Benjamin Franklin said, “It takes many good deeds to build a good reputation, and only one bad one to lose it.” How true. Reputation reflects who you are, and how you conduct your business. A reputation is built over a lifetime, but in the blink of an eye, it can be destroyed. So, how can you ensure that your reputation is outstanding and draws customers to you?
A reputation begins with how you act towards others. In its basic essence, a reputation is an opinion formed by others about you. The Golden Rule, which says that you should treat others the way that you would like to be treated, is a great start to building a good reputation. When I began in sales, my first sales manager explained the importance of having a good reputation. He told me, “Do what you say, and say what you do.” That advice has served me well throughout the years as well. My father, an old school Italian who treasured the importance of having a good name, conducted himself as a class act under all kinds of circumstances. Though he wasn’t wealthy in the monetary sense, he was a billionaire in reputation. At his funeral, several of his co-workers told me of ways that he conducted himself at work as a true gentleman.
In the Arthur Miller play, “The Crucible,” which takes place during the Salem witch hunts of the 17th century, John Proctor is falsely accused of witchcraft by a jilted young girl. His only way to save himself from hanging is to admit to the lie that he consorted with the devil. After a long stay in jail, he finally agrees to save himself by confessing. However, when the town elders stipulate that he must sign the confession and have it posted on the church door for all to see, he recants his confession. “Leave me my name!” he pleads. He would rather go to the gallows than have his name forever besmirched.
In the technological world of the 21st century, online reputation has become extremely important. Human resource recruiters routinely check a candidate’s online reputation. I was at dinner with a new vendor, and he proceeded to tell me the amount and to whom I gave a political contribution to in the last election. He told me he “googled me” and found the information online. Even some universities check the online reputation and profile of prospective students when they apply for admission. The Millenial Generation sometimes forgets that the humorous Facebook photo of drunken carousing and being caught by someone’s ubiquitous camera becomes part of your online reputation. Once it is on the internet, it’s forever.
Identity theft is also a real concern today. You can have a great reputation, cemented with how you have tried to conduct yourself, and someone steals your identity, damaging your credit rating and your reputation. Perhaps Dante’s lowest level in Hell should be reserved for those despicable individuals who steal other people’s identity.
Gossip can damage an innocent person’s reputation. Should you defend yourself against gossip? Of course, but sometimes it’s best to leave it alone and let it die on its own. For instance, when I was president of a chemical company, there was a rumor floating around the office that I was having an affair with one of the employees. There was no truth to the rumor, and I chose to ignore it. I knew it was false, and I was too busy trying to fix the many problems I had inherited in the job to bother with trying to stamp out the rumor. Within a few weeks, it went away and never resurfaced.
Unfortunately, we live in an imperfect world where you are judged and held to account for your reputation, even if it’s an unfair representation of how you are. To combat the potential pitfalls, think before you act. The consequences of doing otherwise may stick with you for a lifetime.