Being consistent and reliable

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My first business was at university, where a friend and I sold clothing merchandise at sporting events. This business started simply. Win the contract, draft designs, order blank stock, send to printers/embroiders, pick up ready stock ahead of event, set up and sell at event, pack up and buy carton of beer on the way home to celebrate.

As 20-year-olds, we didn’t have any history in the merchandise business, so all of our suppliers required cash on delivery. This meant maxing out our meagre access to cash and credit cards to fund inventory. It also meant that for us to grow, we really had to maximize our margins. With sale prices pre-agreed with event organizers, that left finding the cheapest suppliers as our best means of maximizing margins. Enter first hard lesson on consistency and reliability.

Our screen printer was a lovely bloke and the quality of his work was quite good. His studio was a mess, and he was often a few days late, but we factored that into our timelines because he was cheap. This worked until the merchandise wasn’t ready until two days after an event. No money, unsaleable stock, a very unhappy ex-client and zero happy customers. The worst of it was that we were then seen as inconsistent and unreliable, despite the source of our issue being one of our suppliers.

Once I stopped blaming our screen printer for our predicament, I was able to see the error of our ways. We didn’t value consistency and reliability, more than we valued price. Not just in our suppliers, but in what was important for us in our business. If we truly valued consistency and reliability, we would have chosen a different supplier. Our business would have become known for its consistency and reliability. We would have become the merchandise business that could always be counted upon.

It is amazing how frequently I encounter variations of this same theme with the founders that I work with. Consistency and reliability (along with competence) breeds trust; trust with customers, suppliers, employees and shareholders. Many of us see ourselves as inherently trustworthy but are unaware that seemingly innocuous behaviours erode external perceptions of trust. Simple examples like not responding to shareholder enquiries in a timely manner, not calling suppliers when late for payment, or failing to respond to customer emails within expected timeframes; all of these examples undermine trust. This puts you squarely in the camp of being someone that cannot be counted upon, eventually leading your various stakeholders to look for alternatives.

To be consistent and reliable firstly requires that you value consistency and reliability. If you value them, then it becomes easy to shift your behaviours in alignment with them. They don’t have to be your highest values, but to be successful in business, they should at least be on your list.

Photo by Sora Shimazaki: