Wednesday, 5 January 2011

Small Business Advice Part Two - The Golden Rule

Continuing my occasional foray into the world of the entrepreneurial guru I'm devoting my second business advice blog to the golden rule or the simple idiom "Do as you would be done by".

Although the first recorded example of this phrase in those exact words is attributed to the Earl of Chesterfield in 1747, the philosophy behind it dates back centuries and is included in Jesus' words from the Sermon On The Mount - "all things that whatsoever ye would that men should do to you, do ye even so to them" and there are variants in the teachings of Confucius and in many other world religions.

For any maxim to be around for centuries it has to have some worth but I never fail to be surprised by how few people apply it and how few appreciate its relevance in business. Think about virtually everything you do in business and think about how it applies.

Those customers are rubbish aren't they? They never pay on time. How often is that said in a typical accounts office on any given day? But ask yourselves "do we pay on time?". If the answer is no then there is little point in moaning about the customers. Start to pay on time, break the circle of slow payment and you will build up respect from your suppliers and with that respect you will get priority treatment. It's the end of the month, your supplier is running late with deliveries, who is going to get the favours? The one who treats him the best.

Payment is just one small area where "do as you would be done by" is an important message to have on board. Here's another genuine scenario. Several years ago an important supplier forgot to invoice us with a very large invoice. It wasn't on their statement and we could quite easily have ignored it and made ourselves a nice extra profit for the month. But if the boot had been on the other foot and we had made a similar mistake we could have lost a significant sum,so, as soon as we realised what had happened, we did the right thing and told the supplier. The result was that we cemented an already good relationship to an even better one and gained our supplier's total respect. Their managing director recently told me that he believed that less than 10% of his customers would have spilled the beans. Which shows that the golden rule is not one that is followed by many businesses.

The rule applies when dealing with complaints. Put yourself in the complainant's shoes. He's just bought your product. He was really looking forward to receiving it but it has arrived damaged. It's not your fault (bloody carriers) but that's no consolation to him. Ask yourself what is the very best that you would expect if you were the customer and try and fulfill those expectations even if you are gong to be out of pocket. Ok it's sometimes impossible but if you can be seen to have pulled out as many stops as you could, your reputation will go from strength to strength.

You might think that by banging on about this aspect of a business I'm being a bit wet and that real business is for those Dragon's Den types with their very tough exteriors (although in reality they would not have made their fortunes without treating people with respect). But it is a very important aspect and if you get it right at the outset your business will thrive. I said earlier that it affect all areas and that includes how you treat your staff, your customers and your suppliers. Think about the most respected brand on the high street John Lewis. Think of their customer service and their staff share schemes and you'll get the idea. I'm sure there are thousands of very successful businesses that care for their shareholders only but applying the golden rule will provide far more personal satisfaction. 

Before making any decisions, stand back for a second, think of how you would react if you were on the receiving end of that decision and make the right choice accordingly. Start putting it into action soon and I guarantee that you will see positive results.