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Ethical Competition with Grace and Good Sense

Kate Smalley -- While all companies have the right to do business, this does frequently present a question with regards to ethical behavior when it comes to competition.

How much should you trust the "other" guy? How much should you tell the "big" guy? How far apart should you really set yourself?

Sure, you can always answer the questions of your competitors, but how much information is enough, and how much is too much? There is a difference between working with integrity, and simply handing all of your "secrets" over to the competition.

These are things you will need to ask yourself every time another competing businessperson or person in a similar industry approaches you with questions with regards to your services, rates, and other business-related information. How much should your competition really know about you?

There are some points that you can politely and professionally decline to give away, but you must have enough integrity to not seek the same information from the competitor to whom you have previously denied your own information. These points include:

-- Your rates -- how you develop your rates is your business, and allowing the competition to know how to calculate rates will lose you an important advantage.

-- Where you get your sales -- you have worked hard to develop your customer base. You needn't provide your competitors a free ride.

-- Try to maintain an understanding with your competition that neither you nor they will badmouth each other, should a customer "switch sides." You can establish this policy by simply creating an example.

-- Make certain that your competition does not ask your friends and associates who your customer are, so that they can hone in on your existing business.

-- While making sure that you're not being copied, you should also be original and join your own committees that you feel will be beneficial to you. You want to develop your own purposes and interests, not those of your competitor.

-- Make certain that other companies do not take your slogan and modify it slightly for their own use -- and don't do this yourself. At most, use other slogans for inspiration.

-- Watch the copyright on your ads. Your ads should not be copied close to word-for-word, and you should not copy the ads of others.

-- Don't feel the need to associate with the competition after meetings. Your competition may simply be honing in on your sales opportunities. Work the room equally, so that nobody is taking advantage of your friendliness.

While you don't need to take the attitude that the business world is a war ground, you should also make certain that nobody is taking advantage of your knowledge, integrity, and hard work. Remember that it is a small world. We are all judged on the way in which we speak about others, how we compete, and our feelings towards others. Be professional and work with grace at all times, and you will never need to concern yourself with ethics in your business.

Kate Smalley is President of Connecticut Secretary Specializing in Transcription and Freelance Secretarial Services. For more information, visit:

© 2004 Kate Smalley

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