How NOT to Run an Ethical Business

How NOT to Run an Ethical Business


Sue Ellam explores the damage you can do to your business unless you diligently follow ethical practices and treat your clients as your first priority.

I have noticed that clients appear to have been relegated to ‘nuisance’ status in some companies – people either to be ignored or put on hold until a more convenient time. I am not talking about the many businesses that are started with the sole objective of making profits with no concern for the people or planet. These businesses were never ethical in the first place, and by virtue of their damaging products and/or services probably never will be. I am talking about businesses that started because of a passion, that wanted to make a difference, but through lack of thought, or bad management, have fallen off the ethical ladder and are now a source of frustration and disappointment to their clients, and other people, that deal with them.

It makes me wonder what went wrong within these companies, why they dropped the ball. It doesn’t make sense to mistreat or undervalue clients – they are, after all, the source of income. No clients, no money, no business!

My experience of dealing with such companies has really clarified what not to do in my own business. This is what I have learned about what NOT to do.

Forget that You Are Just One Link in the Chain

Business dealings are rarely confined to just you and your client. If you supply products you have suppliers, and your client will also have other businesses and people linked to them. When you let a client down you are often letting down a string of other people of whom you aren’t aware. You could also be responsible for your client being perceived as unprofessional, as they couldn’t deliver on their promise because you didn’t deliver on yours.

For example, I recently purchased an item online. The order went through, payment was taken but nothing was delivered. Nobody contacted me and I eventually ended up phoning them. They weren’t aware that my parcel hadn’t been delivered. The firm they had contracted to deliver it had apparently tried twice – they didn’t leave a card either time, and I was actually at home at the times recorded. As a result I ended up cancelling the order. It would have turned out very differently if:

  • The seller tracked all their orders and confirmed delivery.
  • The delivery company had tried harder to deliver the parcel or left a ‘You Weren’t at Home’ card.
  • The delivery company had notified the seller so they could contact me themselves.

As delivery wasn’t treated as a priority by either company, it didn’t happen. They each acted as disinterested individuals, rather than as a team with a common goal.

Fail to Communicate

Communication is so important. Answer phone calls, emails and questions – don’t leave your clients wondering what’s happening and potentially cause them stress and worry. Some questions might seem trivial to you, but they obviously aren’t trivial to your client or they wouldn’t have asked them.

If your company is one that gets asked the same standard questions time and again, make sure you have a list of answers ready.

The problem with lapses in communication is that trust gets eroded, and you could end up dealing with some very angry and frustrated clients. Believe me – that will take up much more of your time than if you had kept in touch in the first place.

You are running a business, not the Secret Service, and your clients need to know what’s happening!

Don’t Tell the Truth

Always tell your clients the truth, don’t string them along. If you don’t have the product they want in stock, or you can’t provide the service they require right now, tell them. Yes, you may lose their business in this instance or they may be prepared to wait, but you are leaving the decision up to them and that’s where it belongs. The important thing is that they will remember your honesty and could send other business your way. If you tell them lies in order to keep their business, that might be the only business you’ll ever get from them – and if you’re really unlucky, your shortcomings could end up doing the rounds on social media.

Forget that Your Clients Have Lives Too

This is particularly important to remember if you have a company that impacts other people’s businesses in a big way. That without your product or service their business can’t function. It is a good idea from time to time to think about what effect your actions are having – are you uplifting your clients so that their lives are enhanced by their association with you, or are you pushing them towards bankruptcy?

Don’t Bother to Have a Back-Up Plan

Life is uncertain and full of surprises, so protect your client’s interests by giving them an alternative contact in case you are unavailable.

If someone has paid you for a service, then it is only polite to let them know when you plan to be away from the office, if it is likely to affect them in some way. An email after the event apologising for not being in touch because you’ve been off skiing is not likely to be received very well.

Don’t Stick to Deadlines

Don’t pull deadlines out of thin air because that’s what you think your client wants to hear. If you can’t finish the job by Friday, don’t tell them you can. Look at the facts and figures, understand what is possible and, if you can, add a day or so just in case of hiccups. You’ll then get brownie points for being ahead of schedule.

Tell them if something crops up which will cause delays. Don’t pretend it’s of no consequence. You don’t know what impact the delay will have on your client. If they are aware of it, they can deal with it in a timely fashion at their end.

Think that Your Good Intentions Are Enough

You might be the nicest person in the world, but your charms will fall on stony ground if people know that you can’t be relied upon, and that your word doesn’t mean anything. Don’t forget the saying ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions’. The only way to run an ethical business is to back up your words with positive and timely action.

In Conclusion

I believe it is crucial not to underestimate your importance and impact on other people’s lives. If you focus on your clients’ needs, rather than seeing them as just a source of income, I truly believe that your business will flourish and become a thing of joy.

I recently watched an episode of ‘Undercover Boss’ on YouTube. It was about a chain of convenience stores which also sold hot food and drinks. ‘The Boss’ visited the store which outdid all the others on coffee sales in order to see what it had that the other stores didn’t. What it had was this amazing lady who knew her customers by name, was genuinely interested in them, and always had time to have a laugh and a joke. People visited the store because that lady brightened up their day – they could have bought coffee anywhere. I think that says it all.

If you have any stories to tell, or lessons you have learned from running your own ethical business, I would love to hear them. Please share your thoughts in the comments box below.

Sue Ellam
10th February 2014

Sue-EllamSue Ellam is fascinated by the power of mind over matter and was initially guided towards spiritual healing and medium-ship. She is a professionally trained graphologist of 21 years standing and has travelled extensively using this skill, as well as that of tarot reading, participating in many festivals worldwide. Currently she is developing Soulfully Connecting which is a global website dedicated to the healing of mind, body, soul and planet. Her vision is to connect like-minded individuals around the world through the sharing of knowledge, providing a platform so that the change-makers can be seen, appreciated and supported.

Sue is a graduate of the 7 Graces Foundations of Ethical Marketing course.

Twitter: @soulfullysue

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Lynn Serafinn author of The 7 Graces of Marketing LYNN SERAFINN, MAED, CPCC is a certified, award-winning coach, teacher, marketer, social media expert, radio host, speaker and author of the number one bestseller The 7 Graces of Marketing — How to Heal Humanity and the Planet by Changing the Way We Sell and Tweep-e-licious! 158 Twitter Tips & Strategies for Writers, Social Entrepreneurs & Changemakers Who Want to Market their Business Ethically. She is listed in the Top 20 of the Top Marketing Authors on Twitter by Social Media Magazine and was a finalist for the prestigious Brit Writers Awards. She also received the eLit Book Awards Silver Medal in Humanitarian and Ecological Social Affairs, as well as the Bronze Medal in Business and Sales. Lynn’s eclectic approach to marketing incorporates her vast professional experience in the music industry and the educational sector along with more than two decades of study and practice of the spirituality of India. Her innovative marketing campaigns have produced a long list of bestselling non-fiction authors through her company Spirit Authors.

Lynn is also the Founder of the 7 Graces Project CIC, a not-for-profit social enterprise created to train, support, mentor and inspire independent business owners to market their business ethically, serve society and planet, and restore all that is best about humanity.

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