A recent study shows that trust remains the single most important asset within small businesses - an interesting fact when viewed against a finding in a separate report that claimed that some Britons have become less honest than they were a decade ago.
In a study conducted by the Essex Centre for the Study of Integrity more than 2,000 adults were asked to take an ‘integrity test’, in which they were asked whether they thought a range of activities could ever be justified. This comparative research reveals the public show a more tolerant attitude towards a range of misdemeanours, such as having an extramarital affair or failing to leave contact details after damaging a parked car.
Fortunately for law-abiding citizens more than seven out of ten respondents said they would never condone illegal activities such as tax-dodging. However around half thought in some cases falsifying a job application is sometimes justified. Interestingly in 2011, Britons were more likely to condemn overtly illicit behaviour like accepting bribes than they were to condemn lying.
So what do these new attitudes mean for businesses where honesty and integrity are crucial?
The word ‘trust’ has been a matter of debate within the media recently, where the perceived lack of trust in businesses – in part the result of the banking crisis in 2008 – has been highlighted by the recent spotlight on executive remuneration. The rise in personal injury claims from ‘claims farmers,’ people who will help a victim to sue for injuries such as whiplash in return for a cut of the damages, has also been in the headlines.
The Institute of Business Ethics (IBE) has revealed that SMEs are characterised by their more informal values and ethical principles, which are usually implicit as opposed to formally expressed through the ethics policies, codes and programmes familiar in larger companies. The IBE revealed that the ethics of a very small organisation is typically influenced by the owner manager or managing director.
Author of the integrity study based at the University of Essex, Professor Paul Whiteley, has said that levels of integrity are important because those who scored highly on the test were also likely to have a strong sense of civic duty. “If social capital is low, and people are suspicious and don’t work together,” he said, “ those communities have worse health, worse educational performance, they are less happy and they are less economically developed and entrepreneurial. It really does have a profound effect.”
The importance of trust was also highlighted by research by a small business insurance specialist, who discovered that SMEs value trust and loyalty above all else from their ideal company board. Nearly half of the SME owners polled cited trust and loyalty combined (48%) as the most important attributes of a perfect board team, followed by direction and advice (20%) and business growth/financial management (17%).
Building trust online is a key focus for many businesses looking at growth, and whose services require them to take out protective policies like professional indemnity insurance . With your company’s website acting as a crucial tool for building first impressions, here are 10 top tips for online success:
- Quality web design will give your website a professional look, building credibility.
- Trust marks such as Versign and Thawte reinforce data security
- Studies have shown that customer testimonials/ product endorsements build trust
- Make sure your website is easy and straightforward to navigate.
- High-standards in copywriting are essential. Poor spelling or grammar can put people off.
- Your website users like to see fresh content – it demonstrates relevance
- Put a face to the business – include pictures, experience and the company’s ethos. For larger SMEs, this could include not only the owner, but the management.
- Add a weekly or monthly blog – this will be the company’s voice and shows the “real you”.
- Ensure your website has the fastest page-load time it can.
- Ensure your profile is high – search engine results matter, so look at getting search engine optimisation (SEO) on your own site.