Jamie Herzlich Newsday columnist Jamie Herzlich

Herzlich writes the Small Business column in Newsday.

Whether your business is a startup or later stage company, building credibility with your customer base is critical to long-term success.

There are many ways to do it. It can be as simple as having a physical address instead of a P.O. box, experts say.

But the bottom line is if a customer doesn't trust you, they're less likely to make a purchase or use your services.

Establish trust: "Customers need to have trust in you and your company before they begin doing business with you," says Thomas W. Shinick, an adjunct professor of entrepreneurship and small business at Adelphi University in Garden City and president of Corporate Development Partners, a Merrick business advisory firm.

You need to create a certain comfort level with them, Shinick explains, and this requires some concerted effort.

"You have to show up on a consistent basis for people to see you, know you, like you and trust you," says Melissa Galt, CEO of Atlanta, Georgia-based Melissa Galt Inc., a business consulting firm, and author of "Move It Forward" (Publishing By Design; $15).

Play to your strengths: This can be through various channels, such as social media, blogging or podcasting, she says. But it's not one size fits all.

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For instance, blogging isn't for everybody. "Don't play to your weaknesses; find something you love to do," Galt says.

At the very least have a web presence, Shinick notes. "Having a website today is a necessity," he says. Customers expect to see a website when they search for a company.

Make your site secure: They also need to trust that the site is secure, Shinick says. Displaying a security seal, such as VeriSign, or having a secured payment vendor like PayPal are ways to do that, he notes.

Rita Winkler, owner of Vines & Branches LLC in Greenport, a specialty food store and tasting room, has both on her site.

She has a store where customers can sample and buy gourmet olive oils and vinegars, but also a website where customers can make purchases.

Displayed on that site is the Volusion security seal and also the PayPal logo to accept payments. These assure users that their credit card information will be encrypted.

At first, Winkler didn't have the security seal, but early on a customer told her they had hesitated to make an online purchase because they didn't see it.

"I think people will opt to shop more if they see it," says Winkler, who also distributes a monthly email newsletter to about 3,600 subscribers.

Communicate regularly: Newsletters are a good way to establish trust, experts say, but they require commitment.

As an alternative, consider writing 6- to 12-page booklets in your areas of expertise, suggests Jerry S. Siegel, president of JASB Management Inc., a Syosset management training firm, who has authored a couple of these.

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Make them available on your website and give them to clients or prospects to reinforce your position as a thought leader, he says.

Gather testimonials: Other ways to establish credibility include getting quoted by the media, doing speaking engagements and posting client testimonials on your website, he adds. "Testimonials are essential," says Siegel, who has them on his own site.

It's the power of getting a third party to speak on your behalf. "What other people say about you builds more trust than what you can ever say about yourself," Galt says.

She also recommends being active on the social media forums where your customers are. This might be Facebook for one business, Instagram for another. Carve out a couple of times a day to interact with your customers there, she says.

Aside from these outward efforts, look internally at your operations. Be a person of your word and empower your people to make decisions, Siegel says. "Your people need to be goodwill ambassadors."

88%

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Percent of consumers who say they trust online reviews as much as personal recommendations.

Source: BrightLocal Consumer Review Survey 2014