One of the questions we hear often is, "Should I sign up for the Better Business Bureau?" It's not an easy question, as the answer often depends on your type of business, how long you've been in business, and your target audience. The goal of this post is to help you answer that question and determine if the BBB is right for you.
Brief history of the BBB
The Better Business Bureau was founded in 1912 as a nonprofit organization. The goal of the BBB was primarily to work towards advancing marketplace trust amongst consumers. Presently, the BBB is made up of 106 independent local BBB organizations in the US and Canada. The local organizations are coordinated under the Council of Better Business Bureaus (CBBB) in Arlington, Virginia.
The BBB isn't part of or affiliated with any government agencies, and is self-regulated. Businesses that are part of the BBB agree to adhere to the accreditation standards put forth. Currently, around 400,000 businesses support the BBB in North America.
What's in it for the consumer
The goal of the BBB was advancing marketplace trust, and that is largely what the consumer gets. The Better Business Bureau provides a business rating and association with a reputable brand. Consumers can use that rating to make purchasing decisions. Consumers also have a place to file formal complaints, and the business has an opportunity to respond. There are consequences to complaints—they can lower a business's rating, which, in theory, could make customers look somewhere else for the work. The BBB does a bit more work in rating a business, but most small service businesses ratings are driven by reviews and complaints.
What's in it for the business
A business gets a profile page with their contact info, reviews, complaints, and their rating. The profile can serve as a landing page to redirect customers to your website or phone number. You'll also get a badge and rating, which can be displayed on your website or anywhere else.
Requirements and cost
The BBB uses many different sources to build their business search database, and if you've been in business long enough, you'll likely be listed already. If you are listed, you can claim your business page for free, but you'll get limited use out of the free profile (no link to your website, and you don't get a badge to use). Previously, there was an option to request the BBB to create a free listing if you were a newer business, but that option seems to have disappeared in the last few years.
When you pay to become accredited, you'll agree that you meet and abide by the BBB standards, which include, but are not limited to:
- Actively selling products or services for the last 6 months
- Be licensed and bonded if applicable
- Be free of an unsatisfactory rating and maintain at least a B rating at the accrediting BBB
- Follow federal, state, and local advertising laws
- Fulfill contracts signed and agreements reached
The cost of accreditation is variable depending on the size of your business but starts at around $500 per year.
Why you might want to avoid the BBB
The BBB is a dying brand. There's no question about that.
One business owner that was originally optimistic about joining, posted a follow-up 5 years later, stating he'd dropped his membership because it just wasn't worth it:
I have since dropped my membership in the BBB. The reason was that it became apparent to me over time that it simply wasn’t useful. It did nothing to increase my sales. The BBB, in their attempts to renew me, would tell me how many people had inquired on my business in their database – but interestingly, they ONLY bothered to tell me that when they were trying to get me to renew.
There's no shortage of unhappy business owners that have been bitten by false complaints, or simply haven't seen any benefits from the BBB one way or the other.
There have also been a few cases of local BBB organizations being guilty of "Pay-to-play" scams that involved giving high ratings to those businesses that paid, and low ratings to those that did not. In one case in California, the local BBB organization was expelled, but only after two long years of complaints.
Why you might want to consider it
Businesses now have the opportunity to be on more popular and relevant platforms for free, and all of the platforms offer reviews and ratings.
Facebook, Google, Angieslist, and Yelp are all brands that are more current and basically offer the same thing that the BBB once exclusively offered—advancing marketplace trust.
So, why consider paying the BBB $500 a year for a profile and a rating? Well, the BBB may be a dying brand, but it's an old dying brand. Older customers may not look you up on Facebook, Yelp, or Angieslist, but they very well may look you up on the BBB. It's hard to say if those older customers would turn you down if you weren't a BBB accredited business, but it's certainly more likely that they would when compared to a younger customer.
In our opinion, your target audience should be the single biggest thing you consider when deciding if you should become BBB accredited or not. If your audience is younger, it's not worth it. If they're older, you should probably do some research on your industry and see if others have had a positive experience or not.
Although we think you should rely most heavily on whether your customers care about the BBB in your decision-making, we think one point is very clear when it comes to evaluating BBB accreditation:
Being a member of the BBB isn't going to make or break your business.
We hope we've offered a helpful perspective to make it easier for you to determine if Better Business Bureau accreditation is right for your business.
If you have any personal good or bad experiences with the BBB, we'd love to hear about them at firstname.lastname@example.org.