Success doesn’t always breed success. In fact, sometimes it breeds unethical behaviour.

We have all heard the story about the athlete who felt the pressure to take performance-enhancing drugs to stay at the top of their game. In business, unrealistic pressure to focus purely on the bottom line increases the likelihood that profitability could be chosen over ethical behaviour. During the last nine years, I have been baffled and frustrated by a number of aesthetic business owners who make self-serving decisions that are detrimental to their patients. The absence of government intervention, a lack of patient education and a relentless focus on the bottom line has meant that some aesthetic business owners have not been putting their patients first.

Managing both the medical and business ends of a private practice has become a laborious task for many Healthcare Professionals. Shrinking profit margins, increased competition, fickle consumers, price wars, too many ‘charlatans’ jumping on the bandwagon and the overall pressures of running a business, means that for many their profits are continually fading. Whilst rare, any illegal activities like fraud, false claims, and other violations are often attributed to greed, however other drivers such as internal pressure, competition and a pure intrinsic desire to survive, also contribute.

We all know that patients come first, however some businesses are not run according to this principle.

Some businesses are operating according to what the owner wants, as opposed to what their patients’ need. Unethical behaviour is not reserved just for those businesses who are already successful, new small business owners are often so overwhelmed that the bottom line rather than ethics is at the forefront of their minds.

As the economy limps towards recovery, a number of medical aesthetic businesses need to turn about-face. Even though the economy is growing, consumers are more sceptical than ever before, with trust being a huge issue for our industry. Being successful in any business today, runs far beyond turnover, growth and profits. It extends deep into ethics, integrity, training, experience, credentials, professionalism, passion and governance.

We already know that aesthetic patients can be fickle consumers. Many are overwhelmed with emotions and are uncomfortable about a physical aspect they want removed, enhanced or rejuvenated which can lead to vulnerability. They are most likely confused about what to do and who should do it. When they do come into contact with your clinic, they expect and deserve to be put first. They want to connect and look into your eyes knowing that you will not pull the wool over their eyes and carry out a treatment that they don’t want or need.

So, can a business be both successful and ethical and just how easy is it to balance the fine line between patients and profits?

Remember when your sports teacher or personal trainer told you that you had to endure short-term pain for long-term gain? That situation also applies to business. The owners of a business must be able to consider long-term viability over short-term financial success and if they do, perhaps fewer business owners will crack under pressure. Today, many business investors are paying closer attention to a business’s ethics, as well as their profits. In other words, in addition to “what a business does,” it is equally important to focus on “how it does it.” Everybody involved in a business need to ask themselves not only, “is this profitable?”, but “is it right?”

Before you start, it is best to get a better understanding of WHY you are in business for yourself. All businesses understand ‘how’ they do what they do (their treatments and services), they talk about everything they sell and provide, they become product or technology obsessed, but many never really understand ‘what’ their patients intimately want and what motivates their patients to buy.

Very few businesses really understand the ‘why’. It’s a pity because the ‘why’ is where the power is. If you aren’t getting the results in your business that you expect, hope and feel you deserve. Why is this? Are you simply peddling commodities? Is there no difference between your clinic and your competitor across town? If you think about all the most successful businesses, they all have a strong and well understood ‘why’. It’s this ‘why’ that staff buy into figuratively – and customers buy into literally. The most ‘Iconic’ brands set themselves up to SERVE their customers.

Think about your mission, what it is that you want to be known for, the reason you get up each day. Remember, unless you KNOW what you want to be known for you can’t design your business to serve patients first.

Consider this balance between profits and ethics to be “ethical profitability.” Well-balanced businesses not only consistently reward with profitable performance, they also genuinely focus on these five key areas:

1. Leadership By Example: Clinic owners who wish to grow their business must clearly convey to all members of staff that patients are the very reason they are in business and therefore must always come first. To manage well is to lead employees effectively, ethically and without arrogance.

2. Business-Wide Ethical Awareness: Your ‘Patients Come First’ message should be clearly defined when all employees are hired. It should be stated and emphasised at every opportunity, to the extent that it becomes part of your businesses DNA.

3. Strong Management of Revenue Generation And Reporting: Corporate temptation to stretch ethical behaviour in revenue generation and reporting is universal. To overcome this, business owners must establish and maintain a firm stance on ethical marketing, advertising, selling and reporting.

4. A High Level of Internal Trust: The level of trust within a business should reflect the level of trust the business solicits from its patients. If patients are encouraged to put their complete trust in you, then teams must do the same and management must guide this.

5. A Formal and Active Code Of Conduct: The Keogh report recommends that you adhere to a code of conduct, so if you haven’t got one in place, implement one that doesn’t just cover insurance and complaint handling, but one that includes how responsible your business is.

The true test of ethical profitability is when a business reaches for a higher bar and there are many aesthetic business owners who are doing this and much, much more. These are the business owners who are leading the way. They have patients who are not only returning but referring and will be in business for many more years to come. I was particularly impressed with the level of ethics that came across during my recent interviews with a number of top clinic owners for my forthcoming book: Patients, Passion and Profits. Mastering the Business of Aesthetics.

The balance between patients and profits is a fine balancing act, but getting it right will certainly pay off in the long run, both for your patients and your profits.