Sunday, February 8, 2009

Business Integrity: It Can Cost You But It Will Pay You

I believe wholeheartedly in living my life with integrity. This is not a sales pitch for me. Sometimes it costs me money or extra time and effort but because of my principles, my actions don't keep me up at night due to a guilty conscience. My conscience speaks much louder to me than greed so it's in my best interests to listen to it. I also know that when little miracles happen in my life, there are times when they might be happening as a reward for how I live my life. I'm certainly not flawless but I am honest.

This past week I was faced with a situation that might have tested my integrity and I guess I passed because I didn't even hesitate before doing what I believe was the right thing even though it probably cost me some dosh. My integrity paid me by increasing the trust between myself and my largest client and it looks like it will pay me financially after all. Maybe not as much as it would pay me if I'd chosen to handle myself differently but there are more important things in life than money.

Here's what happened:

The other day I placed a bid on Elance, the job bidding site, for a project I was qualified for. It was for a trial order and if the buyer liked the work it would lead to large orders in the coming months. It was one of a few bids I'd placed that night and I didn't really think too much of it because there were several competitors biding aggressively. In fact, I didn't even drop my price to get aggressive because I knew that if this one was meant to be it'd happen and it would require expertise that I wasn't really willing to discount.

So, the next morning I had an email that I'd won the bid for this project which at first was a nice surprise. The buyer remarked they would be in touch. Fantastic! Then I opened an email from someone who was already a client revealing that it was his bid on Elance that I'd just won.

So what was the problem?

The problem here was that the client wasn't "my" client. He's a customer via an agency I'm a team leader for and although many of the end users are anonymous to me when I do writing work for this agency, the owner trusts me enough to have me interact with many of her clients directly. Even though I'm a freelancer and don't 'work' for her, we have an arrangement and with that arrangement there's trust.

While I have greater earning earning potential without a middle person, the agency relationship provides volume and variety so it's symbiotic for myself and for my team.

The buyer knew who I was when he awarded the bid to me because:
a) I used my name and he speaks with me regularly about an ongoing project and
b) I used one of his blogs that I manage as a writing sample.

I immediately told the buyer that my bid was unintentional and told him I'd need to speak with the agency. I said that if they objected to my doing this one order direct, I would have to decline and refer him to the owner. I told the agency owner what happened. The agency had not bid on this project and didn't even know about it and I had no idea what their client's Elance buyer ID was so it really was just a coincidence. Thankfully, the owner understood and decided that we needed to talk through this issue together (all three of us).

The end results:

1. The agency now has extra business because the bid is for hundreds of articles in the coming months.

2. The buyer is going ahead with using me for the work but through the agency.

3. The agency owner probably now trusts me more than ever.

4. The buyer has decided to award me with what he called "a loyalty bonus" and is paying for the project TWICE. Once through Elance and once through the agency to thank me for my integrity. Nice, huh?

5. I'm thinking he might also add positive ratings to my Elance feedback which increases my ability to get other projects.

I won't make as much money on projects on an ongoing basis as I would direct but that's how it goes. The narrow road can be a more difficult one but it leads to life.
(Matthew 7:13-14)

Sure, I don't have a non-compete clause but I knew when the buyer contacted me that it would be wrong for me to go ahead and accept an order from them directly. I have an existing standing order through the agency managing this client's blog so the answer was clear.

Is Integrity Ever A Quandary?

Nope, not for me it isn't. Last year another client of a client came directly to me on purpose and I handled things the exact same way.

I'm not trying to toot my own horn here but I just felt compelled to share this story to illustrate that integrity does pay off, even if it takes time to bear fruit. I'm sure I'm going to benefit in more ways than one from my actions and even if I don't, I can hold my head high. There's not much in life this glass-half-full girl uses the word "hate" regarding (it is considered a swear word in my house) but I HATE cheating. I'd do without rather than steal.

Someone I mentioned this story to said that the agency wouldn't have even had this business since it was put out for bid and that I would earn a lot more money by taking it direct and maybe I should've stopped and pondered it a bit longer. The agency doesn't 'own' the customer and I've never signed a non-compete clause for them. But none of that matters to me. Since I have writers reporting to me for my own little agency who can sometimes see who my clients are, I am simply doing unto others as I'd have done unto me.

Integrity is vital in my business and personal life and I know that my actions have paid me more than once. Even if I have to give up a few dollars an article for this project, I'll be a richer person overall.


Lillie Ammann said...

I agree you did the right thing. A clean conscience is worth a lot more than any difference in income that might result from being unethical.

Dana Prince said...

Thanks, Lillie :)

Sharon Hurley Hall said...

Exactly the right move, Dana. You can't put a price on integrity.

Dana Prince said...

Absolutely, Sharon. Thanks.

Lori said...

GREAT post, Dana! Exactly the right way to handle it. You did the right thing and if I were either client in that case, I'd be thanking my stars you are my writer!

Dana Prince said...

Thanks, Lori :)