In business, can we prioritize integrity and generosity and still financially succeed?

A friend asked:

Can you prioritize integrity, compassion, and generosity in business and still also be financially successful?

The question is a good one because we have all come across people and companies that don’t treat their customers well, but seem to be “successful” anyway.

And when we start to learn internet marketing or making money online, we are presented with a lot of strategies fixated on profits, that seem to leave the heart and soul behind.

I wrote about this in a blog post titled Call Out The Bad Practices.

Many online marketers claim to be successful, and yet, use tactics that seem manipulative or egotistical.

I’ve been on both sides.

In the first 5 years of my business, I was a manipulative marketer, prioritizing money above integrity.

Then, I experienced a crisis of conscience about the kinds of marketing methods I was using, and along with a personal/spiritual transformation, I decided to radically change my business practices.

For the past 5 years now, I have been learning how to prioritize a higher set of values in my business.

Today, I’m grateful to say that my business is both financially sustainable and emotionally fulfilling.

It’s true that I don’t make as much money as I did in my manipulative days… but I am doing fine — my income allows me to keep living in San Francisco. More importantly, though, I love my work a lot more than before.

Perhaps in the coming years I’ll make as much money as I used to, but my aim is to keep learning how to prioritize spirit and personal growth in my business, no matter what.

Bad guys seem to win first…

All things being equal, the predatory marketer wins first.

When two businesses have the exact same product, the marketer who uses manipulative techniques will win… in the short term.

Eventually, though, the audience will see through the deceit, and either move their spending elsewhere, or force that business to behave better.

At first, the authentic marketer will have fewer sales because people are getting hoodwinked by the manipulative marketer. They’ll at first believe the hype, or buy due to the scarcity tactics.

Over time, however, the few initial ones who bought from the authentic marketer will give them a lot more referrals, which create a lot more sales in the long-term than predatory marketing.

The authentic marketer gets a loyal audience that continues to buy, year after year, with less and less marketing needed, and more genuine word of mouth.

Yet, it’s not the manipulation — it’s the offering.

If a bad marketer is making sales, it’s not actually due to the manipulation they’re using. The predatory tactics gets more sales in the beginning, but the fact that it gets any significant sales at all is not because of the manipulation. It’s the offering itself.

I’ve known colleagues who indulged in manipulative tactics — and yet were not financially successful. The product simply wasn’t the right fit for the market, and no matter how much hype or scarcity they used in marketing, not enough people bought to keep the business afloat.

When any business does well, it’s because the offering (the product or service) is of genuine interest to the audience.

With product-market fit, manipulation make sales sooner, as I’ve mentioned, but it’s a short-lived strategy.

Authenticity may make sales slower in the beginning, but with a resonant offering, it will bring long-term word of mouth marketing and loyalty.

If you want to both be authentic, and yet go faster, simply use paid distribution (such as Facebook ads) for your authentic content and offerings.

How to find resonance (product-market fit)?

This is an important question in business/marketing.

I’ve written a lot about this. Read the articles here:

In short, it is about diligence in connecting with your audience, one by one if needed, to discover clearer and clearer, with each conversation, what they are really going through, and what they are buying, which then gives you insights into what your business should be selling them.

I personally do at least 1 private “fan interview” each week. It is a practice for me, and it continues even when my business is doing well. It keeps me in touch with my audience in a way that’s more palpable and real than only replying to social media comments. And it helps me keep my content and offerings relevant to my market.

Ultimately though, you’ll need to keep making offerings — keep launching products or services — to test the market, to understand what people will actually buy from your business.

The more experiments, the better. Keep testing your offerings with actual people.

Bad guys may win in the short-term, but the good guys stay in the race because they’ve learned how to love the process.

Do good guys finish first? Now always. But they get the emotional rewards along the way, from genuinely caring about others, and it keeps them in the race.

Focus on the connection with your audience, on caring about them, on offering them what they want to buy, and your business will succeed.

For inspiring examples of “good guys” that are winning, albeit larger businesses than most of us, check out B Lab to get inspired. They certify and feature companies (B Corporations / B Corp) that care more than just about profits, but about the environment, their workers, and their community:

Nice guys are the tortoises versus the hares, and will ultimately be victorious, having enjoyed the process, grown deep connections with their audience, and developed relevant skills that keep their business sustainable.

When you treat others better, they spread the word.

When you treat your own conscience better — act in integrity — you are proud to keep going, rather than have your energy sapped with doubts.

We can inspire people to buy not by feeding the worst impulses of humanity — not-enoughness, desperation, greed, FOMO (fear of missing out).

Instead, with a diligence of connection and service, we fuel trust and reciprocity. Being a genuinely helpful and organized person, avoiding the shortcuts of hype, deception, trickery, and you will build a business you can truly love, and will reward you financially.

Authentic Business Coach & Author of 4 Books including "Authentic Content Marketing" and "Joyful Productivity"