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Honesty is the best policy in small business

Greetings from inside the SEOigloo!
I’ve had craigslist.org on the brain for the past month or so, as my husband and I are considering a move. My dream living arrangement is a tiny house with a big yard. It has to be in the country, it has to have a bathtub, it has to be DSL or Cable-accessible, and it has to be in a sunny spot so I can grow veggies. I’d prefer it to be in a warm valley, but I’d consider living on a hill if the land was right. So, you see, I’m a user who has very specific requirements and knows what I want in this situation.
I’ve been visiting the rental housing section of craigslist for my region daily, and am repeatedly encountering a lack of honesty in the listings that is off-putting for a user like me who wants the true facts so that I can make a decision. In real estate, as in all fields, all sellers of goods and services do right to make the most of what they are offering. I understand that. If you’re trying to sell an old, dented Dodge, it’s okay to say that it gets decent mileage, has a clean interior, and would be fine for running errands in town. It’s not okay to say that it’s a mint condition BMW.
The worst fibbing I’m seeing on craigslist relates to location. The main town in my county is a pretty fancy place to live. Housing is expensive there and tourists come from all over the world just to visit it. However, there are three towns surrounding the main one that are, perhaps, some of the worst places to live in the county. Picture crooked houses with peeling paint, dark yards covered with layers of pine needles, old appliances and vehicles, and large dogs named Fang barking at you and you’ve got a snapshot of most of the properties in these satellite towns. Crime is high in these places. In other word, they are not what you could bill as desired residences. Nevertheless, I am repeatedly seeing property management companies offering houses in these towns for rent and listing them as being located in the fancy town. What do they think they are doing???
Being a local protects me. I know what each of these towns is like, and when I see a street address in one of them, I know darned well that it isn’t in the fancy town. If I didn’t, what an annoying and huge waste of time these listings would make for me, the user who knows what they want. But what about out-of-towners who are looking to move into this area? It almost makes me laugh to think of wealthy folks making a round of craigslist listings to find an upscale rental and being treated to a series of sheds with the doors falling off of them. It’s kind of funny, but at the same time, such a foolish situation. The worst part of it is the trust that would be lost in the property management company after a few experiences like this. Don’t they get it that their business reputation is at stake here in the local community, and that by failing to be upfront about the location of their rental units, they are giving themselves a bad name?
It’s a particularly bad message to be sending to people who are considering a prospective relationship with you wherein they give you hundreds of dollars a month so that you, the landlord, will come fix their roof if it starts leaking. My feeling would be that if the landlord starts off the situation with a falsehood, it’s not going to be a good bet to depend on their word when the heating goes out and they say they’ll have it fixed in 3 days so you don’t get frostbite. My ability to trust is at stake here, with thousands of potential dollars in the balance.
How much better would this situation be if the property manager was a compassionate individual with the attitude of, “we know lots of citizens are in a low income bracket, but we’ve cleaned and repaired this old house into good shape, and tried to make as livable as possible for anyone who has this type of budget”? I’d be impressed with a statement like that, but I doubt I’ll ever see it. Shacks will continue to be billed as ‘quaint’ and ‘charming’ and I’m guessing that ‘scary town’ will continue to be listed as ‘ritzy town’.
Now, let’s suppose you don’t deal in rental properties. Let’s suppose your small business sells homemade soaps. The soaps are fairly nice and could make a thoughtful little gift for someone. But the dishonest merchant will go over the top with false claims in order to offload his stock on the public in the following way:
“This soap stops the aging process. Use daily and you’ll never look a day older. Also, cures acne, eczema, dry skin, oily skin, warts. Wrinkles vanish instantly! Laughlines are a thing of the past! Our soap will make you beautiful after just 2 weeks of use.”
Snake oil, anyone? The sad thing is, the vast earnings of the cosmetics industry prove, beyond a doubt, that a large segment of the public is gullible enough to be taken in by such claims because they want them to be true badly enough. But what happens to the people who buy the soap, use it, and don’t experience these miracles? Do they buy more? Do they trust your company? Do they spread the word about how great your products are, bringing you in tons of new customers? No.
In our own business, we absolutely have to be honest with potential clients. It’s a sad situation when I take the time to explain to a small business owner that, no, we don’t guarantee a top 10 Google ranking. Yes, we’ve achieved them for our clients repeatedly, but it took hard work and patience to do so. No, we can’t get them into position #1 in a week. Sorry. The sad part comes in when the business owner says, “Well, Company B says they can do it, so I’ll go with them.” Six months later, the same guy calls us up and tells us he’s now paid company B $15,000 and not only is he not on the front page of Google, he’s afraid his site may have been penalized or banned. Unfortunately, most small business owners will run into unscrupulous web services providers at some point, with their too good to be true claims and fly-by-night ethics. It takes some practice on the part of the business owner to learn to sort the snake oilers from the real deal. And, I really don’t care if it loses us business. I’m going to keep on being honest with my potential clients, even if it’s disappointing to them because they are seeing deals that look shiner elsewhere.
So, we’re left with a pretty basic equation here at the end of the day. Telling it like it is results in earning trust, results in the small business’ ability to stay in business for a long time. *Note, I’m not talking about corporations – they can stay in business no matter how many false pitches they make to the public for years and years because they’ve got huge piles of money. But, for the small business, earning trust has got to be your top priority, or eventually, people will get it that you’re not being level with them and will take their business elsewhere. Everybody wants a fair deal. Give it to them!