Be careful who you ask for advice. I used to believe that mompreneurs and other home based business owners naturally possessed a higher standard of ethics than the corporate executives and big business leaders of the world. I don’t know why I thought that to be true – maybe I simply wished it were the case so I could feel I was in good company.
But over the past several years, I’ve witnessed a few things in the entrepreneur world that discouraged me. I recently attended a conference in which “very successful” women entrepreneurs took the stage to share their tips and strategies for business. I was blown away when one woman shared her “raving success story” that was built on telling her customers a lie. Yes, a flat out lie. And she was proud of it because it led to a huge financial gain for the business. Of course, “It didn’t really hurt anyone,” she thought…so does that make it ok?
Later I heard the story of how one small company grew their Facebook following using a tactic that’s against the Facebook guidelines for business Pages. The general consensus in the room was that the strategy was ok, as long as she didn’t get caught. Really? Is this solid business advice? I’m not ok with that.
I’ve also been instructed to create “imaginary employees” to make my business seem bigger than it is… and to hide credit card purchases for the business from my husband because “After all, it’s not his business.” I’ve known lawyers who boast about their gift for finding loopholes that will ensure you don’t have to pay for services rendered. And don’t get me started on the tax advice I’ve heard for small business owners.
No, it’s not easy to live in integrity as an entrepreneur when you are surrounded by shady business practices and role models of questionable character. Proverbs 13:20 tells us to walk with the wise and avoid the company of fools. Sometimes I forget that the fools are doing all the talking.
So how do you run a business with integrity? Here are a few reminders to keep you walking with the wise:
1. Do your homework. Before you act on advice (or even seek out the opinion) of a mentor, expert, guru, consultant, business partner, etc., do your research. Talk with others who have worked with this person or company and don’t be afraid to ask direct questions about how they handle certain situations that would test their ethics.
2. Trust your instincts. If you have a feeling someone is not trustworthy, then don’t ignore those instincts. Don’t ever feel pushed into a corner as if you only have ONE option for getting the help you need. There are plenty of business owners out there who are waiting to provide you with high quality service and ethically sound advice.
3. Walk with the wise. Being an entrepreneur is a journey – and you’re going to need companions you can trust. Find an accountability partner, mentor, advisory board or mastermind group who can help you make wise decisions. Someone who understands there is more to success than money.
4. Write down your values. You may know what your personal values are, but it’s important to craft a values statement or list that reflects the values of your business. Place it somewhere visible so you (and your team) can rely on it when making decisions. It will guide you in operating with integrity – in everything from bookkeeping to customer service. For a terrific example, check out the Zappos Family Core Values.
5. Believe in yourself. If you’ve lost out on a contract to a company that misrepresented themselves or relied on dishonesty to get the job, take heart in knowing your reward is yet to come. You are leading a business based in integrity – and there are plenty of clients and customers who will choose YOU over the competition specifically for that reason.
6. Make no excuses. It’s tempting to compromise your business ethics sometimes. Especially when you see everyone else is using the same questionable business practice – and getting great results! Sometimes we justify our way down the wrong path and end up getting lost – trust me, I’ve been there. But please know that it’s never worth it. Compromising on your values is never the answer. It always backfires.
7. Be congruent. If you’ve ever seen a pastor act like a jerk on the football sidelines, then you know what it’s like to witness someone who is incongruent. One of the biggest shifts for me as a business owner came when I was willing to step up and put my values of faith and family first – across all areas of my life. So whatever your values are in business, make sure you are living them personally. And hold those you do business with to the same standard. If you don’t admire them as a person, chances are you won’t admire them as a business professional.
Oh, and if you act with integrity in every decision and communication, you don’t have to shout it out to the world. Your behavior will speak for itself. So there’s no need to plaster the word “integrity” all over your website or create a values statement that screams “we have integrity.” For most small businesses, the culture of the company is consistent with the personal character of the owner. Which means, as the face of your business, your actions contribute to the creation of your company brand.
Now, I don’t claim to have all of these tips mastered myself. In fact, most of the strategies I share with you here are the result of my own personal quest for living and working with greater integrity. So consider this post less of a lecture and more of an invitation to join me in learning to walk with the wise!
What did I forget? Share your tips for running a business with integrity here!