The idea that prevailed at one time among business people that to be strictly honest in business meant failure, was born of ignorance. It was thought that if a business man told the absolute truth his competitor who told—"pleasant lies" would get the better of him and take all the business from him. Certainly at times it would appear that this view of things was the correct one, for the public are easily gulled by tine stories and clever tricks in trade, and are very often ready to be taken in by the sharper who cleverly pretends that his goods are much finer than those sold in other shops, and that by certain means which he is wide awake enough to take advantage of, he is able to supply his customers at a lower price than the man up the street who is not such a good business man. All this sort of thing may pass muster for a short time, but the time will come when the false will be revealed and the trickster exposed. The righteous man who is in business need have no fears about his unrighteous competitor being able to ruin him. He need not stoop to tell a lie about his goods, or to misrepresent their quality, or under-price his neighbor. The public, though deceived for a time, soon discover whose word they can best rely upon, and who is the honest and upright man in business. This writer has not lived with closed eyes, and through many years of dealing with tradesmen of all kinds, I have seen men "go to the wall," I have seen many go through the bankruptcy court, I have seen many dragging on a life of semi-failure year after year, but I have always noted that all this calamity could have been averted if only the man had been true to principle. I remember two houses well in a certain town, one on either side of the main street. Both were very fine shops, and had a good connection. The owner of one became rich and retired from the business leaving a son to follow him. The owner of the other, not wishing to live an idle life, lived on in the business taking his share of the work with his son. Now one thing I always noticed when walking through that street, and that was, I rarely passed without seeing Mr. S. (shall we call the younger man?) outside his shop gossiping with some passerby, or turning into the first public with a friend for a drink. I never saw his neighbor across the street (Mr. A. shall we call him?) outside his door unless it were to take an order, or to explain something in his window to a customer. I often passed through the street in the very early morning, say 5:30, and always I saw that the door of Mr. A’s shop was ajar and he was inside. One day I stopped and said how surprised I was to see that he was always there in the early morning, and wondered why. He told me that at that hour scores of workmen were passing and it often happened that quite a dozen men would need some tool, or some slight repairs done, and they were glad to have someone about to do it for them, so saving them very often a quarter of a day which otherwise they must lose from work. But across the way, Mr. S. slept on for a few more hours! I made some enquiries one day about some work I wanted done. "Go to Mr. A." said a friend, "then you will get it done well, don’t go across the street." On another occasion I was told, "Yes, Mr. S. will promise the thing shall be done at once, but give him the order, and you may wait his time." So after a few years the inevitable happened, Mr. S. was sold up, while Mr. A. went steadily on, honored and respected by all his townsmen, and prospering in every way. He told the truth under all circumstances. He never told flattering tales to please a customer. His word was his bond, and his honor was dearer to him than gold. The man who tells lies in business and thinks he is thereby getting on, is deceiving himself, and the lie will come home to roost one day. The man who lies in bed while his neighbor is working, will one day find his trade gone, and his money too, and he will have no one to blame but himself. Look at it how you will, you will find that it is a fallacy to suppose that truth, honor and honesty are incompatible with success in business. Let a customer lose confidence in a man’s word, and he or she will soon go to the other man. Let the public find that a man’s goods are no better than the other man‘s who is satisfied with an honest profit, and they will very soon forsake him. Scores of people rob themselves by overreaching themselves. "Much would have more and lost all." So, believe it, my reader, if you are in business, the only way to a lasting and sure success is by the way of honesty, truth, energy, activity, a kindly consideration for others, and a heart that finds nothing in itself to condemn at the close of the day. You may succeed in cheating yourself but you can never cheat the Good Law.
At the same time it is necessary that one who wishes to be a success in business should remember that to be honest and strictly straightforward is not enough. Many an honest man has failed, not because he is honest, but because he has neglected some other vital element of success. It is possible that the man may fail because he does not keep himself in touch with the times. A man to be successful, should read and keep himself well informed, especially in those matters pertaining to his particular trade or business. How many a young man has never risen higher in the workshop than a paid laborer simply because he spent his evenings in pleasure, or aimless wandering about the streets, or worse still, in the public house bar or at the gaming table. I once spoke to a most promising young mechanic about the splendid opportunity he had of studying his special trade out of working hours and so in time becoming a master man and owner of such a business for himself. I saw ability in the youth; I saw that if he were earnest enough, energetic enough, ambitious enough, he would do something out of the ordinary. He said he finished with work when he left the shop. He said he once knew a young man who took up with night schools, and Corresponding Classes, and worked hard all the evening and "broke down," &c. &c., He said he was not going to be so foolish. So he remained a workman, and others, less promising, and with far less latent talent, but with ambition, energy and perseverance, went ahead and passed him by. To be successful one must be energetic, wide awake, alive to the best methods, and if there is anything new, be ready to give it a fair trial. Don’t be left behind. Keep abreast of the times. I once had occasion to make inquiries about a firm who wished to have business dealings with me. I asked, "Are they reliable, trustworthy, likely to make this matter a success for me, and will they pay up when my money is due?" The answer was, "Absolutely honest, trustworthy, honorable, and of a good name; but they are behind the times; they are old fashioned in their methods, and so if they owe you any money our advice to you is to get it as soon as possible. For the reasons stated above they are going down the hill." Here was a case in which real honesty and uprightness were "going down the hill" because of a lack of push, energy, enterprise and creative imagination.
How often a very good man fails because he lacks cheerfulness and tact. I have known men lose their opportunity of advancement entirely on this account. The man with a face as long as a poker will never attract people either to his own or his master’s business. "Power dwells with cheerfulness," would be a good motto to hang up in all workshops and offices, and behind all counters. Men and women always prefer to deal with the man who has a cheery word and a happy smile on his face. I would rather go down the next street to buy a pennyworth of tacks from the man with a cheerful smile, a beaming countenance and a cheery word than I would go into the shop of the man of a mournful and long-drawn visage. One of the chief elements of success is cheerfulness. A business run on lines of cheerfulness and goodwill will succeed far better than the one run on anger, worry, unpleasant relations with work-people, or anything that robs life of happiness.
To be tactful is also essential. I do not mean insincere. To many it means that I know. "Oh, to be tactful one cannot be sincere," one once said to me. Never was a greater error. Tact means Wisdom, it means taking the trouble to find out the thing from the other’s point of view. It means being courteous, polite, gentle, ready and alive to the occasion. The opposite, gruffness, shortness, that way of speaking which says so plainly, "Oh, you are a bother!" all that spells failure. You cannot afford to run your business or office on those lines. Don’t allow anyone else to try it for you either. Be obliging. Be sincere. Be truthful. Be honest. Be cheerful. Be enterprising and energetic. With these traits well developed success in business is sure. These things always accompany true success.