Business ethics is something you get an opportunity to practice almost every day.
Ethics is about two things:
- Professional integrity (your reputation) This means amongst other things that you say it like it is, and that you bill for the work done (and not for what you can get away with). It means that if someone asks your opinion on something that you haven't a clue about that you say that it is outside your expertise, instead of making up an answer on the hoof and hoping you get it right. It means that if your customer is on the wrong path that you tell them so, and that you refuse to cooperate on schemes that are illegal, dishonest or deceiving. It means that you place your reputation and your personal values above compensation. Most of the times this will be an easy call to make, but every now and then there will be something that makes you wonder if you can get away with it. My advice: Don't. Simple isn't it ? The reason is that if you have to wonder about whether or not this is a good thing it probably isn't and if you are anyway near half way decent at your work you will have a bunch of stuff in the pipeline. So you can choose to do the right kind of work and leave the rest aside.
- The selfish angle It will take you years to build a reputation, you can lose it in 5 minutes. One of the fastest ways to lose a reputation is to be found wanting in the ethics department. Sure, it's a big world and there are always people that have not heard about you yet, so maybe you could get away with it. But my experience is that we all operate in a reasonably small subset of that world and you keep running in to the same people over and over again. Even internationally. So better stay straight.
Related to this is the way to deal with genuine problems. Nothing will piss off a customer more than being blind-sided about project progress. In other words, you signed up to do a job in three weeks, and at the end of the three weeks you have to go and tell them that the work isn’t finished yet.
The reasons don’t even matter, maybe you were ill, maybe you slacked, maybe you had other work. Not enough. Communicate clearly, openly and constantly on jobs that have a deadline associated with them, be open to have the customer re-assign the job to someone else.
The reason is simple, if you lose the job that’s bad, but if you lose the customer - and your reputation - that’s much much worse. So, if you think there is a good chance that you won’t be delivering on schedule, say so. Right away, do not delay.
Same with other goofs, no point in trying to swipe trouble under the carpet, you’ll have to own up at some point anyway, I promise you that honesty in this respect will earn you more than trying to avoid having to own up about it.
On another note, those customers that do not appreciate honesty are customers you can do without.