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Let’s be honest

Make ethics part of your daily operation. Web Column: April 26, 2001 Let’s be honest Make ethics part of your daily operation

Cheaters never win.
-Another in my old cliché series

Let’s start by being honest about this cliché: As sophisticated 21st-century business people, sometimes our life experience tells us just the opposite. Cheaters often win, and sometimes they win big–but don’t let this fact make you ignore everything you ever learned and know is right.

Sometimes ethical dilemmas are simple to solve, like the time a client paid me twice for the same assignment. The second check arrived several months after the first one, and chances are I would never have been caught if I’d just kept my mouth shut and cashed it. It also arrived at a time of tight cash flow, so this “sky money” really would have helped pay some bills. These things ran through my mind while I held it in my hands, knowing that no matter what I thought, cashing it was stealing. I sent the check back along with a letter explaining that it must have been sent in error. I expected the original assignment to be a one-shot deal, but after returning the check they continued sending me occasional small projects. I don’t know whether returning that money had anything to do with this repeat business, but I knew one thing for sure: I could sleep at night without my conscience banging me in the head with a hammer calling me a “cheater.”

I know business ethics is a concern for many SOHO entrepreneurs, because it seems to be a constant thread in the questions I’m asked, even though the original premise may appear to have nothing to do with ethics. One SOHO operation told me about a service call they did for a client’s malfunctioning business product. The product was damaged beyond repair, so the technician replaced it with a new one and took the old, broken one with him, which was junked. Later, the client refused to pay the invoice because, he said, he had paid for that old product and wanted it back before he would pay this bill. When I heard this, all my “deadbeat” alarms went off as I recognized a “client from hell” who wasn’t ever going to pay the invoice and was just looking for an excuse.

My advice to this entrepreneur was to be honest and tell the client that the product was scrapped. I also suggested issuing a second invoice with a credit for the salvage value of the product, which would produce a lower invoice that the client might pay. He still might not pay, but taking him to a collection agency would cost the firm 33 percent of the original invoice, and if a credit got him to pay this new bill, it was worth a shot. The easiest thing to do would have been to give him back the broken product, but now it was too late for that. The technician made a mistake–an error in judgment that could cost the operation some big bucks. (The replacement product had a price tag of $1300.)

When you make a mistake, admit it. Don’t make excuses, just tell the truth.

Contributing Editor Joe Farace, a SOHO photographer and graphic artist, tries to be honest in all his business and real-life dealings.

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