“Living with integrity means behaving in ways that are in harmony with your personal values.”
–Barbara De Angelis
All the wonderful business owners I work with have a lot in common. We all started our own businesses because we wanted to make a difference in the world. We wanted a chance to do things in our own way, according to our own values, without a boss reprimanding us or bureaucracy weighing us down.
And yet there’s a strange phenomenon I’ve noticed, both in myself and in my clients. We entrepreneurs seem to have this funny feeling that we need to exactly replicate the conditions of a corporate company in our own businesses. So we work super long hours, force ourselves to return emails instantly, and berate ourselves for not doing enough. We feel like in order for our businesses to be “legitimate”, they have to look like all the other businesses we grew up seeing.
But as Make Lemonade points out: you didn’t quit your 9-to-5 to open a 24/7. There are new ways of doing business, and they’re on the rise, big time. As different kinds of people start businesses, different ways of doing business are emerging. We’re realizing that we have the power to make our businesses an extension of ourselves, our beliefs, and our values. What could be better than that?
There are as many ways to inject your values into your business as there are entrepreneurs, but I want to highlight a few businesses that I think are doing this really well & the kinds of techniques they’re using to do so.
1. Take a stand against mindless consumption like Free Label
Free Label’s motto is #BuyLessButBetter, and it comes through in everything they do. Jess, the co-founder, is consistently so thoughtful about every aspect of the business and does an amazing job of educating consumers about what it means to support ethical fashion and make more conscious choices for the environment. One of my favourite recent examples was a fascinating series of Instagram stories that she shared about how to open their packages with more care, so that packaging can be re-used in the case of a return or repurposed by customers for other uses. It was enlightening, thoughtful, and reminded me to be more intentional about the role that I have to play as a consumer when it comes to creating waste.
Another great example of how they promote mindful consumption is how they ran a recent sale – a rarity for the brand. Rather than make it a free-for-all, Jess announced the sale well in advance and set up a preview of the sale (featuring pricing, sizes and colours) so that people could consciously and thoughtfully make decisions about their purchases. You can read more about her reasoning for this strategy right here, and read about why the sale was not some flashy marketing opportunity right here.
Free Label’s decisions make it clear what their values are at every step of the customer’s purchasing journey. Their brand, fabrics, factory, models, marketing, and packaging all add up to a cohesive business that clearly lives by the values it espouses and constantly takes concrete steps towards reducing mindless consumption.
2. Create services that actually support people like Yes and Yes
When I talked to Sarah on my podcast, she shared that a staggering 97% of online courses are not completed by the people who purchase them. She compared this statistic to any other industry, joking that if a blender didn’t work for 97% of its customers, there’d be some kind of investigation into their corporate practices! And yet for online course creators, there isn’t that same kind of oversight. The takeaway is that self-paced courses are clearly not working for the people who are signing up to learn.
So Sarah made the decision to add a live component to all of her courses, at least once a year, for the same price as the “evergreen version”. You can still buy them in a self-paced way if you’re an independent learner! But for the 97% who benefit from a certain level of accountability, she now actively shows up for them and keeps them on track.
I did something similar when I created The Foundery. I was so tired of consulting for businesses and watching the business owners struggle to implement the changes we’d discussed. Sure, it would have been “easier” for me to just send along a report and wash my hands of it, but it definitely wouldn’t have been as rewarding. I could tell that people needed the accountability, so I figured out how to provide them with it. So far, the results for my clients have been amazing.
The point here is to find ways to actually truly serve the people you’re hoping to serve. Get into their heads and figure out what they need, then find a way to give it to them. The dream of completely passive income is exactly that – a dream, which isn’t really helping anyone besides you.
3. See issues as opportunities for connection like Knix
When their competitor, Thinx, was found to have toxic chemicals in its period protection underwear, Knix instantly came under fire as well. People were justifiably concerned, panicked about the materials and chemicals they’d been putting so close to their reproductive organs. But while Knix responded to tweets and DMs in the moment, they didn’t put out an official statement until several days later.
When they did, it was clear that they had been thoughtful and intentional about how they’d handled the issue. They’d gotten their underwear privately tested by an independent lab to ensure the results came back negative for the harmful chemicals (and published the report online). They’d created a petition to advocate for more regulation in their industry. New information about their technology was added to their website to educate consumers. And they’d put together a campaign for folks to switch their underwear for free if they had concerns about what they’d been using.
Seeing their response was like a breath of fresh air. It felt measured, smart, and careful. It felt like they were taking responsibility and ownership. Instead of feeling fear about the products of theirs that I own, I felt calm & trusting. It was an important lesson to me that every single crisis is an opportunity to show up in alignment with your values & grow as a company.
4. Sell with integrity like Wandering Aimfully
Jason & Caroline of Wandering Aimfully are two of the most ethical, intentional online business owners I know. Everything they do is designed to support entrepreneurs to grow the healthiest & most sustainable business possible.
They started out working together on a project called Buy Our Future, which gave members access to everything they’d ever created, and everything they would ever create in the future, for one price. The model has changed slightly, but they’re still offering the same basic premise. Pay us a certain amount, and then never pay us again but receive everything we do going forward. It’s kind of bananas, but it speaks to their deep integrity in such a beautiful way.
I’m in their coaching program, but I’m also on track to become a Wandering Aimfully Unlimited member, which means I’ll have access to all their courses, software products like Teachery, and all the one-off offerings they’re creating, forever. Did I mention the forever part?! The way the model is set up not only makes me trust them, it makes me fiercely loyal to them. I want to support them in any way I can, because nobody out there is doing business like them. They are human beings first, and it shows in every decision that they make.
While this might not be the right model for your business, I think we can all learn from Jason & Caroline’s human-first approach. Can you create a policy to honour your previous clients, like a lifetime discount code? Can you send birthday cards to everyone you work with? Or send a snail-mail package to welcome people to your program (as WAIM does)? There are so many ways to prioritize your people. A little intention goes a very long way.
5. Make everyone feel welcome like Nurture
A list like this couldn’t be complete without mentioning my dear friend Sonja, of Nurture Retreats. She started her company because she believed in the power of human connection. She wanted to bring people together around the dinner table (life’s great equalizer) and let the magic happen as new relationships and ideas formed.
One of her core values is that everyone must feel welcome at the Nurture table, and she takes that welcoming seriously. Of course there’s a focus on the atmosphere that’s created and the gentle boundaries set up to help people feel comfortable. But for Sonja, the food itself is a tool of connection – or disconnection, if done improperly. People come to Nurture with all kinds of dietary restrictions, for a myriad of reasons. They’re used to showing up to tables and being unable to eat everything, or having a sad, boring alternative to the delicious stuff everyone else is having.
So at Nurture, every dietary restriction is accommodated with care. With respect. With intention. No matter what. Even if it doesn’t taste exactly like the “real thing”, it’s infused with all her love in the same way. No compromises. As a result, everyone can relax and enjoy in community, as intended. You can read more about Sonja’s food philosophies here and here.
I think we can all learn from this fierce dedication to making every single person at the table feel at home and recognized. We can infused that same spirit into our own businesses in so many different ways. How can you be completely devoted to the people you’re working with, and the experience they have with you?
Your business is a vehicle for your values.
No matter what kind of business you run, I believe we can learn from these incredible, thoughtful entrepreneurs. There is always room for growth and inspiration, for more intention and attention to detail. We are all works in progress, and so are our businesses! Every business decision we make is an opportunity to share more of what we believe in. Every choice can be a new way to show up more fully as ourselves. What could be more rewarding than that?
I’d love to know: What kinds of details in your business point to your deepest values? How do you create thoughtful experiences for your customers and clients? Let me know in the comments below or over on Instagram, @stephpellett.
PS. Want a chance to pause and reflect on some of the sticky spots in your business? Click below to download my free Dropping In reflection questionnaire. It’s designed to help you see your opportunities for growth.