If you saw your friend hanging out with, what are in your opinion, a bunch of dickheads – would your perception of that friend change?

I’m not talking about McCarthyistic “You’re a communist and you’re a communist and you’re a communist!” stereotyping. There’s something to be said about what kinds of associations you make, not just in your personal life, but also in the business world.

If your social identity is defined by who you hang out with (and, more importantly: what kinds of jerkfaces you choose not to hang out with), it’s pretty clear a portion of your business’s identity is defined by what types of associations it makes in the real world, too. This is business storytelling by proxy.

  • Are your business partners ruthless sharks or flower-wielding starchildren? Are your clients warmongers? Do they support their community or do they live in a tower?
  • What kinds of relationships do you hold with your friends – are you outgoing and giving to anyone you consider a friend? Or are you a selfish prick who asks and asks and asks without ever giving back?
  • Who do you say Hi to, or hold conversations with, at social gatherings? Who do you avoid? And is it because of BO or because you think you’re too good for them? Is your loathing clear?

These aren’t easy questions to answer. Their implications, especially for freelancers and their cohorts, are huge. Are you thinking about what kind of effect your associations are having on your business?

I actively turn down client work, disaffiliate from groups (sometimes at the expense of friendships), and avoid contact with people who I think are outside of the realm of my acceptable business ethics. That’s all well and good; ethics cost. Money, friendships, opportunities. But I don’t get to stick my nose up in the air because of it.

I’ve also been on the other end; people sometimes refuse to work with me because of my business name, my sense of humor, and even for one-off mistakes that I bent over backwards to fix.

I’m OK with that. My kind of people are my kind of people and those who aren’t can go fuck themselves. It’s much better than the alternative – having no ethics at all. After dealing with shady characters for too long, some of those negative characteristics start rubbing off on you. And that’s all sorts of icky. Cold showers with your clothes on kind of icky.

What’s the biggest opportunity you’ve turned down – or the biggest reason you’ve avoided working with somebody – to preserve your ethics?

(Header photo: In Soviet Russia, Shirt Wears You by MagerLeagues)