When starting a business, one of the big considerations is the “corporate image.” Choosing a logo, the company colours, the style of literature and web sites is all part of that initial branding exercise. And without doubt, that early stage branding plays a very important part of a company’s image and potential development.

But is that all there is to branding? Unquestionably not!

As a company develops, its branding is more about reputation than an attractive logo. People’s perception of a company becomes all important, remembering that “people” includes everyone the business affects including employees, customers, suppliers and the wider community.

Let’s be very clear, the value of most businesses is not the assets on the balance sheet – the value of a business is in its reputation.

That has been all too apparent with big companies where a damaged reputation has had huge financial implications, sometimes even bringing about its downfall.  Remember the demise of Ratner’s the Jewellers when the CEO Gerald Ratner described his own products as rubbish?  Or Arthur Andersen LLP, once one of the “Big Five” accounting firms, whose reputation never recovered from criminal charges brought against the company relating to Enron – even though the guilty verdict was subsequently overturned.

Jeff Bezos, the founder of Amazon, allegedly said:

“Your brand is what people say about you when you are not in the room.”

And Richard Branson:

“Build brands not around products but about reputation.”

These statements apply to businesses of all sizes from a sole proprietor to a multi-national, more so than ever with our 24/7 media-driven society.

So what is the reputation of your company? What do people say about you and your business when you are not in the room? How do you ensure you maintain and continually enhance your reputation?

Perhaps most importantly, is your business built on clear principles and an ethical culture? Apart from obviously earning a good living, which is undeniably the motive in starting a business in the first place, are values an important part of the business DNA?

CommunicateAssuming the answer is yes, have you thought about how you communicate that message? Do you engage and motivate your staff? How do you deal with your customers and suppliers?  And what about the local and wider community? What sort of relationships have you developed with all these groups? What can you do better?

Building those strong relationships will help develop brand loyalty and competitive advantage.

Protecting your reputation is an essential element of risk management in a business, and enhancing your reputation deserves a clear strategy.

One such strategy might be to consider membership of the Organisation for Responsible Businesses (ORB) www.orbuk.org.uk. There is of course a criteria for membership , via an online self-assessment questionnaire, which is a very useful tool in its own right (it provides immediate detailed responses – a sort of SWOT analysis). Members are offered an excellent package of benefits including use of the Responsible Business Member logo and an entry in the stand-alone online Responsible Business Directory.

Even better, if you really want to increase your reputation and stand head and shoulders above your competition, why not consider taking The Responsible Business Standard, an auditable certification available at bronze, silver and gold levels, see www.ResponsibleBusinessStandard.org.uk. Attaining The Standard will also help if you are tendering for contracts as local authorities and bigger companies increasingly want to see what their supplier’s social and environmental credentials are.