The one time it does matter what people think: business testimonials and wise ways to use them

Megan Douglas

Megan Rose Freelance

Reputation, or what people think of you, matters in the world of business. What people say about you is one important part of reputation, and it’s especially important if, like me, you’re a small business or freelancer.

Let’s be realistic, you’re never going to please everyone. There will be clients who aren’t a good fit for your business, and there will be people whose expectations don’t match the reality of what you can offer. But harnessing the power of your supporters… that’s where the gold is.

Recommendations, testimonials, reviews, feedback, comments. Whatever you call them, they matter

Wherever they come from, what we’re talking about here is basically something somebody else has said about your business, in a positive light. It’s a third party backing up what you say about yourself. Someone singing your praises.

Get the basics right

Before you use the words that anyone’s said about you, make sure that they’re OK with it. Do you have permission? GDPR and all that.

Just because someone sent you feedback doesn’t mean they’re happy for it to be shared with their name attached. They might just intend it as a pat on the back to you and not want it to go further.

And if you do have permission, find out if they want it to be used anonymously, just credited with their initials, their first name, their full name, or their business name.

Clients range from those who don’t want their words used, even anonymously, right up to those who are desperate for you to publicise their review and link over to their own sites or social media profiles. Make sure you know where you stand.

Where do you get testimonials from? Often the best testimonials are really simple to get – just ask a happy client if they’ll write one.

Sometimes people struggle for where to start or what to say (especially true of copywriting clients, because they’re often the ones who find it hard to put things into words).

So you might want to give them some prompts about the types of things you’d like them to focus on. So, you might ask them to talk about the quality of your work, as well as how you are to get along with from a client’s perspective.

Or you might prefer to focus on whether your services are reliable and provide value for money. In my book, it’s OK to give them guidance like that, but if you start telling them what to say about those things, that’s where it starts getting a bit icky and murky.

Where else might you find good reviews, other than asking happy clients for them? Well, have a think about whether any of these might help:

  • reviews left directly on your Facebook page or on your LinkedIn profile as recommendations
  • feedback buried in a client email, message or phone call. If someone says something that really makes you smile, ask them if you can use it!
  • comments left on feedback forms if you run events
  • thank you cards, if you’re really lucky!

So that’s the basics covered.

But how do you use testimonials? Here are some ideas!

I’ll be shamelessly using happy words from my own clients for this, because I’d be crazy not to, right?

1. Pick a short, snappy quote and turn it into an image for social media

Instagram loves a quote or a text-based image. Keep it short and make it eye-catching. You might even just screenshot the words from an email, like this:

Twitter and Facebook respond pretty well to them too. You can easily put together a text-based image in Canva or another design tool. If you can, pop your logo on there too.

OR, if like me your computer, ahem, breaks (nothing to do with pouring water over it), you can even make a lovely testimonial image by hand and photograph it with your phone. No excuses.

2. Sprinkle them through your website

There’s nothing quite like backing up what you say about your services with what actual customers say. Sprinkle them strategically through your site, don’t make them too long, and check they’re relevant to what the page is about. This quote, from my client Rachel, works nicely on my home page:

3. Expand them into case studies

f you have a nicely detailed testimonial, and it’s a job you’re proud of, why not talk to the client about expanding it into a case study that you can use in your portfolio or on your blog?

One of my favourite jobs ever was a booklet I wrote for Hertfordshire Community Foundation, and I was actually able to use a lovely long testimonial from their Director as the main focus of the case study:

4. Consider whether a testimonials page would work for your business

I’ve already suggested sprinkling short testimonials through your site, and for many businesses, I think this is the best approach. You can’t guarantee someone’s going to click through to a page dedicated to testimonials until they’re almost ‘sold’ on hiring you, so why take the risk?

Having said that, there are plenty of businesses where it does make sense. Examples which spring to mind would be somewhere like a physiotherapy practice, where detailed customer reviews make a big difference at an early stage of a client’s decision-making process.

If that’s the case, by all means, build a testimonials page into your website where you can gather together all your good reviews – but make sure you point customers towards it from the rest of the site!

5. Take a few and make them into a video

I did this when I had a few great testimonials all appear in my inbox within a couple of days, and couldn’t pick which ones to use first! I decided to go with them all and make a video. It worked really well for me!

I created the video using Lumen5, but you could just as easily put one together on a slideshow.

6. Make them go further

Ask the person who wrote the testimonial to upload it on one of your other social networks. Facebook reviews and LinkedIn recommendations are linked to the reviewer’s own profile, adding weight to what they say and confirming that it’s a genuine review.

You might not be able to ask every client to do this, as it takes a bit more time and effort from them, but if you know they’re confident with social media they’ll often be happy to help. Here are a couple from my LinkedIn profile.

7. Give yourself a pat on the back

Read the reviews and really take in the good things that are said. When you work in a big organisation you often get feedback on a regular basis – good or bad – from your manager or supervisor.

When you’re running your own business, you don’t have that guidance, so feedback comes from clients. Enjoy the positive feedback!

I keep a folder of good comments for those times when imposter syndrome kicks in or I need a bit of encouragement.

It’s got all sorts in it, right back from my first job until now – things like nice emails I’ve received, leaving cards from jobs (the comments might not all be genuine but hey, who cares when you need a boost?).

Annual reviews (highlight any good bits so you can go straight there without reading everything else), references that have been shared with me, and of course client testimonials.

It’s very much worth it. This is the actual real-life happy folder:

8. Learn from them

Not every review will be positive, so look at any not-so-great parts of the feedback and learn from them. Did you actually do something wrong?

If you don’t feel you did, is there something in the way you dealt with your client which led them to feel unhappy? And learn from the positives too.

If there’s something that comes up as a positive, make sure you reflect that as a selling point in your marketing to other potential clients.

9. Use them on your printed marketing materials

Don’t forget to scatter good reviews on your printed materials, just like you’d do on your website. Whether you’re talking leaflets, flyers, posters or even business cards (for short quotes!), they can make all the difference.

10. Build them into a resource to promote your business

This might double-up with the idea at 7, but make a note of the good, professional feedback so that you have it to hand should you need to demonstrate your business strengths to a business advisor, bank, potential business partner or investor as evidence.

Statistics and numbers are great, but real words from real customers can help really bring your story to life. You might never need to use them, but knowing they’re there can boost your confidence in your business and it’s a fantastic resource to have on hand.

That’s it! What are you waiting for?

Dig out those customer recommendations – the ones you never quite know what to do with – and get creative! And if you need help with the words to go around them? I can help with that too.

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