How Honesty Cost Me $1.2 Million

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Written by Scott Orth –


They say Honesty is the best policy.  And it’s a policy I live by… even after it cost me over $1.2 Million in lost client revenue in just the past 18 months.

I’m a consultant. I tell you how to improve your business and I advise on the best ways to increase revenues and improve profits (especially online).  As an outsider, I sometimes see cultural or structural issues that may be affecting overall performance or profitability, as well.  But my recommendations stay on point; what can we do to boost profitability.

I have created MILLIONS of dollars for my clients. In fact, by my last calculation I have produced more than $36 Million dollars in profits and at least $300 Million in revenue for my small business clients to-date.  Not too bad for my little family-run online marketing agency.

And yet, I’ve run into a couple of situations recently where being honest cost me a client… and along with them, a great deal of my own revenue.








I’ve turned down plenty of client money over the years.  If we don’t feel they’re a good cultural fit or if we don’t believe our services will increase their success – I’ll happily advise them where to go to get their best growth, and see them on their way.

But this is different. These were clients who signed on for services, worked with us for several months and began reaping the rewards of success. But as it turned out in each case; honesty was not “their” best policy.

As a consultant it is my job to cut through the bullshit.  If I told my clients what they wanted to hear, we’d never be able to build the success we’ve become known for.  No, instead we cut through the BS, we find opportunities for success, and we attack these opportunities with vigor.

But sometimes you just can’t get past the psychology of people, especially “leaders” or the environments their behaviors have fostered.

Fall in line or be Punished

You may have heard this story elsewhere, but I think it’s a perfect fit for this scenario.  And a wonderful experiment to show how business culture can make or break a company.








The experiment begins with a group of five monkeys in a controlled room.  A set of stairs is placed in the middle of the room, and a banana is hung by a string at the top of the stairs.

It doesn’t take long before one of the monkeys starts to climb the stairs toward the banana. As soon as the monkey touches the stairs the experimenters spray all the other monkeys with cold water. When another monkey makes an attempt to get the banana they again spray the other monkeys with cold water. After a few repetitions of this all of the monkeys begin preventing any single monkey from going up the stairs after the banana.

A New Addition…

Now that the group of monkeys are all in agreement that no one shall attempt fate by going after the banana, the experimenters put away the cold water. A new culture has been set – the banana stays atop the stairs… untouched.

The experimenters then take one of the original monkeys out of the room and introduce a new one.  Within moments of spotting the banana, the new monkey goes after it. To his surprise and dismay all of the other monkeys attacked him.  He tries again, but they repeat their attack, blocking him from the banana.  He learns that if he tries to get the banana he’ll be attacked, so he stops going after the banana. The new monkey has been successfully assimilated into the room’s banana-hating culture.

Next the experimenters remove another of the original five monkeys and put in another newcomer. The second new monkey sees the banana and goes after it. As expected, she is attacked. The first new monkey takes part in this attack with enthusiasm, yet he doesn’t even know why he is attacking the new monkey… he’s simply falling in line with the group culture.

This goes on a few more rounds with an original monkey being replaced with a new monkey. The new monkey attempts to get the banana, is attacked, and eventually leaves the seemingly tainted banana alone. Each time this occurs, it is noted that the newly assimilated monkeys attack the newest monkey with fervor – though they don’t have any understanding of why they’re blocking the newest monkey from going after the banana, as they were not there when the original cold water punishment occurred.

Another couple rounds… all the original monkeys have been replaced and none of the remaining monkeys had ever been sprayed with cold water. And yet no monkey ever approaches the stairs to go after the banana. Why? Because as far as they know: “That’s the way it’s always been done around here.”

This story mirrors human behavior in a work environment.  Behaviors and attitudes are initially established based on events, actions, or results of sometime in the past.  Yet even with new team members, new technology, evolving customers and adapting markets… often times a company, its leaders, and/or its staff is unwilling to make a change… because “This is the way we’ve always done it.”

Don’t Shoot the Messenger

Working in agencies for years has taught me how to spin just about anything into a positive story.  I hate it.  I still do it sometimes… more out of habit than anything.  But now I only spin stories to soften the blow.  The truth must come out or we simply can’t make progress.

But sometimes telling the truth is a painful task for the messenger.

I took a beating by these recent clients.  They made me question myself, question my integrity, question if I’d be better off changing my ways to simply tell them what they want to hear – just so the big checks would keep coming in.  I was becoming one of the group monkeys… falling in line.







But then I had a revelation. I was born to be a rebel.  If I were one of those monkeys I would get that damn banana or die trying.  I would fight for answers, question the other monkeys, and maybe find a more strategic way to get the banana than just charging up the stairs.

In the end, I would get that banana and I’d revel in its deliciousness in front of all the other bozos as they stare in disbelief.  They might knock me down, but I’d get back up more determined than ever.








No, I won’t bend to the norm.  I won’t tell you what you want to hear.  And I won’t fall in line with a broken culture, just because it’s more comfortable.

What I will do, if permitted to stick around long enough, is put millions of extra dollars in your bank account and make you look like a hero!  It might just be me, but I think that should suffice!

Scott Orth is the Owner of Thrive Business Marketing and an independent contract Consultant focused on the stability and growth of businesses through online marketing efforts.  His expertise in online customer acquisition and customer experience strategies has directly created over $100 Million in revenue for his clients in the past 5 years. 

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