Business Ethics

wrong way / right way

wrong way / right way (Photo credit: undergroundbastard)

I’ve been researching a piece on how to run a private investigation agency. That’s one of the things I really like about being a freelancer. I get to work on some very interesting and diverse projects.

In researching the basic practices of running such a business, I discovered that business ethics play an important role in being a private investigator. It occurred to me as I read manuals, websites, and how to books about this particular job, that good ethical practices aren’t just for private investigators they are for all types of businesses. While some entrepreneurs try to get ahead by cutting moral corners, ethical business behavior is still the foundation needed for building a solid business that will stand the test of time. But what is ethical behavior?

Ethical behavior isn’t simply knowing what is right and wrong. It isn’t a philosophical idea to be thought about and debated. It is choosing to do what is right. That means taking action. Private investigators are expected to adhere to certain principles: honesty, integrity, accuracy, diligence, goodwill, and discretion. Shouldn’t all businesses do the same?

Honesty and Integrity. Whatever your business, your clients expect a certain level of honesty if they are to trust you to provide the service or product they are purchasing. Being consistently honest builds a reputation of integrity. This means not misrepresenting or embellishing what you can do for a client. It means not making promises you can’t keep. It means doing what you say, and saying what you will do in your advertising, communications with clients, and interactions with peers. How many people want to do business with a person they can’t trust?  A reputation built on honesty and integrity is a very valuable thing to have. It’s the stuff referrals are made of.

Accuracy and Diligence. If a shipping company only delivers 70% of its packages, it’s probably not going to be in business for very long. Accuracy is essential to repeat business. The 30% of packages that were lost represent a number of customers who probably won’t be doing business with that company again. While large businesses can afford to make mistakes in accuracy from time to time because of the sheer volume of their customers, small businesses must be extra vigilant when it comes to being accurate. Small businesses, especially those who work locally with a smaller number of clients or patrons, can’t afford to lose 20-30% of their customer base. Keeping the client happy is essential to staying in business. Keeping accurate records, accurate facts and figures, and being diligent with deadlines and meeting expectations are a huge part of doing that.

Goodwill and Discretion. Goodwill isn’t a term usually used in connection with businesses unless you are referring to charity work. However, it is a vital part of working with people. Creating goodwill with customers, venders, and coworkers helps when the accuracy and diligence falls short. We create goodwill by going the extra mile, being friendly, and having discretion in our associations. Being discrete about your business associates and what they are doing creates a trust with clients and coworkers. It shows professionalism and respect for others. That’s why you will never see me portray any of my clients or coworkers in a negative light or expose any specifics about their business practices. Confidentiality is a key part of working with others. There are times when clients will need to trust you with sensitive information. Don’t destroy a business relationship by sharing too much information about a third-party, even if the information is true. It may not be something your client or coworker wants others to know. When it doubt, ask if you may share the information before you do so.

Basically business ethics boils down to being respectful and courteous to the people with whom you work. The “golden rule” we were taught as children still applies to our lives. It can be a great standard to judge our business dealings by. If we treat others the way we would want to be treated, we will no doubt run our businesses in an ethical way.

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  1. Does Your Business have a Code of Ethics? « Robert Medak - October 10, 2012

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