Man holding stack of paperwork“Do you live in the county?”

I stopped short at the question. After many attempts, I’d found a local recycler to take some old CRT monitors stashed in the basement.

I’ll admit my first instinct was to lie. I really wanted to get rid of these monitors. But realizing they might ask for an address or other proof of residency, I said, “No.”

“Well, we can’t take them if you don’t live in the county.”

“But what if I pay you?”

“Nope. Still can’t do it.”

“Any suggestions on where I can recycle them?”

“Sure. Go around the corner to the local transfer station. They’ll be happy to take them.”

Perplexed because I still didn’t have a clear sense of why residency mattered, I drove around the corner. The transfer station was indeed happy to take them. But guess what name was on the trailer where I offloaded my monitors?

The business who had just told me they couldn’t take the monitors if I lived outside the county.

Here’s the thing. I know this business owner’s hands were tied by some county regulation outside his control. He could very well lose his business if he takes e-waste from people who don’t live in the county. That said, the way he chose to communicate this information didn’t make much sense.

First, there’s zero information on their website about the county restriction. I doubt I’m the only one who showed up and got surprised with the county restriction.

Second, there’s nothing at their physical location to suggest they can only take e-waste from residents.

Finally, even after offering to pay, I still didn’t get an explanation for the restriction, and the information about the transfer station wasn’t volunteered until I asked directly.

We all have limits on what we can and can’t do in business. Maybe we only have access to certain hardware. Maybe we lack certain skills commonly associated with our business. Or maybe the cities, counties, and states where we live set certain regulations on different industries.

Whatever the source, our ability to do business may be hobbled a bit. While many clients and customers will understand that we have to operate under some different rules, they won’t understand why we aren’t transparent about those rules.

I understand the hesitation. If we say we can’t do something, won’t that chase business away?

I believe the exact opposite will happen. The clearer we are about what we can do, the easier it is for people to find us and make the decision to work with us.

To be clear, I don’t see this as a “warts and all” reveal, but as an honest representation of what people can expect when they choose your business.

Yes, some people will find the restrictions unacceptable. But realistically, if it’s an industry-wide restriction within your area, you don’t want to work with clients looking for ways to work the system. If caught, they might get a slap on the wrist, but you could lose your business for trying to accommodate them.

You don’t need to invest in planes flying a banner to get the word out. Just take a look at your business website and physical location (if you have one). Can people easily find information about what you can (or can’t) do? Do you make it clear who you can and can’t serve?

Don’t be the recycler who only offered information when I asked a question. Try to put yourself in the customer’s place.

What things would you want to know before choosing your business?