Business

The year offered lessons, and many opportunities

I love Monday mornings, and many of you may take that comment as further proof I have a screw loose. Perhaps I do, but the Mondays after this column runs are my favorite times of the month. The feedback, comments, compliments and, in some cases, attacks keep me on my toes.

Some observations from 2007:

Employee-employer issues

My columns about employee-employer issues generate the most response. In fact, I see copies of some of those columns in the most amazing places: pinned to workplace bulletin boards, posted in lunchrooms, placed in paycheck envelopes.

But agreement is not always 100 percent. Some articles about the way employees can cheat businesses resulted in a lot of responses that businesses take advantage of staff in a much larger fashion than we could imagine.

Scams

The scam articles make people laugh. It seems a large part of the population laughs down on others and finds the fact that people actually do fall for some of these scams laughable. They wonder why anyone could ever believe that Nigerians want to send you millions of dollars or that the check you get in the mail from some stranger actually is real.

But the millions of dollars that these scams drain from the economy is really not very humorous, and is very, very real.

Opportunities

Opportunities come to me because of this column.

A group of Realtors asked me to speak a second time about, of all things, economic development, which is not as odd as it seems. You see, in 2007, more than 300,000 potential clients, buyers and customers have contacted the Better Business Bureau office in Spokane to gather pre-purchase information.

That makes us a leading economic indicator, and some day we will harness that data and use it to predict purchasing. For example, if inquiries on car dealerships increase, we will have the ability to let dealer networks know and they can staff up, measure ad campaigns or calculate their focus based on consumer traffic to their reliability reports.

The BBB knows that when a person checks on a business, they usually spend that money in the next four weeks. Someday, we will know what we know and we can help businesses measure success and gauge demand.

Another group requested a presentation on screening employees, a favorite subject of this column. This specific group is closely aligned with the legal community and law enforcement. When I stood before them and asked for a show of hands of who conducts background checks on potential employees, not a single hand was raised, and this was a group you’d expect to understand the benefits of safety prevention when it comes to checking backgrounds. I was really surprised.

But one of my favorite columns ended with an invite to Whitworth University to speak to a group of professional graduates. The particular column is one I refer to as “The Thong and Cleavage” article, which discussed appropriate dress for women in the workplace. Each year, I now spend a lovely evening with a group at Whitworth talking about professionalism. I love it, and I guess they do, too.

One on one

One-on-one communication with readers is the most rewarding experience of writing this column. Earlier this fall, I got a call from a small office supply business in Spokane. They wanted to spend some time with me talking about how the heck they can compete ethically and honestly with the larger retailers.

They shared that they were fighting an uphill battle when it comes to pricing on the loss leaders, like copy paper and other heavily consumed office products. While the big guys can sell copy paper at a loss, they are hiking up prices on other items.

Getting business owners to look deeper than a ream of paper in an ethical manner can get frustrating. They so want to do the right thing that they avoid running down the competition. Their mission is to over-service their customers so there is no question of value. How refreshing!

We also talked about businesspeople who promote supporting local companies who do not live that line. There are times when I would love to spend these 800 words holding accountable all sorts of folks – businesses, politicians and consumers alike – for what they say as opposed to what they do.

Those who smile and promise all the while knowing they have no intention to follow through are quite disturbing, because they are so darn believable and vocal about it.

My sage advice to these business partners is to keep doing things right. While you may not always win the business, you will certainly win respect from your staff, your peers and your family. Ethics are not like a kitchen faucet that you simply turn on and off. They are the foundation where everything springs forth. Anything you do to chip away at that foundation is a bad idea.

My crystal ball is not working, so who knows what 2008 will bring. I only hope people keep asking questions, offering ideas and inviting me to address a variety of topics. I wish you all the best in whatever you may be celebrating this season.



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