.
A paper trail is very important to assure trust in formal business dealings, partner arrangements, and all customer transactions. For internal measurements, the metrics should always be written and clear. I see too many trust disputes that could have been avoided by written agreements.
7. Report progress and proactively explain delays.
Nothing kills credibility and trust like having to be hounded for status and delivery of a commitment. All commitments delivered early deserve special mention, and add to your trust reserve. For those needing more time or special effort, offer a recovery plan with alternatives before it becomes a crisis.
8. Never be accused of failure to communicate.
Late communication or lack of communication leads people to believe that you are hiding something, or hoping to avoid the stigma of missed promises. Make sure there are no surprises to people who are counting on you, and failures are acknowledged by you rather than ignored or denied.
9. Always deliver on commitments, no matter how trivial.
What may seem inconsequential to you may be very important to someone else. This includes keeping promises to yourself, as these relate to taking responsibility for your life and discipline. When changes are required, make sure your avoid excuses, and provide alternatives.
10. Avoid overcommitment and underdelivery.
I have seen entrepreneurs overcommit and lose the trust and respect of key people because of a sincere but unrealistic effort to stand out. It is much better to buffer your time requirements, and deliver early, than to be seen as always a day late and a dollar short. You must be the role model for your team.
You have to persuade your team and other key constituents to trust you before they will reciprocate with a full commitment and engagement with you and your business. You can't make up the difference by raising their salary, or dropping the price of your product.
The power of trust is more than money in someone's pocket -- it's a key force that allows you to change the world.