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What Are Your Ethics as an Entrepreneur?

How you conduct yourself in business ultimately defines your business and its results.
business ethics

When you set out to start a business, you have motivations driving you. Often, these are financially based. What about your personal goals and motivations, though?

In this regard, how you conduct business transcends discussions of just process and execution, crossing over to the realm of who you are deep inside, and how you will conduct yourself as you impact your customers, business partners, family, and friends. Ethics are a key ingredient to your business results, and understanding—and maybe refining—your business ethics will help you gain even deeper success and satisfaction in your daily endeavors.

Who says business ethics matter today?

According to a June 2011 Gallup survey, 64 percent of those surveyed indicated they had higher levels of confidence—that is, trust—in small businesses, compared to only 19 percent who said they felt the same toward big businesses.

At the core of this result is the proposition that business ethics and moral standard are subject to be compromised by some businesses. While it would be unfair to label all big businesses as “baddies” with no ethical compass, the overriding public sentiment of today suggests that business ethics tend to get diluted the more distant a business leadership gets from its end customer.

There’s an ethical compass within nearly every entrepreneur, part and parcel to their inner drive to begin and build a business venture

If you accept this premise, then you begin to consider the theory that integrating ethics into a business is not an optional choice, since all businesses, ultimately, exist based upon some interaction with individuals (internal or external to the business). Of course, some might contend that less-than-ethical businesses seem to thrive, even to stellar heights, untouched by their unethical philosophies or practices. Granted, many businesses have garnered high gains regardless of some of their practices—”hey, this is business”—but others have fallen mightily.

For any entrepreneur, the age old challenge remains: Are you willing to take that risk, and will you be able to rest with a clear conscience? Those are questions every entrepreneur needs to answer for him or herself.

Who’s to say what’s right?

Ethics is defined by everyone on an individual basis, and everyone has an opinion. But who among us has the right answer to the matter of defining good ethics versus bad ethics?

Interestingly enough, there appears to be an ethical compass within nearly every entrepreneur, part and parcel to their inner drive to begin and build a business venture. Whether they seek to provide an unmet need or offer an alternative option to the perceived unethical companies that many fear and avoid, entrepreneurs typically seek to solve a problem. If their proposed solution, by way of their business, is forward looking and based in clear principles for success, it’s understandable to expect that ethics are driving the business strategy.

Which businesses start out with the intent to make as much money as quickly as possible, thwarting ethics and morals, to dupe as many as possible before they can be found out? Well, yes, some businesses have gone that thorny route, yet small business entrepreneurs need to cultivate a near- and long-term future based upon customer attraction, satisfaction and loyalty to survive and thrive. Therefore, each entrepreneur becomes responsible to apply their best business ethics at the outset and resist any temptation to compromise on those as the business progresses.

It’s a tall order for each of us and, again, it becomes each entrepreneur’s duty to define (and refine) their business ethics.

The tricky part of ethics is that there is no ‘right’ answer. There’s only your answer

An ethical starting point

With all that said, it’s useful to touch the core ethical areas that every business needs to address. To help with that, take a look at these “virtues” that will be a part of your business, no matter how you will ultimately define them:

  • Honesty. Well, of course, you’ll be an honest businessperson, but will you go as far as to, perhaps, refund money to a customer who accidentally over paid for a purchase? What if you can’t deliver the sort of item a customer desperately wants or needs? Will you direct them to a competitor you know is offering the very thing your customer is seeking? And, if your customer is less-than-knowledgeable about an item you’re selling, will you be sure to fully disclose every detail and correct their possible misunderstandings, even if it costs you a sale? These are just a few questions to ponder as you determine your approach to doing business.

  • Fairness. It’s an open marketplace, but is it fair to try to lure away a competitor’s customers by unfair means, expressed or implied? Can the potential to make a sale cause your better judgment to become clouded and obscured—even temporarily—in deference to meeting your income goals? Will you avoid bad-mouthing a seller who seems to be consistently doing better than you? Will you accept the fact that some sellers are naturally gifted in business and, rather than undermine them, use this situation as an incentive for you to sharpen your own business acumen?

  • The Golden Rule. When you lay your head down to sleep, will you be able to do so with a clear conscience? Will you treat every customer and competitor in the same manner as you’d wish to be treated? This ethic is likely the one you’ll contemplate the most.

The bottom line is this: When you determine your business ethics, you decide to what lengths you’ll go to succeed and what price you’ll pay to achieve your goals. The tricky part of ethics is that there is no “right” answer. There’s only your answer. You have the power to determine how you’ll run your business and how you’ll impact others as a result.

And, if you think about it, this is what drives most entrepreneurs, to establish and operate a business their way. Embrace the ethics of running your business and know that the outcome you enjoy is directly proportional to the approach you apply.

About the author

Dennis L. Prince
Dennis L. Prince has been analyzing and advocating the e-commerce sector since 1996. He has published more than 12 books on the subject, including How to Sell Anything on eBay...and Make a Fortune, second edition (McGraw-Hill, 2006) and How to Make Money with MySpace (McGraw-Hill, 2008). His insight is actively sought within online, magazine, television and radio venues. Opinions expressed here may not be shared by The Online Seller and/or its principals.

  • Kari

    actually there is a great resource to use to find the ‘right’ answers :o)
    it’s called The Bible and it truly does point us in the ‘right direction’ and is useful for all situations – including business!  It’s helped me soooo much and I sleep well at night :o)

    2 Tim 3:16  (NLT) “All scripture is inspired by God and is useful to teach us what is TRUE and to make us realize what is wrong in our lives.  It corrects us when we are wrong and teaches us to do what is RIGHT.”

    • Shawn

      We should be so blessed as to have more people not afraid to fulfill the Great Commission by spreading the Good News like Kari.  She speaks the truth!  

  • Guest

    Acting decently towards other humans applies no matter who your deity is (or is not).  

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