By Mike Southon, FT columnist

I recently gave a training course to small business owners, and as part of my preparation I visited all the delegates’ web sites to better understand their particular sales challenges. For at least half of them, the problem was self-evident: there were no human beings featured on their sites at all.

In a very few instances, this is the correct approach. If you already have a good brand and people want to buy a commodity, then you do not need a personal welcome from Jeff Bezos when you arrive at Amazon.

But if you run a service business similar to many others, such as a law firm, accounting practice or design consultancy, only two things differentiate you from your competition: the people who choose to work for you and the people who choose to buy from you.

It is very important that any potential customers see the profiles and expertise of the people you will be proposing to undertake the work, as well as detailed case studies from happy customers whose problems you solved.

On the workshop I heard to two classic excuses for not having details of any people on their web sites. The first was a concern that if they build up the personal brand of a specific consultant, they would take this as an incentive to leave the firm and start up their own company, in competition.

While this is an understandable concern, the solution is simple. If someone wants to leave your firm it is because they do not feel valued or are managed poorly. If you suspect this might be the case, then a swift salary and bonus review is probably in order, and perhaps even the offer of a partnership or equity might be considered if they are that important to your company.

If they are brilliant but disruptive and hence not a team player, then this is the perfect opportunity to raise their profile externally and wish them well as they ruin their own or someone else’s company.

The other and more mundane excuse I hear for not putting people’s pictures and biographies on the web site is that they are essentially shy and hate having their photograph taken or beating their own drum in public.

This is completely understandable; most people hate photographic sessions, even professional extroverts such as salespeople or professional speakers. What makes the process easier and more effective is to not just hire a professional and likeable photographer, but also to employ the services of a stylist.

A good stylist is someone who can gain a shy person’s confidence quickly, and then find the right clothes to make them feel like a million dollars without actually spending that amount. Their clients can then approach the photographic session with much more confidence.

My final tip is not to choose the photographs for the web site yourself. Most of us only remember the image of ourselves as we looked in the bathroom mirror in the morning. In real life we look different, which is why your spouse or life partner as well as work colleagues, rather than yourself, should choose the photograph.

If you feel really bold, you might even include this picture on your business card. Everyone find it much easier to remember someone’s face than a name.

If you are happy with your web image, featuring a good picture next to a summary of your expertise, then the final step is to include yourself in the customer case study. If you are indeed shy but effective, there is nobody more appropriate to sing your praises than a happy customer.

Originally published in The Financial Times: http://www.ft.com
Copyright ©Mike Southon 2011. All Rights Reserved. Not to be
reproduced without permission in writing.

Mike Southon - Co-author of The Beermat Entrepreneur & Business Speaker - http://www.mikesouthon.com

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