This article is one in the multi-part series entitled The Entrepreneurial Mindset.
In one of my very first trainings as a reserve deputy with our local police department, the commanding officer who was leading the meeting talked about the importance of character. For instance, he explained how, when responding to a non-emergency call, you should always use the sidewalk as opposed to walking across the complainant’s lawn because, in his words that I can still hear clearly today, “if you don’t have your character and integrity, you have nothing.”
Really, the same is true when it comes to owning and operating your own small business as people like to buy from companies that appear to have a conscience and compassion. So, if your character is questionable at all, you’re likely to feel it in your bottom line.
How do you strengthen your character so that it strengthens your business? By focusing on the basic fundamentals—respect, responsibility, and trustworthiness—as a company, as well as teaching them to your staff so that they help promote the good character of your business too. Let’s look at each one now.
Just as using a person’s sidewalk versus cutting across their yard allowed me to show my “clients” respect as a reserve officer, thus helping to start our interaction on the right foot, making respect a priority in your small business has numerous benefits as well.
For example, internally it creates a more cohesive and friendly work environment. Externally, it shows clients and customers that you value them and aren’t going to trample all over them, even if given the opportunity.
What are some things you can do to show greater levels of respect to the people that you regularly do business with? For starters, be polite, even if they are not. Admittedly, this isn’t always easy to do, but minding your manners can help deescalate tense situations as opposed to making them worse than they are. Plus, it keeps you from saying something that you later feel the need to apologize for.
Also, avoid responding in anger. If something makes you mad, such as your employee failing to show up for work or a supplier not delivering your goods on time, and you’re ready to blow, you need to calm down before addressing the situation. Giving yourself adequate time to decompress allows you to formulate a more positive, and respectful, response.
Another way to show respect is to do what you say you are going to do. For instance, if you tell a client that you will call him or her back in 1 to 2 days, then do it. The more you stand behind your word, the more your clients will stand behind you.
A second basic building block of character is responsibility. In other words, do you blame others when things don’t go as planned, or are you more likely to figure out what role you may have played in the process while working towards a situation so that it doesn’t happen again?
More often than not, the businesses who stand up and admit their shortcomings (whether intentioned or not) fare better than the companies that play the blame game and try to convince you why someone else caused their downfall. This is important to remember if you find your small business in this predicament as admission is typically seem more positively than merely defending your actions.
You can also teach your staff to embrace responsibility by giving them the ability to make more choices in their work environment. The American Psychological Association reports how well this works for students as offering more of a decision making role increases their feelings of control and ownership, prompting them to be more responsible as a result. If it works in the classroom with youngsters, surely it can have the same positive effects in the workroom with adults.
Finally, lose your consumers’ trust and you might as well close your doors. If they feel that you are shady in any way, shape, or form, they aren’t going to want to give you their hard earned money because they will be unsure of what they will get in return. And all it takes is one violation of trust and your reputation could be tarnished for good.
Just as doing what you say you are going to do shows your client or business associate that you respect him or her, it also proves that you are worthy of their trust. Once they can come to rely on your word, then you have a customer or partner for life.
Part of creating a trust-filled work environment also means not talking about one employee with another employee, discouraging workplace gossip, and not sharing details of an associate’s private life. The more your staff and business partners feels that you aren’t going to talk bad about them or divulge their hardships, the more forthcoming they will be because they know that what they say to you stays with you. If they have to worry about what they tell you, then they will spend all of their time covering their own backside instead of worrying about covering yours.
Building character takes time, but it is well worth the effort as the payoff is lifelong, loyal customers. I’d love to hear your stories about character in business, so please feel free to share them below!