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The Truth is Out There

Don't fall into the trap of lying about your competitors, and don't just take it if they lie about you.

Remember that childhood chant: "Liar, liar, pants on fire"? Chances are, at one time in our lives (likely before we turned 11), we all hurled this phrase at someone we knew. As kids, we weren't afraid to call a liar a liar. Adults, on the other hand, are generally not that blunt (or honest).

Lying, unfortunately, has been raised to an art form in many facets of our lives. This is particularly apparent in the area of sales and marketing. We've all seen commercials that, instead of touting their own product's benefits, take aim at competitors. And even months later, only a small fraction of those who saw the original ads know that the claims made were false or misleading.

Entrepreneurs are especially vulnerable to this type of marketing. Small ad budgets can easily lead to fast and sloppy campaigns. It's often easier to say something bad or misleading about your competition than it is to say something good about yourself. And you look at the big guys and see so many lies that you figure it's OK. Or you say, "It's just business." But it's not. "It's easy" or "Everyone does it" are not valid excuses.

Disagree? Put yourself on the other side. What if your competitors (large or small) started lying about your company? Would you chalk it up to it just being business, or would it tick you off? Of course it would make you mad. But the question is, What would you do about it? Would you strike back? Go on the attack? Fight fire with fire, and lie about them? Or would you be above it all and let it ride?

Obviously, I don't vote for the "a lie for a lie" approach. But I don't think passivity is the answer, either. An unanswered lie can take on a life all its own. It can grow by its own momentum. If you don't fight back, the unsuspecting may start to believe the falsehoods, which is only going to make it harder for you.

Entrepreneur is a small to midsize business, just like your company. And I'm not just writing this theoretically, but from experience. We just discovered that one of our competitors has been lying about us. They claim that you readers are not true entrepreneurs, eagerly growing your businesses, but a bunch of mom-and-pops, franchisees or wannabe business owners. What do they base this on? Nothing. They just made it up. All the research (objective third-party data) indicates otherwise. And they know that--they subscribe to the same research we do. But it suits their purposes to lie. They have no good news of their own to tout, so they lie about Entrepreneur. In fact, the auditing organization that monitors most magazines' circulation claims caught them making false claims about their circulation. Just so you know, we practice what we preach: Once we found out, we fought back--with the truth.

Acclaimed critic Kenneth Tynan once wrote, "It is the nature of ambition to make men liars and cheats . . . ." The Pollyanna in me says this isn't true. The realistic side of me says it may well be. If so, since most entrepreneurs are ambitious, telling the truth may be a fight against nature. But it's a fight we cannot afford to lose.

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This article was originally published in the August 2005 print edition of Entrepreneur with the headline: The Truth is Out There.

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