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“It was really, really shocking and horrible to read. It was full of allegations about me and my business that weren’t true.” says Lorraine. “So I sat there on the plane home for hours thinking, what was that? Who wrote that? Where did that come from? What on Earth am I going to do about this?”
Back home in the UK, things got worse. The exact same review appeared on other, similar websites. But what puzzled Lorraine was that the author didn’t seem to be real. “There was no trail. There was no proper name — they used an alias. There was no sign of this person ever having been a real Formula Botanica student.”
Formula Botanica is an online training school that teaches people to make their own skincare or haircare products using natural and botanical ingredients. Lorraine bought the business when it was its infancy. It was initially a ‘side hustle’ while she was on maternity leave, but she quickly went full-time, building the business into what is now a multi-million-pound business with 40 staff.
Having worked hard to develop the business, Lorraine wasn’t going to let an anonymous hater put it at risk. She hired a private investigator, who found that it was very unlikely the person behind the review was a genuine customer. She picked up on whispers from friends that a disgruntled competitor was behind the reviews, but a defamation lawyer said there wasn’t really anything that could be done without more evidence.
Unsure how to tackle the situation, Lorraine asked a friend, who suggested she set up her own genuine review page on a reputable website.
“I thought, yes, I need to do this,” she says. “It's a good thing to do, but it's scary at the same time, because you've had all this negative feedback and then you're putting yourself out there in the world again, to ask for even more feedback. But I decided it was the right thing to do because we needed some kind of review process for our actual students anyway.
“So I set up an account on a very reputable site. I asked our community — the genuine people who had enrolled with us — if they would leave a review for us there. And the five-star reviews started to flood in.”
Lorraine says the exact same negative reviews she’d seen before started to appear, but because the reviewer couldn’t prove they were a customer, their reviews were removed by the website operator.
“That cemented the fact for me that it wasn't a genuine customer and it was someone out to get me.”
Now, after six years, Formula Botanica has almost 1,500 online reviews, and almost all of them rate the business five stars out of five.
“We splash the reviews all over our website. It's just been phenomenal for us; it's been a very, very good experience.”
As if to prove that you never know what good things will happen when you open yourself up to online reviews, Lorraine got employees and a business partner out of the process, too.
“I needed advice on improving our search engine footprint, to make the most of all these good reviews. So I talked to a marketing agency that was based near where I lived. Things went so well working with them that eventually two of their staff joined my team full-time, and one of them is now my business partner.
“Out of something very, very negative came something positive.”
For Lorraine, setting up an online reviews presence is a really important thing for every business to do.
“Go and find a reputable site that can integrate with your checkout system or with your website in some way, and speak to your actual customers, encouraging them to review you,” she says.
But having a presence on a review site isn’t enough.
“Don’t just set it up and let it run. Your team has to be in there, responding to reviews, making yourself known, and managing the asset as best you can.
“Every single company should have an online reviews presence to collect customer feedback and attract new customers.”
You can watch Lorraine talking about this on our YouTube channel.