I spoke with an entrepreneur last year who lived through a nightmare situation: A customer posted a scathing review of his business on Yelp, which caused sales to plummet to such a degree that he had to lay off staff. A year after the incident, his business was only beginning to recover.

A situation like this is every small business owner’s worst fear. In fact, fear of negative reviews on social media is one factor that keeps some small business owners off of social media altogether. But taking this attitude is putting your head in the sand. The reality is, customers are saying things about you online, both good and bad, whether you know it or not. If you don’t know what they’re saying about you, how can you take steps to recover your reputation?

Here are some steps you can take to protect your small business’s online reputation.

  • Set up a Google Alert on your business name, your name, and even your key products’ names so that when someone says something about you online, you’ll be alerted. Once a month or so, type your business name into search engines and see what comes up. You might be surprised.
  • Claim your business listing on local search directories such as, and Google. Again, you may be surprised to see that your business information is listed; many directories put the names of local businesses into their systems, and that information may or may not be correct. You want to make sure the proper information is listed. This is also a time to check out any reviews that pop up.
  • Know what review sites matter to your business. If you own a restaurant, you’ll want to check out Yelp. If you run a bed and breakfast, you need to look at TripAdvisor. Like it or not, your business is getting mentioned on these sites and you need to stay abreast of what’s being said.
  • What if you find out someone is badmouthing your business online? Take steps to contact the person and find out what the issue is. While you will want to make your first contact in the public forum of the website, it’s best to take further communications offline. If you can remedy the situation, do so. Once the situation is resolved, share that information online.

More and more today, customers value small businesses that are honest, so trying to hide a negative review or comment will do you more harm than good. Instead, focus on turning the negative into a positive. Handling a tough situation in a professional manner can win new customers to your side. The expert mentors at SCORE can help. If you don’t have a mentor, visit the SCORE website to get matched with one and get free business consulting 24/7.

About the Author(s)

Rieva Lesonsky

Rieva is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a content and consulting company specializing in covering small businesses and entrepreneurship and

CEO, GrowBiz Media