Business Ethics Pt. 1: Being Good

Business Ethics Pt. 1: Being Good

We realized about two years ago that money alone isn’t enough of a motivator for us. We are the type of people who derive meaning from work and that means, in order to feel happy and truly content with our business, the work had to complement—if not match—our values.

One of our most important values can be summarized as “Be Good. Do Good.” This is enormous and far reaching, so we’re going to unpack it a whole bunch over the course of two articles. Today is all about the first part: being good.

There are a few things you should keep in mind before we delve into what being good actually means for our business.

First, being good isn’t about being well—that’s a whole different blog post. Being good is about being good people within our business, and doing the right thing, even when it’s hard.

That’s the second thing. It can be hard. And when we say hard, we aren’t saying it takes a little longer and means we get less sleep. No, we’re talking emotionally hard. We’re human, after all, and we’re far from perfect. So doing the right thing—the good thing—isn’t always the first reaction, especially when it leads to short term loss.

There’s that final thing—short term loss. When you are doing things that benefit the client first, and are good for the client, it can seem backwards because there’s often money left on the table. That’s why slimy businesses, although usually unethical, can be wildly successful in the short term.

But the fact is, we think being good brings greater return in the long run, in all shapes and forms. Plus, we’d never be happy in our business if we weren’t being good. So let’s get to it—what does being good mean for Wanderoak?

Rule 1: Don’t take advantage of people just because they won’t know.

Web design and development can get technical—there is ample opportunity to take advantage of a person because they don’t understand what you’re doing. It would be easy to lie to someone; to say you did something when you actually didn’t; to say the project would take long hours and hard work, only to buy cheap work from someone else and apply it.

We know, it sounds terrible, but it happens way too often. People get taken advantage of because they don’t have the technical know-how to be able to tell the difference. Aside from making us disappointed in humans, this saddens us. When you hire someone to do something you don’t know how to do yourself, there is a level of trust and risk. So when someone breaks that trust, not only does it make a person more skeptical to get help again, but it could have a major monetary impact on what they’re doing, especially if they are just starting out. It’s like the equivalent of stepping on an animal’s tail to stop it from running away. Not. Cool.

Rule 2: Listen.

Yes, we get hired because we have expertise and opinions (and you know, the personality thing). But that doesn’t mean we can go ahead and do whatever we want, whenever we want. We work as a collaboration with our clients, which means they contribute a lot—after all, it is their business or project.

This all comes from the understanding that each person and each business is different, and in order to be successful, you have to really listen to what’s being said. Sometimes it’s not so simple (people have a tendency to not say what they actually mean, and instead mask it behind something else, whether it’s because they are afraid, or because they just aren’t able to articulate it). So listening means paying attention to what they’re saying, to what they aren’t saying, and to what that all means.

Think about what happens if we take listening out of the equation. If we aren’t listening, we won’t pick up on the tone and personality of what the person is trying to achieve. If we aren’t listening, we won’t understand the motives and the goal of the project. If we aren’t listening, we won’t see what’s important to the project right now, and what can wait for later. If we aren’t listening, we won’t pick up on the main problem, and run the risk of building a solution to a problem that didn’t exist in the first place.

Not being listened to sucks. It’s disheartening. We all know this, because at some point in our lives we’ve all been really excited to tell a story (in regular face-to-face conversation), and in the middle of it—perhaps during the most exciting part—we realize nobody is really listening.

So our ears are open.

Rule 3: Provide lasting value.

Even at the expense of short term profit. Let’s repeat that, it’s the important and scary part: even at the expense of short term profit.

Again, in a field that’s technical, it’s easy to take advantage of people. Here’s a slightly long-winded example that’ll really get the point across:

Lisa is just starting out, and looking to have a website created for her grass cutting business. She goes to XYZ Web Company, and asks them to create something for her. She gives them the content and they come back with a shiny new website, and the stipulation that she’ll have to pay them each month if she wants the website to be secure. Regretfully, she does.

Things are okay for a while, but Lisa’s getting really good at cutting grass, and now is a good time to up the price of her services. But there’s a problem—Lisa can’t access the content on the website, and she doesn’t know how to update it. She gets in contact with XYZ Web Company (who she is already paying monthly) to update the price. Unfortunately, they say, you’ll have to pay us more $$$ in order for us to make that update. Frustrated, Lisa pays because she needs it updated, and moves on.

Again, things go well for a while, and Lisa’s services are in high demand. She decides she’d like to not only cut grass, but also trim trees and plant gardens. She takes a deep breath and contacts XYZ Web Company again, dreading their response, but not sure what else to do. They explain that, since this means adding more pages to the website, it’s going to cost even more $$$. So she pays it. She’s trapped.

That, friends, is a true story for many people. XYZ Web Company gave Lisa a website she couldn’t update herself, and one that wouldn’t grow with her, effectively forcing her to pay them more money down the road. This is something we fundamentally believe isn’t right.

If you’re in Lisa’s position, please know this is not the only way.

The right way—in our opinion—manifests itself in a few different ways, but is rooted in the idea of giving people freedom and long lasting value.

Here’s what we do:

  1. Create websites that can be easily updated without needing any knowledge of code (not just simple text updates, but adding entire pages as well).
  2. Consider the needs of the future when building the website, so it not only meets the needs of today, but can also grow and handle what may happen in the future.
  3. Teach the client how to use the website, so they feel confident in making updates and using it to its full potential.

A person should not require the paid services of a website company to make simple updates to their website. If it’s a choice, that’s a different story, but in no way should it be forced.

This sounds like putting ourselves out of work—and in the short term and narrow vision, we are. But we’re not interested in work that is forced. If ever there is a recipe for resentment, that would be it, not to mention a poor reputation and no word-of-mouth recommendations.

You see, in the long term, that money received for forcing someone to pay for updates is peanuts in comparison to what can be accomplished by providing real and long lasting value.

Is that all?

Absolutely not. There are so many smaller things we’re trying to do in order to build an ethical business we’re proud to run. Imagine the slimiest of sales people, and your worst experience with a service provider. Now imagine the opposite—that’s what we’re working towards. It’s a tall order.

Admittedly, it’s something we’re still working on, and there will likely always be room for improvement, but the foundation we’ve created is serving us well.

In the next article, we’re diving into the flip side: doing good. It’s all about the types of work we’re doing, and the difference we’re trying to make in the world. Stay tuned.

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