Doing Business Ethically: How to Make a Difference

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Doing Business Ethically

When you hear about ethical businesses, often your first thought is those who are working to save our environment and used recycled, ethically sourced and organic materials.

However, any small business can do business ethically by developing more ethical processes and procedures, whatever industry they are in. 

Defining "Ethical"

Ethical: relating to beliefs about right and wrong.

Before we can go any further with how we can do business ethically, we need to first think about what "ethical" means. The above definition from the Collins dictionary strongly suggests a relation to "doing what's right". Some businesses might be tempted to justify their actions because it's what is right for their business' profit margins! 

So, how can we define it in a way that we can apply it properly to business? How can define it in broader terms so that it is something small businesses can strive towards?

Quite simply, we can look at it in terms of two areas:

  1. Impact
  2. Honesty


Being ethical means you understand the impact of your business and then respond do what's right and fair.

Impact can be split into three key areas:




1. Money

Money?! Are you serious?!

Yes, I know. I've not long pointed out that some businesses will only look at this when deciding what is ethical and now I'm including it...for very good reason.

Many of the small businesses who start out with ethical or socially conscious aims, make the mistake of not paying enough attention to their profits. In 2015, just 41.4% of businesses that were started five years earlier, had survived. Businesses set up to do good, tend to fair even worse.

Whilst environmental or social concerns may be the driving factor behind an ethical business, it still needs to make money to survive. Not making one person redundant because of the social impact on them, whilst risking the security of your business makes no sense. The eventual impact of a failed business can be far greater.

Too often, in the pursuit of making a difference, the impact on the business' bottom line is ignored. Doing the right thing is about creating a balance - one between profit and helping people and the environment.

2. Environment

You can easily do become more ethical in your small business by thinking about its impact on the environment.

Whilst digital progress has reduced our use of paper, there are often still improvements that can be made. For example do you use a digital business cards? Do you receive paper or eBills? Recycling at home has become part of our everyday life but does your businesses offer recycling facilities? It could reduce the amount of rubbish produced during the working day!

Other ideas include:

  • switching to a green energy provider
  • getting involved with community events and initiatives
  • organising a litter pick at a local beauty spot
  • replacing cleaning products with chemical free alternatives.

Big changes don't happen overnight. They are made through consistent commitment to the small changes. They will get you moving in the right direction and making a difference.

Why not sit down and take a fresh look at the impact your business is having on the environment and how you could do business ethically?

3. People

Every decision you make can have an impact on someone, somewhere in the world.

Being ethical in your business means you need to be aware of this and acting accordingly. The internet has made everyone our next door neighbour and freelance sites such as Upwork have taken advantage. Quite often, you can hire someone to do hours of work for the price of a coffee and cake

Typically, businesses see this as a great opportunity to cut costs and improve their bottom line. But a more ethical approach would be to consider the fairness of this, particularly as these sites take a large chunk of the pittance paid to the freelancer.

One of our pledges in our charter, is that we will pay people ABOVE the real living wage. Many argue that they can't afford to do this. I'd argue that if they can't, their business is not in a position to grow, or, they're looking at the wrong sort of help which won't get them a return on investment.

But our impact on people reaches further. What about your suppliers? How do they treat their workers? What about when you're looking to hire someone new? Do you look at how a candidate's disabilities might hinder them? Wouldn't it be more beneficial and ethical to consider what that could add to your business and how it might advantage the candidate?

Again, think beyond your business by supporting initiatives run by others. We like to support those tackling the mental health crisis. Alternatively, you might have an opportunity to offer someone much needed training in an aspect of your industry.

There's so much you can do as a small business to start having a positive impact. But this won't get you far in business if you don't have honesty.


Honesty in your business is paramount. Too often, I hear stories of how someone feels they've been conned or duped by a business. I've lost count of the times I have listened to someone discussing their business and heard my BS bell ringing.

Just this morning, I saw a social media post from someone who was being driven mad by an entrepreneur's funnel and the subsequent dishonesty they uncovered. Let's call the entrepreneur Fred and the woman, Lisa.

Lisa had signed up for Fred's webinar and as usual, it led to a pitch at the end for a paid product. Queue the countdown. Fred told Lisa she had just 60 minutes to sign up for his amazing, one-of-a-lifetime, never-to-be-seen-again offer. Fred was offering a massive 66% discount...but only for the next hour. Hurry, sign now, before it costs you thousands get the idea.

Now Fred clearly knew a thing or two about online sales because Lisa suddenly found herself continually retargeted with adverts from Fred. Yep, he had his pixels in place and was working the wonders of Facebook and cookies galore - I wonder if he ever gave a thought about the impact these tactics might have on people?! 

The trouble was...he had forgotten about honesty.

Days later, Lisa was being shown adverts for the same program, still at the reduced price that "was only available for the next 60 minutes".

You see, if you lie to someone, you'll get found out. Once you're found out, people won't want to do business with you because you'll have ZERO credibility.

Being upfront and honest will always build the right relationships. In turn, this will result in an increase in sales. Deceit will never win out.

You & Your Business

So, let me know in the comments about you and your business. What impact are you currently having on the environment and people? Have you thought about how you can change it to create a more positive impact? Do you struggle to balance being ethical and making a profit? What honesty tales do you have to tell?

I look forward to finding out more about you!

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