Protecting Your Reputation with a Good Karma Bank Account

Alexandrea Merrell

Alex,   I have heard you speak about Al Capone and the Good Karma Bank Account. But I just don’t have the time to volunteer at a bunch of events. Is there a way that I can create Good Karma that doesn’t take so much time?   Tony

Thanks for the question Tony. 

There is an incredible amount of need in the world. In fact, in your own community, I am sure that you can find worthwhile organizations that would benefit from your involvement. But, most of us, particularly most small business owners or professionals feel that they just don’t have the time or money to commit to charity.

I am here to tell you however that participating in the right kind of community organizations can provide you an almost unbelievable return on your time investment and consistent participation, combined with showcasing that involvement can provide you with currency that can be used to build your reputation in times of otherwise stagnant growth and protect your reputation in times of crisis.

Successful businesses and professionals need to make sure that their “Good Karma Bank Account” is always full of “Good Karma Currency.”

What is Good Karma Currency and Why Do I Need It?

I define Good Karma Currency as the value of your brand’s positive perception within your community, achieved through recognized good deeds.

Let’s think about a good deed as a coin. A recognized good deed earns my brand a coin. The more good deeds that I do, the more coins I earn and the larger my good karma bank account becomes.

If I become known as a frequent “good deed doer” the perceived value of my brand increases and subsequent good deeds earn me additional, higher value coins. This “good karma currency” is like a bank account. The more good deeds that you do or good karma that you develop, the stronger your brand is and the more able you are to withstand all sorts of crisis.

How Does a Good Karma Bank Account Protect My Brand?

The value of a brand is based on perception. That perception can help you or hinder you in times of crisis. Let’s look at an example.  

Bob’s Cupcakery and Stan’s Amazing Cupcakes are the two cupcake shops that operate in Smallville.  Both make great cupcakes, both are similarly priced, and both are located within a block of each other. In all areas, the Cupcakery and Amazing Cupcakes are virtually identical. Except, Bob has put a lot of stock in creating a Good Karma Bank Account.

Bob donates left over products at the end of the day to the local food pantry. These cupcakes are dropped off at the food pantry, neatly arranged (just as if they were being delivered to any paying event) in large bags marked “Bob’s Cupcakery, by staff wearing Bob’s Cupcakery tee shirts. Not only does Bob post a picture of his staff delivering cupcakes on Facebook and Instagram, he tags the food bank, and has a running tally on his website that shows that this year alone, he has donated over 1,000 cupcakes to the food bank.

Bob also participates in the diabetes awareness challenge sponsored by the local medical center, by creating sugar free versions of the most popular flavors of cupcakes. He video tapes the team making the sugar free versions and posts the sugar free cupcake recipes on his website and on YouTube. His staff, wearing Bob’s Cupcakery tee shirts, hands out free samples of mini sugar free cupcakes at the event and of course, he posts this online to Facebook, twitter, Instagram, etc.

When the local school said that parents couldn’t bring cupcakes to class parties anymore because of food allergies and gluten issues, Bob and his entire staff took classes on food allergies and gluten issues and posted pictures of the entire bakery holding up their certifications. Because of this, the school allowed parents to purchase the special treat, directly from the Cupcakery for school parties, of course pictures of the cupcakes and celebrations are posted online.

Because Bob goes above and beyond just running a cupcake business, he has developed a loyal fan base. The local news interviews him about these events and his good deeds.  People who like that he isn’t throwing food away and is instead bringing some joy into the hearts of the less fortunate are going to choose Bob’s over Stan’s cupcake shop.

Stan’s Amazing Cupcakes has sugar free versions too, but Bob participated publically in bringing awareness about the sugar free options to the public, he gave out free samples, and made sure that people knew about his shop by being involved in an initiative not usually sponsored by a sweets shop. Diabetics and people who participated in the event will not only go to Bob’s because they know he has great sugar free treats, they will tell others who also want sugar free treats to go to the Cupcakery.

Parents are thrilled that they can provide their kids with treats that are approved by the school. Since Bob’s certifications, the school is thrilled at not having to be the “bad guys.” Even if Stan gets certified and starts offering allergen free or gluten free options, people already appreciate, know, and trust Bob.

So, not only has Bob created a terrific Good Karma Bank Account and filled it with a tremendous amount of the good karma currency, with little more than time, he has solidified his brand reputation. Bob’s Cupcakery is not only seen as a great cupcake shop, but also as a place where the owners and staff are passionate about the community and responsive to the needs of potential consumers.

Stan’s Amazing Cupcakes is just seen as another cupcake shop.

Now, if the economy turns and the town can’t support two cupcake shops, where are consumers going to put their dollar? 

Let’s say that Bob’s has an actual reputation crisis. Perhaps, Bob fires Sue (a member of staff) for stealing money out of the cash register and in response, Sue posts negative reviews online.

Sue might post that Bob cheats his employees out of wages or that his kitchen is filthy and vermin infested or that the gluten free items aren’t really gluten free. These accusations could be extremely damaging to Bob’s business, but because he has built up a Good Karma Bank Account, he can use that Good Karma Currency to defend his brand.

People will be less likely to believe anything negative about the Cupcakery because they already know and trust Bob. With some well-chosen responses to the negative posts, Bob can effectively defuse any potential negative impact.

If you want to learn more about How to Respond to Negative Reviews without Damaging Your Brand Find Out Now

However, if Stan’s Amazing Cupcakes were to be hit with similar accusations by a disgruntled ex-employee, Stan has no Good Karma Bank Account from which to draw and people would be far more likely to believe the negative postings.

Ok, so you can see the value of developing a strong, Good Karma Bank Account and keeping it filled with Good Karma Currency, but how do you go about actually creating one for yourself?

Step One: Identify Philanthropy That Meshes with Your Brand

No matter what your business or brand, you can find organizations that need your support and will provide you with currency for your good karma bank account.

Start by thinking about your business and create a list of organizations that easily mesh with that brand. Unless your brand is specifically focused on a particular religion or political party, when creating a Good Karma Bank, it is best to avoid. 

Here are a few examples of organizations:

Arts Organizations
Food Pantries
Service Organizations for Retired Military
Community Improvement Organizations
Junior Achievement and Youth Development Organizations
Historical Societies
Low Income and Indigent Organizations
Senior Centers
Handicapped and Learning Disabled Organizations
Animal Rescue Organizations
Environmental Organizations

Here are a few examples of how small businesses or professionals can get involved:

- A Real Estate office or broker team can give a talk about purchasing a home at the local library.

- Restaurants, bakeries, and butchers might donate left over food at the end of the day to local food banks.

- Construction companies could participate in Habitat for Humanity or similar organizations

- Lawyers might provide a few hours of legal advice a month through various programs for low income people.

- A local movie theatre might allow their space to be used by a displaced organization on a morning when the theatre isn’t usually open.

- Doctors and dentists may provide free treatment to the indigent.

- A mortician might talk to a senior center about the practicalities of end of life planning.

Try to come up with two or three organizations that directly relate to your brand, reach out and find out how you can help.

WARNING: THIS IS NOT ABOUT YOU DONATING MONEY OR FINANCIALLY SPONSORING EVENT. If you can afford to do that and are so inclined, that is great. But donating money doesn’t add anything to your Good Karma Bank Account. Creating Good Karma Currency is about DOING good works publicly, not just funding good works.

WARNING: THIS IS NOT ABOUT SELLING. If you try to “sell” your services or your brand, you will end up creating the opposite of your intended perception People that try to sell and community organizations are universally disliked and mistrusted. Your participation should be for the benefit of the organization.

So real estate brokers, funeral homes, and insurance agents….put your cards away, don’t talk about your services, and don’t sell. PERIOD!

But I Belong to the Chamber of Commerce and several professional Organizations, Isn’t That Good Enough?

This is not about industry or professional associations. Your membership to these types of organizations can benefit your brand through education, advocacy, and networking, but they rarely allow you to give back to the community and to create good karma currency.

Step Two: Identify Community Events that Shake Up Your Brand Perception…In A Good Way

In our example, most people wouldn’t have thought that a cupcake shop and a diabetes event would be a good match, but by figuring out a way that he could make a positive contribution, Bob was able to insert his brand into the event.

Think about ways that you can shake up your brand perception in the community.

Here are a few examples:

- A Real Estate office or broker team can participate in a community clean up event.

- A restaurant might provide free cooking demonstrations, focused on local fresh produce, at a local farmers market.

- A construction company might participate in an environmental clean-up event.

- A law firm might march in a civil rights parade.

- A local movie theatre might sponsor a monthly classic movie night free of charge for senior citizens.

- A dental office might hand out free mouth guards at the opening of a new skate park.

- A funeral home might sponsor a historic cemetery clean-up

Step Three: Showcase and Promote

Building your Good Karma Bank Account requires that you have the means to showcase and promote your involvement. If you march in an Earth Day Parade, that’s nice. If you march in an Earth Day Parade with your company tee shirts, and wave Earth Day Banners, and post lots of social media pictures showing your company at the event and having a great time, you are earning Good Karma Currency.

It make seem showy, it may seem cynical, it make seem disingenuous and calculating. But the fact is these organizations need people attending, helping out, and promoting their events. When companies participate and when they promote that participation it brings more people to the event, makes more companies feel like they better participate too and ultimately helps insure the organizations success.

You should shoot for at least one Good Karma deposit each month as a minimum.  Get shirts and caps made up, make sure that you are posting on your website and social media, and make certain that you are including details about the organization and events. People want to engage with people who are engaging, if you look like you are having fun while renovating a children’s play area or teaching seniors how to use Facebook, people will have a more positive perception of you and of your brand.

Not sure how to use Social Media for your brand or business effectively? Check out Social Media to avoid the teeny-booper fluff and get to the substance that will help your brand or business grow and engage.

Step Four: Participate Wholly

One of the terrific things about participating in events that create Good Karma for you is that others will also be photographing and promoting the event and will likely get pictures of you too. So, it is essential that when you participate in these events, you participate wholly. If you show up in your tee shirts, take a few pictures and leave or only seem to be participating when the cameras are rolling, people will know and they will call you out on the behavior.

Building a strong Good Karma Bank Account requires the good karma part, doing good deeds for your community will bring good karma back to you. Plus, you will meet new people (potential customers of the future) and you will get to know more about your community which will make you more resilient and responsive to changing tastes and needs.

.....Alexandrea Merrell

What To Do About An Office Gossip

Can you settle a dispute between myself and my co-worker? A real estate agent in my office recently went a little crazy with juicy gossip about a client. Not only did she spread the stories through our office, but she told people at the mortgage company, the title service, the buildings department, and even other clients. She says that she wasn’t trying to be malicious. Personally, I think that she liked to be the center of attention and the story was so bizarre, everyone wanted to know the details.  Eventually the client herself heard the gossip.

Problem, the gossip turned out to be completely untrue and now the rumors are having an adverse effect on the client’s business and reputation.

I think that my co-worker needs to set the record straight, at minimum tell people that she had gossiped to that the info was wrong, and apologize to the client. She feels that she should just let it go and people will forget about it.

What do you think? Mary

Gossip can be such a thrilling and guilty pleasure. The rush of sharing a secret, especially one that is salacious or scandalous, the feeling of importance as all eyes (or ears) are on you, the power over someone else’s reputation, it can all be very addicting and hugely damaging. And not just to the victim of the gossip.

Gossip Can Damage YOUR Reputation

People may flock to hear the latest gossip, but no one trusts the person who circulates rumors. Think about it, if you spread stories about people when they aren’t around, most people will assume that you spread stories about them when they aren’t around.

Gossip often focuses on superficial or moral value judgement issues. This makes the gossiper appear petty, insecure, and mean.

Gossip Can Damage SOMEONE ELSE’S Reputation

While gossiping can seem like “harmless fun,” it can be tremendously destructive. Jobs have been lost, career’s derailed, marriages destroyed, and families ripped apart because of the “harmless fun” of a bored, gossipy co-worker or the accusations of a disgruntled or malicious associate.

As a culture we tend to believe the old adage “where there’s smoke, there’s fire” and so even if people don’t necessarily believe the full scope of the gossip, they often walk away feeling less positive about the object of the gossip.

So to answer your question….in my opinion…it is grossly irresponsible for the agent in your office to just say nothing and hope it goes away. That’s not the way that people behave in a civilized society. She has essentially mowed this woman down with her car. She can’t simply say “well it wasn’t malicious” and then drive away. She has set a chain of events into motion and even if the intent was not malicious, she needs to do whatever she can to mitigate the damage.

But few people would willingly stand up and admit to friends and co-workers that they lied or spread rumors. The fact is, people (even the really nice ones) are self preservationists.

The agent can create a scenario where she repairs as much damage as she can, without making herself look bad. I suggest an email that she can send to her colleagues, co-workers, and all of the other people to whom she spread the rumors. An email helps insure that the agent won’t have to face people and take responsibility for her words.

Something like:


I has come to my attention that information shared with you about _______________ is inaccurate. It was with best intentions that I shared with you, after receiving the information from a 3rd party. But it is now clear that the information provided to me and shared with you was defamatory, false, and designed to harm _____________.

Again, I apologize for forwarding false and inflammatory information about _________________ and hope that those communications will not be relied upon in any way.


Sending this sort of email helps to undo some of the damage that the agent has done to the object of the rumors. It also helps to repair her own reputation as an untrustworthy gossip.

In a perfect world, the gossip would apologize to the person that she wronged with her rumor spreading, but that would require a mia culpa that most gossipy types are unable to muster. Though I would expect that the person the agent wronged won’t want to work with her any longer and would be hard pressed to give a recommendation.

Having said that, if the gossip really is damaging to the client, she could sue  the agent. Defamation, slander, libel, even interference with the client's business charges could result in the agent being financially liable for damages. 

What To Do When A Client Won't Pay

Alex, I have a serious problem. I am a freelance graphic artist. After doing a ton of work for a client, they now refuse to pay. At first they just avoided me. But now they are telling me that they changed their minds, don’t want to work with me, and won’t pay their bill!  I can’t afford to work and not get paid. Any advice?  Diane

Hi Diane, I feel for you. I think most businesses have had to deal with this sort of thing. I have only had two situations in the past eight years where a client didn’t pay their bill. In one instance, the client went under and closed their business.  In the other, despite having a contract, the client simply stopped communications. No matter what the reason, small businesses are particularly vulnerable to the economic fluctuations and the whims of clients and customers.

It is important that you understand, contract or not, you really can’t “MAKE” them pay.  Yes you can sue, you can even win, but that doesn’t guarantee that you can collect and even if you do, it could be months, or years from now.  So before you write them off or race down to small claims court, let’s do some investigation.

Do you know why they don’t want to pay?

Are they having financial difficulty?
If a client is having financial difficulties, calm and non-judgmental communications can be the difference between getting paid and getting nothing and between maintaining a customer and creating an angry big mouth who damages your reputation.  Maybe they need time or a payment plan. People who are having financial difficulties can react by ignoring creditors, often they are embarrassed or simply don’t know when their situation will change.  If they can’t control the situation, you contacting them with threats or blame won’t help either party.

Are they bargain shopping?
Most of us have had an experience where what we do is undervalued. The world is full of people who believe that they can build that web site, create that graphic, edit that book, write that article, etc etc. Problems can emerge when this comes after a contract has been signed.

If you haven’t started much work, I would issue them a cancellation statement and move on. Having a hostile client won’t be much fun for either of you and in the end, no matter how great the work, they will resent you.

If you have done a lot of work and/or have received some payments, calm, but firm communication reminding the client of the contract terms and amount of work completed can be effective.  If they still refuse, to complete the contract you should investigate small claims court. Often the mediation program is effective in getting back on track.

Have you had a difficult relationship?
No matter the reason, if you and the client have had a difficult relationship, whether because of miscommunication, lack of cohesive of vision, or you simply can’t seem to get on the same page, sometimes it’s best to cut your losses and move on.

Do they feel that you aren't meeting the contract dictates?
Sometimes small businesses fail to meet client expectations. These expectations can seem completely unrealistic to you. But to your client, the way that you treat them and include them in the project can be the difference between happy clients and non-paying clients. 

So How do you protect yourself from a non-paying client in the future?

Get It All In Writing
Your contract should include a scope of services that you are providing, a timeline of production, and payment dates.

A scope allows you to show exactly what services you will be performing for the client.  That way there is no misunderstanding. A scope provides both parties a reference document and a punch list. When the contract is complete, or at set intervals, you should be able to go back and check off everything that you were contracted to complete.

A timeline of production gives clear indications of how long each phase of a project will take. But be realistic. If you promise first draft graphics for a logo two weeks after the contract is signed, make sure that you deliver.

Establishing payment dates will help protect you and keep everyone on track. For people who work in creative fields, a retainer is an established way to protect yourself from just such a situation. I would recommend that you create payment dates that match milestones in the project.  For a web designer that might be 1/3 at commencement, 1/3rd at approval of concept, and 1/3rd at launch.

If the project doesn’t have natural milestones, and you expect the project to take under two months, I would suggest half at the commencement of the project and half on completion. If the project is for a longer period, I would divide the payments into monthly segments. In all circumstances, I would start with a retainer. This way, you aren’t out any money if things fall apart during the contract.

Maintain Contact
At Orndee we have “Monday Sheets” that we provide all clients, every Monday. The Monday sheet details what we accomplished last week and lays out the goals for the week to come. If clients feel connected to the process and can see that you are working on their behalf, they feel more positive about the experience.  Keep clients in the loop.

Send Invoices Promptly
Most companies, require some time to process payments. If you wait until the last minute to issue invoices, you may find that your sense of urgency doesn’t match your client’s process. If you have scheduled due dates, send invoices out two weeks or more before payment is due. If you have 30 day payment terms, make sure that the invoice is sent out prior to the start of those 30 days.

If you have clients with longer contracts, consider automatic payments.  

Address Issues Early & Face-to-Face if Possible
If you and your client have an issue, avoiding it will not make it better. Instead, if possible, sit down with your client, listen to their concerns or their feelings and try to work from a perspective of developing a long term client who refers others to your business. Often small issues that could be easily explained or corrected become big problems when not caught early. 

While it can be really upsetting, and financially challenging, you have to weigh the likelihood of collecting against the time, energy and stress of pursuing. And no matter what you do, don't bad mouth clients on social just makes you look unprofessional. That will cost you more then one non-paying client.