Sunday, September 1, 2013

The check is in the mail, the dog ate my homework (and other scenarios to avoid)

I ran down several different options for how to write this post for my readers. As my tagline says, I'm sharing stories because I believe that being an entrepreneur is a marathon, not a sprint. I found myself in one of the very situations that I know enough to avoid during the month of August. Without going into a whole lot of details, I think it will be best if I share the lessons I learned from it.

I was in the beginning stages of establishing a relationship with a new client. The person came as a referral via email, we spoke on the phone several times and then we scheduled our first in person meeting. The "client" was late. After the first 10 minutes or so, I text to see if the "client" was still coming. I got a response that they lost track of time and they were on the way. By the 35 minute mark, I sent a text suggesting that we reschedule for another time/day. I didn't get a response and shortly thereafter, the "client" walked in the door. Which brings me to Rule #1:
  • Don't be disrespectful of anyone's time and don't allow anyone else to be disrespectful of yours. Set your own limit - whether you allow 5 minutes or 20 minutes as a "grace period" for a meeting, be sure to stick to it, especially in the beginning. If a person is going to be late, the courteous thing for them to do is notify you, not the other way around where you're checking in with them to verify they are still planning to keep the appointment. Once you "let it slide" (especially with a person that's habitually late) it's going to set the tone going forward. They will always be late and you will ALWAYS be aggravated. Time is money, especially when you're awesome.
In a brief conversation, this "client" made mention of something that I hold dear to my heart. Once I engaged in a conversation on the topic, it became the be-all, end-all of every discussion. We weren't talking about business as much as we were talking about the other topic. Rule #2:
  • Be very, very cautious of people who attempt something you love (cars, sports, fishing, religion, puppies, etc) as a way to lower your defenses, especially when you find yourself talking about that thing every time you try to have a serious conversation about business. When you try to bring up an invoice or payment or something else important, and they circle the conversation back around to how cute their dog is, it's a red flag. There's a time and place for everything. We can talk about Fido or Fluffy after we discuss business. 
Maybe it's a Southern thing, but I am used to people who are a little overly friendly. Sometimes, it's a genuine behavioral trait. Other times, it's BS. Hence, Rule #3:
  • Be watchful of people who try to get too familiar with you too quickly. You have to be able to tell the real from the fake, but make sure you control the situation. People only know what you tell them. If you rush into a new relationship telling everything about yourself without being fully aware of the other person's intentions/motives/agenda, you could be setting yourself up for failure. Am I suggesting you aloof and obtuse with people you do business with? Of course not. Just be cautious. As Jackie Chan said to Chris Tucker in Rush Hour, "I like to let people talk who like to talk. It lets me find out how full of shit they are." Also known as Psychology 101.
In school (on TV), the favorite excuse was "My dog ate my homework." I don't really have a lot to preface Rule #4 with, so I'll just jump right into it:
  • It's a BLARING siren attached to a red flag when you have someone who is constantly involved in some kind of tragic situation, ESPECIALLY if these "tragedies" always happen to come right around deadlines. This can apply to many scenarios including rules 1 and 2. They're always late because of some major thing that happened before, during or after they were on the way. The dog/car/church that they love so much always has some major thing that comes up right when it's time for them to pay or sign a contract, etc. Don't get me wrong...stuff all of us; however, if you find yourself involved with someone who is a little more "accident-prone" than most, do you really want to do business with them? Even if the dog really did eat their homework?
And because today, I was introduced to TLDR (too long didn't read - so you don't have to Google it like I did), I'll just give you the other rules without the foreword for each.
  • Rule #5 - Communication in email/text will come in handy should things go sour. While signatures and actual paper contracts and such are the normal (or antiquated) way to go, we live in a digital age, where emails and text messages are just as solid in court as a signed contract. The definition of "in writing" has changed. So don't think that just because you don't have a signature on a piece of paper, you don't have anything to back you up should you need.
  • Rule #6 - Don't ignore your gut. Throughout the course of this situation with this client, I kept getting red flag after red flag and I kept justifying it in my head - talking myself out of what I knew to be true. People do this everyday in relationships, but it has no place in business. When you start seeing things that make you have questions, ask the questions and if necessary, sever the relationship. Protect yourself. Tis better to be careful, than to get screwed.
  • Rule #7 - Speaking of getting screwed, get your money (either all or partially) up front in situations/businesses that warrant it. For me, I'm a Personal Concierge/Lifestyle Manager, so once I do the work, it can't be undone. It's imperative of me to get paid in advance. I prefer all up front, once an agreement is made about what will be done and the costs, but I'm ok with splitting it up 50/50 or 1/3 in the beginning, 1/3 at a halfway point and 1/3 upon completion. You have to feel that out in a way that works best for you and your clients. The busy clients I work with don't have the time or the interest in paying as you go, they often prefer to pay it all so neither of us has to keep stopping in a project to take care of payments.
  • Rule #8 - Do your research. When someone wants to work with you, they are checking you out. It's in your best interest to obtain the information from them necessary for you to check them out as well. Sometimes, with a generic name, like Nikki Johnson, you're going to require a little more information in order to Google them. (Try it, Nikki Johnson will get you all kinds of results, but Nikki Johnson The Millionaire's Assistant is guaranteed to bring you the right results)
  • Rule #9 - When in doubt, don't. If you think a person is sketchy and then they start asking you for personal information like your ID or Social Security Card, business formation documents, tax ID information, tax returns (yes, I was asked), 1099s, etc - RUN! 2 words: IDENTITY THEFT. 2 more words: American Greed (great show on CNBC, if you haven't watched it, you should)
  • Rule #10 - If you ignore rules 1-9 and you end up in a screwy situation, it's important to remember this rule - DON'T HOLD GRUDGES - not with yourself and not with the other person. Figure out your next step QUICKLY and devise your plan for moving forward.
Nobody is perfect and as my friend said, when you're an entrepreneur, you're going to take some gut punches along the way, but you definitely want to minimize the hits by making sure you do your part on your end. As you're growing and learning, like I am, it's your job to make sure you get the lesson in any bad situation, understand what YOU did to contribute to the scenario, and make sure you do better next time. By all means, don't be too hard on yourself and in the event that you get screwed, you have a options - file a complaint with whatever board best fits the scenario (BBB, Attorney General, etc.) Don't quit (although at many points along the way you will want to) and don't let the less scrupulous people of the world get you down. I almost did, but I decided that I'm better than that.