The list of responsibilities for a new entrepreneur is endless: create a product, initiate sales, build a brand, manage costs, hire a team, begin marketing efforts, find office space…and at the top of this list, figure out how and when your company will be profitable.
But in the midst of all that, new entrepreneurs such as myself have to learn what it means to have integrity and as a result, build a solid reputation. This may not be the first thing you think about in your day-to-day operations, but it definitely should be.
I believe that you are not born with integrity in business, you have to choose this state of mind every day and then prove it. Similarly, regardless of your reputation in your personal network, you are not born with a good reputation in business – you have to earn it.
What does it mean to have integrity? I’m still learning how this applies in the many hats I wear, but I’m pretty sure it starts with doing what I say I’m going to do.
Last November, I went to a sales meeting with a buyer from a large supermarket chain. She didn’t quite have room for cocokind yet, so I started explaining two major product improvements we could make before her next review (in Feb 2016).
Before the words came out of my mouth, I knew I absolutely had to make these (expensive and hard) changes in order to prove that my words have integrity. Sure enough, we achieved the two improvements within six weeks, and she was surprised to see that we not only stayed true to our words but we also got it done faster than expected! We’re going in the chain now.
This may sound like the obvious choice that I should have made, but as she described to me later, many people go to these meetings and say whatever they think they need to say to make the sale. She said the follow up is usually nonexistent after the initial purchase order. For me though, I would rather push back the sale three months, prove my integrity, and begin building a meaningful, long-term relationship, than make a sale that wasn’t totally supported by facts or actions. I will never shoot smoke when I talk about cocokind’s future and my plans for the business…I think that makes me a pretty horrible traditional sales person but a very trustworthy business owner that people want to support.
But having integrity isn’t just valuable in big buyer meetings. I’m learning that it’s necessary when you are just starting out, with every conversation you have and any small decision you make.
I reached out to some of my friends who own natural products companies and I asked them how new entrepreneurs can build integrity. I compiled my favorite responses below. It’s most interesting because we learn here that everyone has a different definition of integrity – but they are all equally important.
- Being consistent with your decisions (whether big or small).
- Proving that you are trustworthy to all stakeholders in the business.
- Taking no moral shortcuts, especially in the beginning when $ and time are tight
- Doing the right thing not because someone’s watching, but because that is what you believe is the right thing!
- Being honest with your representation of your business and product – honesty that doesn’t change situationally.
These friends also taught me that being a business owner with integrity is a lot of hard work. Good thing that’s exactly what I signed up for! Thanks to these guys for all the interesting feedback about this subject – I appreciate you so much and your support is one of a kind.
Oh and happy happy Chinese New Year!