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Can an ethical company exist and be profitable?

jumping across hill - ethical company

Anyone can tell you money is the lifeblood of any company. There’s always plenty of money out there to go get. In business, there are a lot of ways to grow profits including some pretty low and easy ways. It’s easy to lie or deceive. To dupe people into thinking they need a solution that may not be necessary. It’s easy to buy something cheap and sell it for a high profit to an unassuming person. The question is, can an ethical business exist and be profitable?

I started a digital agency in 2009, but it was years of work just doing what I loved, designing. I wasn’t particularly profitable. The design jobs that came my way paid some bills, including grad school. In hindsight, I should have charged more, a common phrase that rolls around in my head and sometimes off my lips. I didn’t charge what agencies or big freelancers were charging. I was doing good design work at a price that allowed me to live and something my small business clients could afford. Looking back, it was a disservice to my bank account but in my mind, it was a fair deal. I loved doing what I was doing. I took each job and clients’ goals to heart. I cared more than they likely knew, but it must have bled through as I continued to get referrals. From working on my own, to now an agency with a small and amazing team of 6, I’ve been guided by a few principals that are just natural to me.

It simply feels good to care for others…

1. Care for others

It’s a simple concept but it’s honest, not a long thought about culture “company value”. In my case, it feels good and it’s so easy to care for others. It it makes working through design or marketing challenges drastically more rewarding than just working for a dollar. There is a downside though, it brings more pain. Not only do you feel your own roadblocks and failures in life, but because you care for others, you also feel for others. You feel their pain.

Have a love for what you do, who you work for, and who you work with.

2. Work with those who care for others

Caring for others is an abusive lifestyle if you don’t choose to work and surround yourself with those who also care. Passion is a word that we use a lot inside our agency. It’s not meant to be a catchphrase meaning to work unhealthy hours or be obsessive over your work because every motivational Instagram post says to. Passion to me is synonymous with love. Have a love for what you do, who you work for, and who you work with. Have a culture of like-minded people with different backgrounds that are all linked together by a passion (love) for what they are doing, who they are doing it with as well as who they are doing it for. If you love, you care, if you care, you love. There will be inevitable low points when it gets hard in work and life. You will get through it and stay on your feet when you stand side-by-side with people who care. It’s easy to knock others down to falsely build your self-esteem up or step on the necks of others to get out of the trenches.

When you’re doing something you truly believe in, it will help you keep your head up and focus on what drives you.

3. Care deeply about what you do and how you do it

Caring deeply about what you are doing acts as your north star. When facing challenges, its easy to get frazzled. It’s easy to question everything. How painful is that lost feeling? When you’re doing something you truly believe in, it will help you keep your head up and focus on what drives you. Today there are so many design and marketing agencies. I know a lot of agency owners with small and large companies. So many jump from one service to the next just trying to chase the hottest thing (the easier dollar) to sell to their clients while never really giving themselves the chance to care about what they are doing, or maybe respecting what they are doing. Every entrepreneur has their own vision of what they want to create. There is no right path, but for me, I wanted to build a team that were experts in what they do. A team that cared, and loved to learn, educate, and practice that knowledge. That was important to me. It’s not easy. It’s challenging. Many agencies are a team of sales people that sell while all the work is outsourced to other countries and sometimes to inexperienced workers. Some of them know very little about what they do or offer, just enough to sell the service and mislead their customers. Why wouldn’t they? No overhead, no payroll, no tie to anyone really. Just a worker bee somewhere else getting work done at low prices without ever really knowing their worth. It’s frustrating to see.

4. Work at fair prices

This is one can be the trickiest part. The marketplace can throw a fair price out of whack. Your value should dictate your price, but does doing things the right way–the hard way–return on it’s monetary value? Those re-selling cheap labor can have a financially healthy company. Sometimes more than those performing the work themselves and building a deep knowledge for what they do. It can come down to the better salesman, the one who can better sell the vision of the value they can deliver to the customer regardless of work done. Is this fair? Is it right? This can also be found with some startups that are built not to offer the better product, but to build an appearance just to be sold before the floor falls out. Even when providing a great and valuable service, we’ll charge a price that we believe is fair in my mind even when there is plenty of room and capability to overcharge. You have to feel good about what you are doing and care enough for that human being that hired you, to charge them fairly. I know, it might sound crazy to hear. If you can convince the client to pay more why wouldn’t you? You have to be grounded enough to know when the market is the one that is drunk with inflated prices. This isn’t always true but there are times when it is. This is not about charging below or above a certain price. There is no award for offering yourself at a low price that only the one paying is happy about. It’s about fair pricing.

Your self-esteem and blood pressure is on the same roller coaster as your business.

As an entrepreneur, the pressure can be overwhelming. Your self-esteem and blood pressure is on the same roller coaster as your business. It’s natural for us as human beings to want to follow the path of least resistance or to eliminate pain as quickly as possible. It’s easy to make money and to use others as a step stool to get that watch, car, and house, and to feel good or fool oneself into false self esteem. When it’s all done, I have to know I put in the hard work, I did things the right way, I cared for what I did and for who I worked beside. Will there be richer people? More financial profitable companies? For sure, and I can sleep knowing that.

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