the ethical entrepreneur

“Marketing is just a bunch of bullshit from people trying to sell stuff.”

It’s interesting when I hear folks say that (or worse, when I tell them what I do for a living and I see that “eww, used car salesman” look on their face).

Let’s clear a few things up about legit, ethical marketing, shall we?

  1. ETHICAL (adj) – avoiding activities or organizations that do harm to people or the environment.
  2. MARKETING (noun) – the action or business of promoting and selling products or services, including market research and advertising.

Clearly there’s nothing in those definitions that makes them naturally mutually exclusive.

Therefore in my mind, we can boil this all down to one simple principle: do no harm.

That means that no, I’m not trying to trick you. Scam you. Steal your hard-earned cash to line my pockets.

Now make no mistake, there ARE folks out there who do that.

And I almost went down that scammy, smarmy path when I first started out in marketing. I simply didn’t know better… and when I found a community of people doing what I wanted to do, I fell in with how they behaved, thinking that’s just the way it was.

It was a community of hype and outrageous claims and something I like to call “dick slinging”… where the name of the game is one-upsmanship and ego. Where the louder you yell and the ruder you are, the more successful you must be.

I was frustrated when I became part of that community, because being in that environment was a natural stressor for me. I didn’t like the pressure to throw my weight around, brag, be a dick, and trick people all for the sake of a few more bucks.

And after awhile in that community, I had an epiphany… not unlike what Warren Buffet recently talked about when asked about making hard decisions.

In it, he talks about what you can and can’t afford as a business person…

You CAN afford to lose money.

You CANNOT afford to lose your reputation.

So for anyone walking the line between money and reputation, between unethical and ethical, he advised the “newspaper test”… whenever considering your next choice:

Think about how it’d look reported in the newspaper the next day, written up by a not-too-friendly reporter.

Is that image of yourself one that you could live with? One that you want your friends and family to see?

Somewhere on my journey, this light bulb clicked on for me. I knew that I didn’t want people to think of me as a slimy marketer… so I went out of my way to find people on a mission to do good in the world (thankfully there were a few others who felt the way I do in that community, and we banded together). These people prioritize doing good above profits, and understand that helping others is the way to lasting impact (and lasting wealth).

That one decision, to trust my gut and not fall prey to the easy money of shady tactics? It’s made all the difference in my career. I look forward to work every day. I love meeting the people I’ve helped and hearing their stories.

But believe it or not, I’m grateful for my time with the shadier side of my industry… it taught me the warning signs to look for when being scammed. So for anyone who’s ever wondered if they’re being sold a bill of goods, here are the signs of a shady marketer:

  • An unethical marketer will promise you life-changing results with little effort.

An ethical marketer will remind you that your results are dependent on a variety of factors, many of which they cannot control. If I’m selling a weight control supplement and you’re sitting on the couch eating potato chips, my pill is not going to magically melt away those extra pounds… you have to take action too.

  • An unethical marketer will manipulate their image rather than fixing fundamental problems. 

These guys are easier to spot than you might think… especially on sites like Amazon and Yelp. My favorite trick is to look at all the 1-star reviews of companies that have solid 4-star and 5-star ratings. If the 1-star ratings are consistently about the same things (like rude staff, slow service, or shoddy product quality) while the higher ratings have one-line answers like “great!” “Loved it!” “Easy to work with!”… it might just be that this person bought fake reviews to look better than they are.

Ethical marketers tend to be aware of that newspaper test I mentioned above. We wouldn’t want to be caught not walking the talk… so we walk the talk even when people aren’t looking. We focus on fixing the inevitable issues that arise, rather than covering them up.

  • An unethical marketer doesn’t care about your situation – they care about your money.

They’ll encourage you to make unwise financial decisions because it’s “worth the risk”. But here’s the thing… while it’s true that you have to take risks to get rewards, there is no life-changing product on the market that is worth the risk of losing your home or going hungry. If you’re in dire financial straits, your first priority is food and shelter. The business opportunity will still be there when you get back on your feet.

Ethical marketers know this (and many of us understand it on a deeply personal level, having taken risks in back-against-the-wall, make-money-or-go-hungry situations) and we would rather see you get to a better place using the free and low-cost resources you already have, than put yourself and your family in danger. I don’t want your money if it’s coming out of you or your kids’ mouths, OK?

The bottom line is in any field, in any industry… there will be people about the money and people about the work/service.

We have to learn how to better connect as people so we can see the separation between shysters and people who actually give a damn.



If you’re looking to get started or could use a few more tools in your arsenal, head over to my Resources page. It’s got a list of the books, podcasts, and courses that had a major positive impact on my career (and that I think could make a difference for you, too).



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