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July 12, 2007

Online Business Ethics

Very simple: Be a source of integrity. Don’t be phony, people will know and not come to visit your site again. Even worse, they will post a bad review somewhere on the web and others will not even come to see for themselves. If you don’t know about something, don’t pretend that you do. Respect your customers, or prospective customers, and offer them something of value. Give good information that will draw your customers’ attention and this will help to build trust. It also gives them a reason to stay or come back again for more. Follow-up with your customers, but don’t be a pest. Basically, don’t spam, don’t steal, and don’t lie.

Just as in an offline business, there are ethics and standards that should be followed. If you are starting an online business, you’ve probably spent some time online already and can see that there are hundreds of thousands of businesses trying to sell their products and information and services to you. Study how they do it. Spend some time visiting the websites of your competitors, much like you would when preparing a business plan for an offline business. Look for and evaluate the following characteristics to determine the integrity of the business as a whole:

What are they selling? When you first come to their index page, can you quickly and easily figure out what they are selling? Is it a real product, an information product, a membership or a service? Do they offer something of real value right off the bat for free such as informative content or a related ebook? If you cannot determine within the first 30 seconds what they are selling or why they are in business, chances are that they are just a hodgepodge of links put together to make the owner affiliate revenue. However, if you do see something of value, stay a bit longer and evaluate further.

Can you contact them directly? Look on the main page. Contact information could be in the top nav bar, on the side nav bar or at the bottom of the page. Also, look for a direct link such as Contact Us. Click this link and see where it takes you. Do they provide a physical address, a contact name or email, and a phone number? These three things are a must for a legitimate business. If an owner is not confident in his business enough to put an address and contact phone number on his site, he must be hiding something. The final test is to send an email to the company and see who responds and how long it takes to get a response. Most one-person web businesses should be able to answer your email within 1-2 business days.

Is the content valuable and correct? One of my biggest pet peeves is spelling and grammar. If the owner has done his research and knows what he is talking about, this should show in the quality of the information on his site. A professional image depends on attention to details. Presentation is everything. If you are going to put out information, it has to be presented in an organized fashion with no mistakes. When I see more than one misspelled word or grammar mistake on a website or page, I move on. If the owner has not proofread his own material or verified the information on his site is correct and presented professionally, I won’t be trusting that his products are much higher in quality.

Is there a free trial or guarantee on the products and services being offered? Those businesses that have developed a quality product or service and are confident in it will not hesitate to put a guarantee on it. They will stand behind it 100%. Even better are those companies that let you try the product or service for free. This way you can test it out to see if it is indeed what you need and meets the quality standards of a legitimate business.

How do they advertise? Look at the other links on the website. Visit some of them to see the quality of partners associated with the first business. Do the links take you somewhere valuable and helpful? Is the business partnered with other legitimate businesses? Also, how did you find out about the website in the first place and what in their ad drew you in? Did the ad lie to you? Make sure that when you advertise that you don’t misrepresent what you are offering. In addition, don’t be a spammer. Make sure to develop a double opt-in email list that you can use to send valuable follow up information to your customers. This will help to build loyalty as well as word of mouth referrals. Visit forums and pay-per-click sites to see the companies who are advertising the same products and services that you are to find out what promotion methods they are using. Use them as a starting point and try to set your standards of quality and honesty a step above when developing your ads.

The bottom line is, there is good karma and bad. Even though we all know those people in life whose bad karma hasn’t caught up with them yet, don’t join the crowd. Be a leader, be a source of integrity, and provide a quality product or service that you can stand behind. In the long run, this will help you build a profitable, long-standing business rather than a fly-by-night get rich quick scheme.

Ruth Harris is a real entrepreneur who has helped many others start and promote their online business. Visit to get over 170 best-selling eBooks and software titles with Master Resell Rights and ready made profit-pulling minisites all for one low price.