Marketing Insights

Being honest in business: is it the best policy?

If you’re running a drug cartel, being honest in business may not be your biggest priority Your entire operation is built on deception. And telling a few lies might actually keep you from being executed – buying you some much needed time until you can find your way out of a sticky situation. And being … Continued

If you’re running a drug cartel, being honest in business may not be your biggest priority

Your entire operation is built on deception. And telling a few lies might actually keep you from being executed – buying you some much needed time until you can find your way out of a sticky situation.

And being forced to dig your own grave in the heart of the Bolivian jungle is probably the stickiest of situations.

I’ll further caveat this post with more truth about telling porkies: it’s impossible not to tell them.

If someone says they don’t lie, they’re lying

We use falsehoods to save our own skin and the skin of others. We tell people they look nice when they don’t, and we make promises we know we can’t keep:

“I promise I will never leave you. (Except when I die, or start seeing Paula from work.)”

There are occasions when telling a fib is the right thing to do.

So let’s please try to avoid absolutes and accept that lying is a part of the human condition.

Compulsive liars

Ok, these are a different breed altogether. Have you ever met one? I have known a few in my time.

Before we go any further, compulsive liars can’t help doing it. And although it isn’t included in the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental health disorders, it is often a trait found in several mental health conditions. No, Karen, I’m not a medical professional.

Just like writers, these people are great at telling stories

Compulsive liars are often the hero of the tales they tell. It’s interesting how they always seem to be in the right place at the right time and coincidentally, they have a story to match any lived experience you’ve had. Like any work of fiction, their tale is dramatic, full of twists and turns, and utter bullshit.

Take the work colleague who claimed to be a millionaire. He owned a chain of hotels in America, despite working at Sainsbury’s and driving about in a 2008 Citroen Saxo.

Then there’s the guy that always hides £3000 under his mattress “just in case of emergencies” but next month he’s pleading poverty when the gas bill comes in.

There are many of these people walking amongst us so we can presume lots of them are running businesses. Hell, some of these people are running countries (sorry, ruining countries).

What’s the point of deception?

Often, it’s to impress.

So when the guy lies about how much money he has, it’s to elevate his status in your eyes.

When a business pretends it’s more successful than it really is, it’s to give the impression they’re a big deal and (hopefully) you’ll wanna work with them.

Listen, we see things through our own lens but that’s a question of interpretation and not specifically about lying.

Telling fibs in your business

When you make a conscious decision to deceive, you’re running the risk of being found out. You’ll be counting down the days when those unsubstantiated claims get flagged because, hello, the internet.

Aside from the ambiguity of this post you really should be honest in business.

There, I said it, be honest.

Trying to impress your prospects with half-truths and embellished ‘facts’ will only hurt your credibility in the long run.

And it will balls up your SEO

Building authority in your industry is a big thing when you’re trying to drive organic traffic to your place. Google hates a bullshitter. I’ve talked before about the YMOYL (Your Money Or Your Life) concept. Google assesses how your words and content impact your audience. If you’re selling products and the claims about their benefits aren’t credible, that’s a sure-fire way to fuck up your ranking.

Unethical or unlawful?

You’ve seen those adverts on Facebook: become a millionaire in 3 weeks using this failsafe course – for only £1997! Often these ‘businesses’ will litter their small print with a haul of disclaimers. They do just enough to allow them to work within the parameters of the law.

The scarcity selling tactics, the hiking up of a product price for a week, only for it to drop to the actual price so it can be seemingly sold later as 50% off. Sofa retailers have been doing that shit for years.

Two certainties in life: death, and the DFS sale. Long after humans have perished and the cockroaches take over, there will still be time to grab a Milano 2-seater for £399.

Transparent client process

If you’re not clear on the way you do things, that doesn’t (always) mean you’re lying about it.

But if you have an honest business culture (where possible, remember what I said at the start of this post) then you’ll be open about your process to your potential customers.

Let me tell you a little story (don’t worry, I’m not a compulsive liar – or Max Bygraves)

I get the occasional DM from agencies asking if I’d be interested in doing some work for them.

They often go something like this:

“Sarah, we love your style. Can you send me some info about your rates and the services you offer?”

Sounds plausible, even sounds like my kind of gig. I respond with a link to said services and pricing.

So far, so transparent

In this particular case, I got this reply:

“Great, I’ll forward this over to our members and we’ll be in touch.”

Are you bored yet, cos I feel like you might be, I know I’m starting to lose the will to liveThis really is some long-form direct in the mail, huh?

After a few emails, they realise they can’t afford me. Actually, they’re not prepared to pay my prices. Fair do’s but it’s annoying because they knew my prices before the emails (assuming they looked at the link in the DM).

During our little game of email tennis, they never mentioned how they hire talent – not a whiff of a price point.

Why not have a template message with that shit in? That’s like 101 of business admin.

The only way I found out was by asking.

How did it end?

Badly, especially when they told me they charged per word.

I know, what’s with creative agencies using that piss-poor model?

I mentioned something about valuing a writer on the quality of their work and not the quantity of it. I’m such a self-righteous arsewipe.

It didn’t curry any favour with the agency. I found this in my mailbox:

“Thanks for the tip! You asked for more info and I’m giving it to you, but now you come at me like this, why you doing me this way? That’s some wild shit!”

Those were not the exact words used but you get the idea 

I’m sure you’re a thoroughly decent human. 

You’re probably honest (where applicable) and your process, transparent. I can quite believe you’re running a business with integrity, a business that values deadlines, communication, and paying people on time. 

And if that is you, and you’d like to work with me, you know how to find me.


Online Reputation For Politicians: What You Don’t Know Can Hurt You

Back to Marketing Insights

6 of the Best Types of Media Advertising To Grow Your Brand in 2021