Back in April 2010, a physician in Florida decided that he wanted to do something to show his displeasure with the passing of the new health care reform bill. He posted a sign outside his business saying that anyone who supported President Obama wasn’t welcome at his business, and that he would prefer that they take their business elsewhere.

It created a major firestorm, such that this physician first went on local television and said that he wasn’t going to turn anyone away, then decided he wasn’t going to talk to anyone anymore, but still waited a couple of days to take the sign down. He did get some support from some of the members of his community, but now he’s up for review by the state board for possibly violating the Hippocratic Oath of his profession by his actions.

Locally, we had to deal with someone we know, a local IT consultant, who got into a legal mess by one night of doing the wrong thing which ended in the death of a citizen. This is a good guy who’s consulting business has probably ended, at least locally, as he’s serving some significant jail time for a bad decision.

One of the worst things that can happen to all of us is having our reputations ruined, whether we had anything to do with it or not. The idea that any publicity is good publicity doesn’t seem to work all that well when it comes to an independent consultant. It’s hard enough getting people to learn who we are, then harder still to get them to trust us enough to work with us. When things are compounded by something we do, whether it’s as big or bad as the two examples above, or even something as simple as never responding to email or not having an answering machine so you can return phone calls, then it’s a major lapse of judgment and shows people just how little you must care about your business, whether you try to project a different image or not.

We have an article on the PCA website on Common Courtesy. The truth is that you can be as nice to people as you want to, but err just once to the wrong person and it can cost you your career if that person decides you’ve really done them wrong. Think about yourself; are there businesses and people you will no longer work with because they’ve irritated you in some fashion? If you have triggers that do that for you, then you have to realize there are triggers that will do it for others.

Think about some other things we’ve seen that are making people question just how reliable anyone is. Toyota is under massive pressure and potential government penalties as the realities about some of their vehicles are starting to come out. Domino’s Pizza launched a campaign, finally acknowledging that their pizzas have been of a substandard quality for years, hoping that this admission and their addressing the issue will help them change people’s minds about their product. The thing is, these companies have millions of dollars to throw into big publicity campaigns to try to sway consumers to see their side of things; how many of us would have that kind of money or time to put into correcting negative perceptions about ourselves?

We all need to be vigilant when it comes to our businesses, both in our personal and professional life. We need to make sure our customer service initiatives are up to snuff. We need to make sure that we can address any negative publicity that might come about from someone, whether it’s legitimate or not. Most of all, we need to forge true alliances with others, making sure that we do have those allies who will support us if negative things come out, true or not.

If you manage your reputation as much as you manage the rest of your business, you’ll never have to deal with any real problems other than getting new clients. If we learn the lessons of people like Tiger Woods and Jesse James, we also realize that there’s always the possibility of your message being lost by your behavior. Always think about the consequences of any actions you might take; your business will be glad you did.

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