Nasty Shocks

There can be a nasty shock just around the corner when you run a small business.

  • Copywriter Sam Thewlis had a client who published Sam’s work on his website but didn’t pay her for it – you can read the details on her blog, Mumazing.
  • Karen Sherr, owner of Musical Minis, is regularly contacted  by people who say they want to sign up to her franchise. In fact they are gathering information so they can copy her. (You can read how she feels about this on her blog, Learning Made Fun).
  • Then there’s Natalie Lue’s posts on Self Employed Mum entitled She’s trying To Destroy Me, giving advice on what to do when your admirers go too far and shamelessly copy you.
  • Back when I was a freelance trainer, I lost quite a bit of money when a training company I worked for went bust. They cheerfully let me run training sessions at their centre, knowing full well that the chances of them being able to pay me were remote. I got my letter saying they’d gone into administration the next week.
  • I’ve never had any clients stolen from me by other freelancers, but I know it happens.

Why would you want to know about this? Well, if you’ve gone from employment to being your own boss, you won’t have encountered these shenanigans before.  It can make you feel quite lonely and maybe even a bit of a fool. As if you should have seen this coming and done something about it. The truth is that usually, you just don’t expect this kind of thing to happen to you. Not unless you’re a total cynic.

Honesty is the best policy wherever you work, but having a good reputation is even more important if you’re self employed. Which is why I’m always stunned when I see self employed people using these types of tactics. I hope that makes me the decent, trustworthy kind of person that you’d want to work with ather than a naive fool!

If you were able to corner one of these people and ask how they could justify copying, ripping off, not paying up and generally putting their own needs miles ahead of other people’s, I’m guessing they’d argue that it’s nothing personal,  just business. I don’t agree. The dog-eat-dog style of business is out-dated. These days we have a much more collaborative, relationship-based way of doing things. Thank God.

So here’s a few things you can do:

  • Start with clear expectations – If you’re working  for another business, ask them for a contract or their terms and conditions. If there is no contract, confirm in writing what you’re going to do, when, for how much and when you expect to be paid. See Business Link for more about writing your own terms and conditions.
  • Read the small print – If you are given a contract to sign, read all of it. Challenge any points that you’re concerned about before you sign.
  • Have some savings – If you lose work or aren’t paid until well after you were expecting it, you’ve got a cash cushion to keep you going.
  • If it’s looking a bit iffy, keep a record of what you did – when you sent letters or emails, who you called and what was said. It’s easy to forget the details and the information could be useful if you do need to talk to a solicitor or go to the small claims court.
  • Be careful where you let off steam – It’s tempting to share your frustrations on social media, but you never know who’s reading. Future clients might think twice about hiring you if they’ve seen you slagging off a client in public, even if you were in the right.
  • Be careful about taking on very big contracts – it’s like putting all your eggs in one basket – if something goes wrong, you can lose months of work or money. On the other hand, you may feel it would be crazy to turn down a huge contract if you needed it. It’s a tough one, so all you can do is weigh up your options carefully.
  • If you think that the small claims court might be an option, look into it – It’s not as daunting as you might think and you can make a claim for up to £5000. Take a look at the Citizen’s Advice Bureau website for more info.
  • If you’re thinking of calling a solicitor – give Suzanne Dibble a shout, mumpreneurs are her speciality.
  • Don’t get bitter – it happens to us all eventually. Most people you meet are decent, honest and helpful. Don’t let the few that aren’t stop you from doing your thing. Onward and upward!

Do you have any advice to share?

Photo: Jessica Flavin

7 Replies to “Nasty Shocks”

  1. You are right, having never been self-employed before, I have never encountered this and therefore had not given it any thought.

    Thank you for the heads up. It is sad that it is needed. You would think that everyone would behave with integrity because after all, isn’t it as simple as ‘do unto others…’?

    Great post 🙂

    1. Emma, it’s such a shame, isn’t it? As if we haven’t got enough to deal with already! Thanks for leaving a comment :0)

  2. Excellent tips Helen. It is such a nasty shock when you come across your first big business hurdle, whether it is someone ripping you off or failing to pay up. Even eight years down the line my heart sinks when you see something like that approaching. It does get easier to deal with though, so reassure yourself just how much you are learning whether you are sending legal letters to a copy cat or chasing a bad debtor! And yes, get a good lawyer …. though right now I know Suzanne is on maternity leave she does have other’s she can refer you on to.

    1. Thanks Antonia. I think most of us who have been self employed for a few years have experienced something like this, but it isn’t often talked about. I guess we just want to move on and forget about it really, and who can blame us? Thanks for the mention of Suzanne’s maternity leave. Last time I saw her she only had a small bump, but now I come to think of it that was six months ago. Where does the time go, eh?

  3. Great post and thanks Helen for the mention – I can’t believe where the time has gone either! As Antonia says, I am currently on maternity leave but people should still feel free to contact me ( as I will be keeping an eye on my emails and I will then refer them onto the right person.

  4. You’re welcome, Suzanne. It’s a bit nerve-wracking to have your advice looked over by a solicitor, so I’m glad you liked it! Have a lovely time with your new baby :0)

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