With any start-up business, you have many ups and you have downs. The first year is one of the hardest years as you’re not only trying to grow your start-up business, but you’re trying to learn about all aspects of business as you go (assuming you’ve never owned a business in the past). You’re making mistakes, but you’re learning from them. Unfortunately, some of those mistakes can cost you a lot of money. Here is a personal experience I thought I’d share with you from when I first started Weik Fitness, LLC.
Jumping in before you have your ducks in a row
What I’m about to share with you is a lesson I learned the hard way when I started my business. As some of you may already know by reading these articles, I write content and copy for businesses. The first week that I officially started my business I got an offer to write copy for a supplement company. I knew both of the guys in the company since I was in the supplement industry the better part of ten years. The owner was starting a new line of products (he had other brands in the past) and needed copy for the labels as well as for the product pages on the website. I gave him a quote to which he agreed upon and away we went creating the copy—without a contract/signed agreement. I think you probably already know where this is heading. I wasn’t thinking. The opportunity arose and I jumped right into it to kick-start my business. I trusted these individuals and even though I knew them, I should have known better than to start work on a project without a contract in place. And it bit me right in the butt.
Not a good start to the start-up business. Not everyone can be like this, right?
I’m the type of person who dives into his work and will put in however many hours necessary to complete a project in a timely manner. That first day I was already sending over pieces of copy for them to view. There was a lot of back and forth going on and many revisions to make it perfect. Finally, one by one they were approving the copy and things were moving along. After confirming everything was approved (this all didn’t happen in one day), I sent them the invoice to be paid and thanked them for allowing my start-up business to service them.
Then all of my excitement was deflated like air leaving a balloon. Days turned into weeks. Weeks turned into months. No payment. I’d call and leave voicemails. They were never returned. I’d email all parties within the company who I was working with. No reply. I’d text them. No response from anyone. What was I supposed to do?
I reached out to my attorney for advice. Due to the amount, they said it probably wouldn’t be worth pursuing anything legally as the fees involved would eat up a chunk of what I’d be getting from them anyway. He told me to suck it up, take it on the chin, and move on—look at it as a learning experience. And what a learning experience that was! I was out a good chunk of money AND I had to obviously pay my attorney for his time to consult me as to what to do with my problem.
This obviously wasn’t a good start to my business and I started thinking about if this is something many businesses go through even with contracts? Are there more people out there like these two individuals who refuse to pay people because they know the amount isn’t large enough to take them to court and eventually you’ll just give up and go away? Does the contract in the end really mean anything if the sum of the funds due isn’t $10,000+?
The most interesting part of this whole this is that the two individuals that I worked with on this project for their supplement company are both millionaires. The thought that two millionaires couldn’t follow through with what ultimately is such a small payment in the grand scheme of things, especially being that I know these two guys, left a really bad taste in my mouth.
The outcome and lessons learned
I’m not sharing my experience because I want to scare you out of thinking you open your own start-up business. But the reality of my situation is real and it happens to many people, unfortunately. Could I put my story out on my blog or social media using the actual company’s name and people who screwed me in an attempt to warn people about doing business with these guys and their brand? I sure could. Yet again, my attorney said it’s not worth it in the end. Everyone in the industry knows these two individuals, so it would open up some eyes. Yet, what would that do for me? Nothing. Would that make them want to finally pay me after 12 months of non-payment? Nope. In fact, they’d probably come after me with a lawsuit—which I don’t need on top of not getting paid.
What I want you to think about is protecting yourself. Make sure you have your contracts and agreements in place that when you take on work you have a signed document outlining what the work entails, how it will be paid, in what timeframe, and the consequences of non-payments or late payments. Do some background investigation on companies looking to do business with you on large projects. I don’t want you to think that everyone is out to screw you, but the possibility is real. If you find information on a company or their owners that doesn’t agree with your morals or ethics, stay away. This was an expensive lesson I learned, and I’d hate to see you go through the same thing. I wish you the best of success with your start-up business and hope something like what I experienced never happens to you. I’ve learned from it and put the necessary pieces in place to ensure it does not happen again. You should think about doing the same thing as well.