by Lori Prosio 

Starting a business isn’t easy, or more people would do it. It can be risky — professionally, financially and personally. And once you’ve started that new business, the risk doesn’t end, because maintaining a successful business isn’t easy, either.

According to Dun & Bradstreet, California small businesses failed at a rate 69 percent higher than the national average in 2011 — leading the way with the worst small-business failure rate in the nation. Hearing that probably causes a lot of people to reconsider chasing their small-business dreams.

Bill Cosby once said “In order to succeed, your desire for success should be greater than your fear of failure.” While that fear might be heavy, long-term regret because you didn’t take the chance just might be worse.

Starting a new business can lead to a lot of great things: being your own boss, doing something you love, getting out of a thankless job, or seeing the financial reward you deserve from your work.

As I thought about this month’s column, I reflected on a few things I’ve learned — or have been reminded of — since opening my business last year. Two things stood out: Whether starting a new business, or trying to keep one afloat, make sure your customers and your reputation are top priorities.

Make every customer feel special

Your relationship with customers can make or break you. There’s almost always someone else waiting to steal that customer away. Treat every customer like your only one, and that effort will pay off in loyalty to you.

Even if you don’t talk to your customers every day, establish an environment in which your team knows that regular communication is essential to the success of your business, and customer satisfaction. If you’re the owner or manager, check in regularly with staff and customers to see how things are going.

Don’t assume that just because you haven’t heard a complaint directly that things are great. A regular check-in just might make the difference in whether you lose your best customer or not.

Build a strong reputation

When it comes to your reputation, Warren Buffett said it best: “It takes 20 years to build a reputation and five minutes to ruin it.”

The reputation of a business is vital to its survival. It may mean a customer choosing to work with you instead of someone else or could mean the difference in the quality of applicants you receive for a job.

While I’ve only been a small-business owner for a little over two years, I’ve worked in Sacramento for nearly two decades. My reputation has always been my top priority, and my efforts have been rewarded these last two years.

When it comes to your business reputation, keep these things in mind:

  • Establish trust. Keep your word. Say what you mean, and mean what you say.
  • Be responsive. Promptly return calls and emails, and if relevant, be sure to address issues raised on Facebook or Twitter right away.
  • Resolve mistakes. Never make excuses or place blame on the customer if it is an issue that is your company’s fault.
  • Be honest. Be truthful and transparent with everyone, all the time.
  • Give back. Consider providing a pro-bono service or donating resources for a charity function. Generosity to local organizations, or serving on committees and boards goes a long way toward building your business reputation.

Building a business is hard work and while the risks may be high, the rewards are great. Do it right, do it well and revel in your success.

This article originally appeared in the September 26, 2014 edition of the Sacramento Business Journal.