A company can only grow on honesty and strong ethics in business. This is what pushes your business growth steadily upward and in alignment with your core beliefs and ethics. Admittedly, there are some that seem to grow without these ethics in place, but they will only burn bright briefly, before crashing and burning, once their customers realise what ethics (or lack of ethics) are in place.

Running an ethical business is so much more than ‘just’ being honest; it’s about living by a strong set of moral principles, both as a company and an individual. It’s about knowing what feels right and wrong – and doing only that which feels right.

However, as we each have our own set of principles in place, this can sometimes lead to business dilemmas and ‘grey areas’ – questions on what is right and wrong, morally. Here are some of the most common ethical dilemmas faced by small business owners, when it comes to running an online business.

Is it OK to use any photographs/graphics I find online because surely, the fact they’re online, makes them fair game, right?

No, this isn’t the case and it can get you into serious (and expensive) trouble, as it breaks copyright law. If possible, always use your own photographs and, if you can, look to obtain photographic content from stock libraries – but ALWAYS check their terms and conditions of usage. Some will let you use the photograph freely, as long as you CORRECTLY credit the photographer. Others don’t need crediting at all, whilst others will charge you for SINGLE usage.

Is it OK to take the wording from someone else’s sales page/blog post/article and re-jig it for my own purposes?

You can collect a file of copywriting material you like, but this should only serve to be a reminder of what styles etc. you like. All copy is much better written in your own voice – if it’s not congruent with you, your potential clients will pick up on that inconsistency. Businesses can pay thousands for copywriter to accurately portray their voice and style, so do yourself a favour and get to know your own unique voice and style – stop trying to be a weaker version of someone else’s.

Is it OK to use testimonials generically? I have a new product/service, but no social proof for it. However I know it’s a great product/service.

If you really do stand by your product/service, then take the time to build its own social proof. Have beta testers, offer introductory pricing and build up extra value (i.e. bonuses) – if you have that much faith in what you’re offering, it will quickly get a positive reaction and social proof will grow.

I’ve been asked a) if I’ve worked with a particular niche before, and b) how many people I’ve helped. Surely it doesn’t matter if I say I have, when I haven’t or if I round up the figures a bit?

DON’T lie about what you can and can’t do – if you’ve helped twenty people, say twenty, not one hundred. If you haven’t worked in a particular niche, what’s the issue with saying you haven’t?

Is it OK to approach a competitor’s clients? After all, they are a competitor and I do feel I can offer them a better service/better value.

NEVER approach or try to steal clients from others – regardless of whether you think you’ll be able to do a better job with them. It’s a tacky and underhand way of doing business and makes you look both dishonest and desperate.

Is it OK to approach a Lead VAs clients when I am working as an Associate VA to them? After all, I do feel I can offer them a better service/better value for a lesser price!

In the same way as you cannot poach clients from a competitor as an Associate VA you are in a position of trust and cannot go after the Lead VAs clients – there will normally be a non-compete clause in the Associate agreement saying this and for a period of time afterwards.

If the client asks you to work direct, you need to broach this subject with the Lead VA or if they offer you a testimonial. That testimonial should go through the Lead VA as you are representing them and their team.

I don’t normally work with this particular niche/client, but I need the money and feel I could help them, so I should just take the job, right?

Do you actually want to branch out into that niche/client area or will this further dilute your expert status? Can you do a great job for them? There’s a danger that, when you’re too focused on the money, you’ll lose sight of being of service. You can argue that you’re helping a client out, but will what you’re offering, be the BEST solution for the client – or your purse strings? ALWAYS refer clients to the BEST person for them, regardless of how this affects your bottom line.

Finally, remember to always treat yourself, your customers and your competitors, with the utmost respect – it’s what will make you stand out from the crowd and will show you as a truly honest, ethical and successful business owner.  

People buy people and generally will do business with those they know, like and trust so value yourself and not be worried about what others are doing.  Although personally, I do get a little grumpy when I have other VA Trainers copy names of courses / Memberships, or who join my mailing list / group to nick ideas and then re-package them as their own.  

Here are VACT – we have several ways in which we can help you identify your core values and how you can share them in your messaging, one of those ways is as part of our VA Membership.  We also teach ways in which you can protect yourself from content thieves etc. 

If you are serious about your business, you might want to check out the VA Membership.  The VA Membership is the only UK VA business accelerator that’s designed specifically to help you build and grow your VA business, to help you create recurring revenue and consistent growth through regular and consistent action.  With over 100+ hours of courses, weekly co-working sessions, weekly group coaching calls, a private support group and the ability to pay as you go – when you’re ready to grow or scale your business online.  As you review and refresh you will want to tap into our business checklists, templates, example documents, swipe copy and so much more to ensure you are supporting your business to the best of your ability.  (We can often get side tracked supporting clients in all honesty.)

The VA Membership has the option to upgrade to more one to one coaching and mentoring support as part of the Luminary VA coaching and mentoring options.  If you would like to see / learn more, then please do click the button below.