Honesty Is the Best Policy
With all the scandals rocking corporate America of late, CEOs are getting a pretty bad rap these days. Trust has become scant; doing business has become an exercise in convincing someone, anyone, that you're a decent, honest CEO who wouldn't dream of ripping anyone off. You may very well be decent and honest, and you may very well never hobnob with the likes of an Enron or WorldCom higher-up. Trouble is, who believes that?
You, of course. Your employees, maybe. Perhaps even some of your customers. But I'd venture to guess that a great number of consumers are eyeing businesses large and small with the kind of skepticism typically reserved for politicians. In this kind of environment, what's a small-business owner to do?
Unfortunately, there is no easy solution. Think about how you feel if you think you're being ripped off by a business. You get angry, right? You want recourse? You perhaps take your business elsewhere? So don't give your customers any reason to think they're being ripped off.
First of all, you need to comb through your financial records and make damn sure that they're accurate and forthright. If they're not, that's the first thing to correct. But even if and when your books are straight, you'll have to be sure to establish, or re-establish, a level of trust with your customers and clients.
The best way I can think of to do this is to encourage questions and interaction. Make sure your employees and customers know you are available to answer any questions they have about your business practices, accounting procedures and the like. You don't have to give away the store, especially if you are not a public company, but rather create an environment where employees and customers feel like you have nothing to hide. They will be more likely to do business with you (and refer you to their friends and family) or work for you if they perceive you as one of the "good guys."
On that note, make sure you are one of the good guys. Don't even give yourself the option or put yourself in a situation where you're tempted to deceive. Maybe I sound a bit idealistic--people who are predisposed to lie and cheat aren't likely to quit doing it--but this world would be a much happier place if we made honesty a priority.