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The Eye of the Beholder

Image is everything. . . So what about ethics?

This story appears in the November 2000 issue of

A decade ago, Andre Agassi popularized the phrase "Image is everything." The tennis star emphasized creating just the right outward appearance to gain that extra edge over opponents. In the same vein, homebased entrepreneurs are often looking for a similar edge in the image-oriented game of marketing. Striving for just the right look, many homebased business owners develop elaborate strategies-and sometimes even crazy schemes-to make their businesses look bigger than they really are. Why would they go to all this trouble? The rationale is, if your operation appears more substantial to potential customers, you're more likely to get the sale because size somehow translates into credibility.

But does a "big business" image really mean potential customers will choose your firm over a smaller-sized company? And to what degree does this form of packaging create ethical problems for both entrepreneurs and their clients? What happens when you're assigned too large of a job because your client assumes you have several business associates? And imagine the damage to your credibility when another client discovers the several departments you outline on your brochure are really only you--with different e-mail accounts.

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