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5 Little Lies That Can Land Small Businesses in Big Trouble

White lies can be a good thing, smoothing over difficult social situations or getting you out of hot water. In the context of friends, family, or even coworkers, white lies might get you in a bit of trouble—but their innocuous nature makes them often worth the risk.

As the entrepreneur of a small business, you might be similarly tempted to include white lies in your daily operations. While some of these might allow you to skate by unnoticed, others can put your business in a far more difficult situation than when you started. Before you engage in any of these little lies, think carefully about the potential repercussions:

1.       Exaggerating your size. When developing a website, submitting a bid, or trying to secure a deal with a new client, it’s tempting to exaggerate the size or capacity of your business. For example, you might include biographies on your team page for people who don’t exist, or you might fudge the numbers on your bid submission form to reflect more workers than you actually have. In a meeting with a potential client, you might even bend the truth about how many former clients you’ve had or how much current work you’re handling. If your exaggeration is never discovered, it might actually increase your chances of securing the deal or winning the bid. However, if your client ever conducts a site visit or checks your claims, you’ll be stuck in an unrecoverable position. It might be difficult to make a bold impression during the earliest stages of your business growth, but lying about it isn’t the answer—it just isn’t worth the risk.

2.       Recommending something your client doesn’t need. When you’re drawing up a contract with a client and you’re looking to make a little bit of extra money, you’ll be tempted to recommend an additional service you offer—regardless of whether or not it will benefit your client. For example, if you’re a marketing firm, you might try and throw in additional design work despite knowing the client’s working with a strict budget and already has a pretty decent design. Obviously, you want to get as much work as you can to keep the company alive, but making false recommendations consistently will eventually create an atmosphere of distrust and skepticism. Done enough, the client might even leave your company to seek out a more trustworthy vendor. Upsell all you want—but only do so if your additions are actually going to benefit the client.

3.       Overstating the health of the company. This is a lie told to investors, partners, and even employees rather than clients (most of the time). As a leader, it’s your job to keep the team motivated and working hard toward your goals. It can be difficult to maintain a level of company-wide optimism and excitement if your company is hitting some hard financial times, but the answer isn’t lying about how good the company is doing. People will catch wind of the company’s burdens, either directly or through subtle means of discovery, and when word starts to spread, you’ll seem like a deceiver—a kind of “man behind the curtain.” Instead of trying to overstate the health of the company, be honest about it—letting people know that you aren’t meeting your goals and presenting a plan to change that can actually be more inspiring than pretending that everything’s peachy when it isn’t.

4.       Promising an unreasonable deadline. Let’s say you have a course of work scheduled for a client, but the client keeps pushing you for a stricter, less reasonable deadline. If you’re in the early stages of growth, or if you don’t have a lot of clients in general, it’s tempting to buckle and promise whatever they want. If this means working a little extra harder, it’s not a problem, but if you end up promising a deadline that just isn’t feasible, you could suffer dire consequences. Not only will you stress yourself out and push your workers to your limits, there’s a real chance you won’t deliver on the deadline—and not delivering on a falsely promised deadline is far worse than stating in advance that it can’t be done.  

5.       Ignoring or glossing over a problem. When you complete a product or service for a client, you’ll want to show off the results. Unfortunately, not all the work you’ll do is going to be perfect. Eventually, no matter how good or careful you are, you’ll have a botched batch or a hiccup in your planned services. When this happens, you’ll be tempted to cover up the mistake and hope the client doesn’t notice, or downplay its importance if it comes up. Doing so can make you seem deceptive or dishonest (especially if your lie is blatantly discovered). Instead, be forthright about the problems you’ve encountered, and explain how you’re willing to make things right.

In business, as in all other areas of life, there are instances when a white lie is both appropriate and beneficial. However, don’t make the mistake of relying on deception to get through tough situations. Your clients, employees, and partners will respect you far more for being honest and transparent from the beginning, even if the news isn’t something they want to hear. Plus, you’ll cultivate an atmosphere of honesty, and your workers will strive to preserve that company-wide reputation.

Anna Johansson

Anna is a freelance writer and researcher from the Olympia, WA area who loves to obsess about weird topics and then write about them. When she isn't writing, she is outside on her bike and comtemplating her eventual trip to graduate school.

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