Ethics and COVID-19
The following is a guest blog written by Melissa Mauro.
Freelancers and entrepreneurs have to deal with ethical and legal issues on a regular basis. Quite often, legal issues are quite easy to figure out because they are all about complying with specific laws. Ethical issues are somewhat trickier because there are no ethical laws. Ethics is about common sense and being able to tell the difference between right and wrong.
For example, imagine yourself meeting with another freelancer to discuss a possible partnership. Suddenly, they get distracted by a phone call and they need to leave you for a few minutes. On the desk, you see their list of clients. Maybe, they just forgot about this sheet of paper with valuable information, or maybe, they trust you. Will you grab your phone and take a photo of this list? It might be legal to do so, but is it ethical?
Being a freelancer has always been challenging, but the COVID-19 pandemic made freelancers’ lives even more difficult. This is the age of uncertainty when you cannot be sure about whether or not you will get the next gig. It becomes especially important to save the industry itself, so freelancers should put the ethical side of their communication over the competition. Besides, long-term relationships with customers become more important than ever so you must always take into account ethics when interacting with them.
If you care about your reputation and relationships with customers, you should be able to quickly figure out any ethical issues that catch you by surprise. You may deal with many different clients, and not all of them will have a strict ethical code. At the same time, you may not want to lose a client so you will have to find a balance. Here are some of the most common ethical issues that freelancers may not expect.
- Solving a conflict of interest
Let’s say you have a potential client who wants to get the same result as your current client. It’s not a big deal if your services don’t involve the element of competition. However, if you’re providing SEO services, you may deal with two clients who want their websites from the same niche to rank #1 in search results. In this case, there will be a clear conflict of interest. What should you do in situations like this one?
Perhaps, the most ethically correct solution would be to talk to the existing client and describe the situation without disclosing the identity of another client. Ask what they think about you working with that client. You may also increase your rate because of the ethical difficulties you have experienced.
- Considering outsourcing
When you have a big project, you may realize that you won’t be able to complete it alone. Therefore, you may decide to outsource a part of the project. For example, if you’re not good at writing content, you may outsource content writing to freelancers and look for experienced professionals on custom writing review websites like Pick the Writer.
In this case, you should consider the ethical side of the issue. First of all, your client has chosen you because they appreciate your professional qualities. Therefore, you should only delegate your work to others if you’re sure that they will handle it as well as you would.
Besides, sometimes you may deal with sensitive information. If you’ve signed a non-disclosure agreement, those who will work on a part of the project should also do so. Therefore, the best solution is to talk to your client and to explain all the details.
Of course, you may try to avoid outsourcing because it will make you lose some money. However, it’s important to keep in mind that good relationships with customers are crucial during the coronavirus pandemic so you should make sure to deliver the best results, no matter how. Besides, outsourcing some work will also enable you to help another freelancer from your niche. We will only be able to survive this crisis if we support each other.
- Dealing with controversial clients
Imagine that you have a client who sells guns or promotes unhealthy products for children. You may also deal with clients whose ideology goes against your ethical principles. What should you do?
It’s up to you to choose whether or not you want to work with somebody. If you know that working on a certain project will make you feel bad about it afterward, there’s no need to betray your principles for short-term benefits.
- Working with those you know
Sometimes, your potential clients may turn out to be someone you know. In this case, it’s important to stick with your work ethics. For instance, if you do some work for cheap because you’re dealing with a friend, it won’t be fair from other clients’ point of view.
At the same time, you shouldn’t take orders from your friends less seriously. If you agree to do your job, you should do your best to deliver the best results possible, no matter who your client is.
- Setting out to fail
You may also be asked to do something that you know will lead to failure. Not all clients are realistic about their expectations, and they may not listen to your counterarguments. The best solution is to explain all the pitfalls of the client’s plan in detail.
If the client still insists on doing the job their way — well, it’s their money so they can spend it the way they like. The main thing is to clearly indicate all the possible drawbacks of the final result from the very beginning.
- Having a single client vs. multiple clients
Some clients may not want you to work with anyone else. We recommend that you be honest and don’t work with others behind their back because if they find out about it, your reputation will be damaged. You just need to make a choice, and it’s not a tough choice to make.
Think of how much money you want to make and tell your potential client about it. If they are not ready to pay you enough, you can just refuse to work with them and focus on other clients instead. If they agree to your terms, you won’t need to work with someone else.
- Handling bad experiences with clients
If your client hasn’t paid for the job you’ve done, handling such a situation might be tricky. On the one hand, you may want to leave them a negative review. On the other hand, you may be afraid that discussing this problem publicly will make you look petty and that they will also leave negative feedback.
The right solution depends on how much money you’ve lost. If it’s a small dispute, you may let it go. However, if you’ve lost a lot of money, the ethically correct solution is to let other freelancers know who they shouldn’t trust.
- Discussing matters in the gray area
Some clients may not have detailed ethics policies so many matters will fall into the gray area. In this case, it’s important to clearly indicate your own ethical principles and to discuss any issues that may take place when working on the project.
- Talking about your competitors
Your clients may ask for your opinion on your competitors. Of course, you may feel tempted to tell them how bad your competitors are. First, it will likely be not true because you cannot be the only one who does your job well. Secondly, saying bad things about your competitors will damage your image.
You may warn your clients about scammers or those who force their clients to overpay. However, there’s no need to dish dirt on your competitors. Instead, you can simply focus on your advantages and unique features that make you a better choice.
- Doing work free of charge
Why would you want to work for free, in the first place? Well, sometimes, clients may offer other benefits. For example, they may recommend you to a great client that you’ve always wanted to work with. However, you should understand that working free of charge will immediately damage your image as a professional. Good professionals value their efforts.
Besides, if you agree to do some work for free, you will basically take this job from another freelancer who would do it for cheap. The more freelancers agree to work for free, the more clients will expect it, undermining the whole system of the client-freelancer relationships.
Everyone has their own ethical principles, and the main thing is not to betray yours and to be yourself. At the end of the day, you always feel what decision is right in each particular situation. However, you should also keep in mind other people’s interests. For example, we recommend that you consider the interests of your clients and other freelancers from your niche.
Melissa Mauro can be contacted at: email@example.com.
Posted by Dr. Steven Mintz, aka Ethics Sage, on January 21, 2021. You can sign up for his newsletter and learn more about his activities at: https://www.stevenmintzethics.com/. Follow him on Facebook at: https://www.facebook.com/StevenMintzEthics and on Twitter at: https://twitter.com/ethicssage.