Warren Buffett famously said, “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”

For this reason and many more, there is often no worse feeling for an entrepreneur than to see the brand he or she spent years building tarnished by a bad review online.

But take heart! There are six easy things every business owner can do to keep their business’s reputation in great shape.

1. Be transparent

It’s hard to show your weaknesses, but hidden or understated weaknesses are a primary cause of bad reviews.

Maybe a business doesn’t ship products as quickly as customers expect, or maybe a business’s return policy doesn’t allow for refunds and that fact is buried in the fine print. In any case, these businesses are often worried that customers won’t buy from them in the first place if they don’t hide their weaknesses. The result might be a slight bump in sales today, but disappointed customers won’t come back and will write bad reviews, resulting in fewer customers in the long term.

What we’ve seen work is a policy of transparency—businesses that end up getting the best reviews are those that make their weaknesses clear upfront, but explain them and then do their best to overcome them.

So if you’re a small business, you might explain that you’re a mom-and-pop shop and do your best to get orders out on time, but sometimes things can take a bit longer, and ask them to please excuse the delay upfront. That way, if you do get your shipment out on time, the customer is pleasantly surprised.

Businesses have found that being even a little more transparent upfront yields customers that are more forgiving, loyal, and likely to write positive reviews.

2. Set up your online review profile before you get negative reviews

Try as we might, it’s impossible to please all our customers all the time. However, bad reviews do not have to hurt your business given the proper preparations.

So, instead of waiting for a bad review to appear and then scrambling to repair your online reputation, the best thing you can do is to get out in front of negative reviews by claiming and developing your online reputation as soon as possible.

That way, you can fill out all your contact information, tell your business’s unique story through text and pictures, and invite some of your customers to review your business. Having a well-developed online profile on review sites can be a valuable tool to help you generate new business, but also should your business receive a negative review, it can be read in the boarder context of your business.

3. Respond to every review

Businesses that respond to every review tend to get better reviews over time.

We recommend publicly thanking all reviewers regardless of how they’ve rated your business, because it communicates to existing and potential customers that you care, and it doesn’t just look like you’re doing damage control when you respond to a negative review because you’ve been engaging with all your customers all along.

Smart consumers can spot an engaged and customer-service oriented business from miles away, and are always happy to reward them with more business.

4. Respond to negative reviews the right way

For a small business owner, negative reviews can feel particularly painful and personal. However, if you respond the right way, it’s possible to not only prevent damage to your online reputation, but to improve it.

By engaging a reviewer and establishing a human connection, you can often help the situation and even change the customer’s mind. You’d be surprised how often a polite response to a bad review can result in the reviewer giving your business a second chance. If you feel like you can resolve a customer’s complaint, send a private message offering the resolution. Once the customer’s concern has been satisfied, politely ask the customer to reconsider their review.

If you are not able to resolve the customer’s issue, simply write a short and polite public response, thanking them for their business and feedback. If you can respond to the customer’s specific experience and mention any changes you may have made as a result, this could go far in earning trust and a second chance even if you are not able to resolve their issue.

Your response will also be read by other potential customers, who will be able to see your professionalism and commitment to providing all customers the best possible experience.

5. Collect as many reviews as possible

Having a large number of reviews can be a tremendously effective tool for earning the trust of prospective customers and improving conversion rates.

Moreover, if you do happen to get a negative review, it can be seen in the context of your dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of happy customers.

6. Don’t pay for what you can get for free

Claiming and managing your basic business profile on review sites should be free. Avoid services that charge you to remove reviews or complaints, or otherwise promise to “manage your reputation.”

Also avoid sites that charge you by the number of reviews you collect and force you to collect a certain number of reviews in order to earn higher star ratings. These services are not aligned with the success of your business.

A big opportunity

In 2012, Nielsen reported that 70 percent of global consumers say they trust online reviews. And, in the coming years, this figure is sure to rise.

In fact, eConsultancy Survey discovered that 68 percent of consumers actually trust reviews more when they see both good and bad ratings, and in 2010 researchers from Stanford found that negative reviews can actually increase sales.

Consumers are clever about how they read and interpret reviews. So for you, the business owner, the opportunity is vast and the risks are low—go forth and seize your online reputation and build a lasting business and reputation for the 21st century.

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If you’re interested, you can start a free trial of Outpost today, or schedule a custom tour to learn how Outpost will help you save time and get more done.

AvatarJeremy Gin

Jeremy is the CEO of SiteJabber.com, a leading consumer review service for online businesses that offers free accounts for businesses to develop their online presence with reviews. Jeremy received an MBA from Harvard Business School.