Entrepreneurs are very driven people. After all, we work towards something no one else sees. And to build our vision, we work harder and longer than we ever did at a paid job. Many successful brands have wild stories of risk and sacrifice. Before becoming the billionaire known for Cirque du Soleil, Guy Laliberté was a street busker with a huge bank overdraft. The founders of Airbnb were living on cereal with maxed out credit cards while they were pitching investors to believe in their idea. Recently, entrepreneur Erica Rankin admitted that she sold an unused designer purse she’d been gifted, so she can make rent and keep cash flowing for her business. So it seems we’d do anything to achieve success. A question every business owner should think about is – what are your business ethics and boundaries?
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Ethics in business
I’m an optimist. Even during my darkest moments, I believed in a silver lining. I had hope. So I like to think there is a basic level of ethics in business. That companies have a genuine intention to do their best, for customers and for employees. To provide the best possible service and quality products. And to be honest and transparent. Business ethics is a whole field of study which applies to culture, leadership, organizational processes, policies, and personal behaviours.
Basically, I believe good ethics in business is to cause no harm, because businesses are run by people, and people are inherently good. But I also know that isn’t reality. Even good people do bad things, and there are simply just bad people in the world. A bad person tried to cause me harm when they lifted my MacBook from my bag on the Metro in Barcelona. But then he handed it back to me – after I chased him down the crowded platform to confront him with a loud yell and a chest-thump. And I was immediately surrounded by kind people checking in to see if I was ok. There is always good with the bad.
Ethical boundaries as an entrepreneur
As individuals, we have our own belief systems, morals, and values. These have many influences, and may evolve throughout our life. We start with what we learn from the family who raised us, and the society we grow up in. There may be religious and spiritual teachings. Later, education, travel, reading, and personal development work may shape how we see the world. As a result, this all impacts how we live our lives, engage with people, and identify ourselves. Also, our ethics may cause us to identify as a member of a particular policy party or religious group. Ethics drive our decisions as consumers, causing us to buy organic or sustainable. I ask you to consider – what are your business ethics and boundaries?
Knowing your boundaries in business
Though this isn’t a traditional part of a business plan or marketing strategy, I recommend that entrepreneurs put some thought into knowing your business ethics and boundaries. These will shape decisions you make about how you operate your business. Do you want your business to match your personal ethics? Great – but do a reality check. For example, if that means shopping local, check if local suppliers can provide what your business needs. Or if you want to use only sustainable materials, how does that cost impact your margins based on your pricing strategy? Knowing your boundaries in business may require that you make compromises, somewhere. This may mean pricing higher and targeting a different market segment in order to stick with your personal ethics of only using renewable resources in your manufacturing. Or it could mean that you work with an overseas provider, and pledge to donate a portion of profits to an environmental non-profit.
Making ethical choices
My boundaries were tested recently. Someone contacted me to get help with a business plan. This is just my sort of work, and I’m looking for work. Then I learned what the business plan was for. This company is delivering a service to an audience whose politics and beliefs do not match mine. I won’t name names. Suffice it to say that I grew up in Canada, voted for the Green Party, and believe that human rights includes the rights of the LGTBQIA2S+ communities. And this American business was, well, on the other side of the aisle on all counts.
So I had an ethical choice to make. Take the contract and do the work on this business plan, whose purpose is to support and connect beliefs that oppose mine? Or do I or walk away? It took me about 1 second to know my decision. Though I’m focused on getting more coaching clients, I have ethical boundaries. I will not cross them, not even for revenue, reach or referrals. Clearly, I will not put my time, energy, education, and experience towards helping a business who was so actively against my ethics.
Love being an entrepreneur
Business ethics and boundaries influence decisions around marketing, operations, customer communication, human resources, suppliers, and collaborations. Enjoying your business and feeling good about being an entrepreneur is more than performance metrics and revenue numbers. Making ethical choices in your business which align with your personal values and beliefs are important to feel fulfilled and love your life as an entrepreneur.