When I started my previous business, our local Austrade office told me about a market research event underway in South Korea and encouraged me to send my products over for some export feedback. I can remember proudly going into our local post office in regional NSW and the postal staff making a grand fuss that my locally-made soaps were headed overseas.
After a few weeks, instead of receiving product feedback, I received offers from potential international customers! There were two companies wanting to import my hand-made soap. The first suggested their opening order would be for 35,000 bars of each line we produced. Given we were still making soap from my garage at that time, I worked out that this order alone would take me at least 18 months to fill at current production capacity. It was simply not possible.
The second company suggested that just a few hundred bars would be the best way to introduce the brand to the Korean market. I was excited because this was an order we could easily produce. Then my excitement turned to horror as my potential international distributors indicated they wanted to tour my ‘factory’ on their next visit to Australia.
I panicked. Tour the factory? That really meant ‘visit the garage that is attached to my home’. No way!
I did everything in my power to deflect their request (I would meet them in Sydney instead; I could fly to Brisbane and meet them there; we could talk online) but none of my options satisfied them. There was only one thing left to do … go to Austrade and ask if they knew someone who might be able to lend me a factory for the day. We would all head over there and pretend like we had a lovely factory we made soap in. Well that was the plan anyway!
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Eventually we realised that honesty is the best policy. I told our visitors they were welcome to come but they would be touring a very small facility that was previously used to house our family cars. I explained how we operated and where we were located. They still wanted to come and visit.
It ended up being one of the most memorable days in the history of the company.
Our potential customers gained a real appreciation for the quality of the product and saw the value in its boutique branding. They played with our dairy goats and also had lunch with our small team. They understood that they needed to grow as our business grew and this was the start of a lovely working relationship.
That experience taught me three things about the value of making honesty the best policy in business:
1. Honesty is good for mental health.
I’m much more productive and confident when I’m not pretending to be something I’m not.
2. People like those who are like themselves.
We all have an innate ability to recognise when someone is being authentic and most long lasting business relationships are those built on a foundation of trust. Our South Korean distributor was just a small business too so our relationship was an opportunity to grow together.
3. Honesty can open the way for other opportunities.
I have a friend who works as a freelance business consultant. Nowadays at networking events when she is asked if she’s busy she’ll give an honest reply. She’s found that if she says work is a bit quiet at the moment someone offers her a project because they know she actually has the time to do it!
Now, I’m not saying that we’re all a dishonest bunch. Far from it! What I am stating, however, is that it’s okay to turn up the honesty dial when needed.
Honesty is the best policy and you just might be pleasantly surprised at the response you get!
Do you have a story about how being honest gave a surprising result?