Transparency is the Key to Doing Business in the Digital Age

I was in a casual conversation recently with a friend/business colleague of mine who asked me point blank why I have my toll free number dial directly to my cell phone.  His tone wasn’t necessarily critical per se – but more of an overt type of concerned observation as to why I would go to the trouble and additional expense to set up an ’866′ number, just to have it ring straight to my hip pocket.  He implied that employing an additional service directing the caller through a series of prompts would be a much better implication that I am a large successful entity.

At first, I was a little annoyed at this suggestion, but it occurred to me that my friend wasn’t wrong in the traditional sense; it’s that his sense of how small business is conducted has shifted dramatically in recent years.

The advent of blogging, Facebooking, Tweeting and the overall unprecedented access that the everyday person has to virtually everything they could ever want to find out has remove the facade of businesses small and big alike.  The old days of the mystique that businesses were afforded have been replaced with an age of complete transparency.  The internet has placed everyone in a glass house.   Those who accept and embrace this new shift in culture have thrived; those who’ve rejected or ignored it have paid a price.

The reality about transparency is that this is not a bad thing at all.  Is it really unfavorable that your clients are able to verify almost every claim you make?   Not if you’re genuine.  However, if you didn’t really manufacture all of the products on your site like your ‘about’ page says you have, then you’re probably going to have a huge PR problem sooner or later.

So why do I have a toll free number at all?  The reason is simple:  Professionalism.  Even though all calls ring straight to my cell, my email is, I work out of my home office and I seldom delegate, it’s still important for me to be a professional – and to promote an image that instills confidence that I am someone who can and will deliver what I say that I will.  That said, it’s not my position to try to appear to be something I’m not.

I am not a corporation, and when you call my number you’re not going to have to press ‘one‘ for English.  What would be the point?  So you can momentarily get the impression that there are other people here?  Why would I want to waste peoples’ time?  Why should I run the additional risk that they will hang up just to give off a falsehood such as portraying myself as bigger than I actually am?  Is this going to boost confidence?  Maybe, but only until they find out the truth.  And it isn’t a question of if, but WHEN they realize I was lying, how is that going to look?  That I was so insecure about what people would think about my operation that I had to put on a mask?  I don’t know about you, but if I encountered someone like that, I would pretty much irrevocably label them as a huge douche and swear off any chance of ever doing business with them.

The Internet has leveled the playing field in the sense that you can tell the frauds from the real deal pretty swiftly.  Pulling the wool over the eyes of the entire public is a daunting task in and of itself.  Think about it.  Remember that old adage your dad used to say that went something like “You can fool some of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all the people all the time”?  Well this is more true today by a factor of 100.  If even one person sees through your bullshit, the connected nature of the Internet means that information literally travels at the speed of light.  The viral nature of the web, combined with the almost scary  amount of influence that blogs such as The Huffington Post and TechCrunch possess means you’ll be dead in the water faster than you can imagine.  And chances are, the cat will be out of the bag before before you even know it – and by then damage control will be a pipe dream.

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