How to Run an Ethical Business
By Sue Ellam

I want to address the subject of the damage we can do to our business unless we diligently follow ethical practices and treat our clients as our first priority.

I have noticed that clients appear to have been relegated to ‘nuisance’ status in some companies – people either to be ignored or put on hold until a more convenient time. I am not talking about the many businesses that are started with the sole objective of making profits, with no concern for the people or planet. These businesses were never ethical in the first place, and by virtue of their damaging products and/or services probably never will be. I am talking about businesses that started because of a passion, that wanted to make a difference, but through lack of thought, or bad management, have fallen off the ethical ladder and are now a source of frustration and disappointment to those that deal with them.

It makes me wonder what went wrong within these companies, why they dropped the ball. It doesn’t make sense to mistreat or undervalue clients – they are, after all, the source of income. No clients, no money, no business!

My experience of dealing with such companies has really clarified what not to do in my own business. This is what I have learned about how to run an ethical business.

Remember that You Are Just One Link in the Chain

Business dealings are rarely confined to just you and your client. If you supply products you have suppliers, and your client will also have other businesses and people linked to them. When you let a client down you are often letting down a string of other people of whom you aren’t aware. You could also be responsible for your client being perceived as unprofessional, as they couldn’t deliver on their promise because you didn’t deliver on yours.

For example, I recently purchased an item online. The order went through, payment was taken but nothing was delivered. Nobody contacted me and I eventually ended up phoning them. They weren’t aware that my parcel hadn’t been delivered. The firm they had contracted to deliver it had apparently tried twice – they didn’t leave a card either time, and I was actually at home at the times recorded. As a result I ended up cancelling the order. It would have turned out very differently if:

  • The seller tracked all their orders and confirmed delivery
  • The delivery company had tried harder to deliver the parcel or left a ‘You Weren’t at Home’ card
  • The delivery company had notified the seller, so they could contact me themselves

As delivery wasn’t treated as a priority by either company, it didn’t happen. They each acted as disinterested individuals, rather than as a team with a common goal.


Communication is so important. Answer phone calls, emails and questions – don’t leave your clients wondering what’s happening, and potentially cause them stress and worry. Some questions might seem trivial to you, but they obviously aren’t trivial to your client or they wouldn’t have asked them.

If your company is one that gets asked the same standard questions time and again, make sure you have a list of answers ready.

The problem with lapses in communication is that trust gets eroded, and you could end up dealing with some very angry and frustrated clients. Believe me – that will take up much more of your time than if you had kept in touch in the first place.

You are running a business, not the Secret Service, and your clients need to know!

Tell the Truth

Always tell your clients the truth, don’t string them along. If you don’t have the product they want in stock, or you can’t provide the service they require right now, tell them. Yes, you may lose their business in this instance or they may be prepared to wait, but you are leaving the decision up to them and that’s where it belongs. The important thing is that they will remember your honesty and could send other business your way. If you tell them lies in order to keep their business, that might be the only business you’ll ever get from them – and if you’re really unlucky, your shortcomings could end up doing the rounds on social media.

Don’t Forget that Your Clients have Lives Too

This is particularly important to remember if you have a company that impacts other people’s businesses in a big way. That without your product or service the business can’t function. It is a good idea from time to time to think about what effect your actions are having – are you uplifting your clients so that their lives are enhanced by their association with you, or are you pushing them towards bankruptcy?

Have a Back Up Plan

Life is uncertain and full of surprises, so protect your client’s interests by giving them an alternative contact in case you are unavailable.

If someone has paid you for a service, then it is only polite to let them know when you plan to be away from the office, if it is likely to affect them in some way. An email after the event, apologising for not being in touch because you’ve been off skiing, is not likely to be received very well.

Keep to Deadlines

Don’t pull deadlines out of thin air because that’s what you think your client wants to hear. If you can’t finish the job by Friday, don’t tell them you can. Look at the facts and figures, understand what is possible and, if you can, add a day or so just in case of hiccups. You’ll then get brownie points for being ahead of schedule.

Tell them if something crops up which will cause delays. Don’t pretend it’s of no consequence. You don’t know what impact the delay will have on your client. If they are aware of it, they can deal with it in a timely fashion at their end.

Good Intentions aren’t Enough

You might be the nicest person in the world, but your charms will fall on stony ground if people know that you can’t be relied upon, and that your word doesn’t mean anything. Don’t forget the saying ‘The road to hell is paved with good intentions’. The only way to run an ethical business is to back up your words with positive and timely action.

In Conclusion

I believe it is crucial not to underestimate your importance and impact on other people’s lives. If you focus on your clients’ needs, rather than seeing them from just a monetary angle, I truly believe that your business will flourish and become a thing of joy.

I recently watched an episode of ‘Undercover Boss’ on YouTube. It was about a chain of convenience stores which also sold hot food and drinks. ‘The Boss’ visited the store which outdid all the others on coffee sales, in order to see what it had that the other stores didn’t. What the store had was this amazing lady who knew her customers by name, was genuinely interested in them, and always had time to have a laugh and a joke. People visited the store because that lady brightened up their day – they could have bought coffee anywhere. I think that says it all.


Sue is the Founder of Soulfully Connecting. The idea behind Soulfully Connecting is to demonstrate that there are other ways of living which can heal the earth, the animal kingdom and ourselves. She is passionate about people having freedom of choice, which is only possible when they know about all the options.

If you have any stories to tell, or lessons you have learned from running your own ethical business, I would love to hear them.

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