Home > The Monday Musings Column > Mistakes are where you learn

Mistakes are where you learn

Although I don’t do much in the small business sector I do still keep in touch if for no other reason than that I am a small business and one of the topics that often comes up is the problems that small businesses face in not getting paid, either on time or at all. It is a perennial problem, so I’ll share here one of the times that I allowed myself to get screwed.

It was barely 6 months after I had gone freelance. This was 2008 and in the Summer I had done fairly well in getting my own business off the ground, but then came the financial crisis and things didn’t look so good with one contract cancelled and another postponed until the following year (that got canned too in the end).

So when a known contact wanted to meet I was enthusiastic and what he and his fellow director wanted was well within my skill set. I put in a proposal and was given an order within the week. The first stage was a scoping exercise and the production of an outline strategy for setting up a new arm of their business and I was quickly on job. Eight days work over a three week period and at a good day rate was the perfect tonic at a time when my diary was looking a bit sparse.

With a presentation ready I headed in, not to the company’s office a mile up the road from home, but to a local hotel. “Less distraction here” they said, and I gave them what I had. After some questions they were not only satisfied, but commisioned me to produce a more detailed plan; the tactics to implement the strategy. I left them with my invoice for the first stage of the work and went home to stage stage two; another eight days work to be delivered before the end of the month.

I prodcued the second piece of work and, once again, met the client at the hotel to present what I had done. They seemed very pleased and I passed on the second invoice. This time I headed home to pack for three weeks abroad.

The trouble started half way through that trip when my debit card was declined. I wasn’t unduly concerned because such things are a hazard on overseas trips and itr had happened before. Then it happened again and this time my alternative card was declined too. The internet was not then what it is now and with an almost twelve hour time difference contacting my bank by telephone was not easy, but I managed to find out that a transfer from my business account at one bank had not been made to my current account at another with the obvious knock on effect.

When I got home I went round to see my client and found the gates locked. On an notice attached to them was the name of the appointed receiver. I subsequently discovered that the company had, by engaging me, been trading illegally as they had gone bankrupt the day before they placed the first order with me. The hotel meetings had not been to avoid distraction, more to keep me away from their offices.

There is a difference in price and cost. I was out by a significant sum in terms of income, but what had it costs me? What I hadproduced was not wasted; it was good experience and I was not hugely out of pocket for I had worked from home and not travelled more than half a dozen miles for the two meetings. The problem was my own fault for I had not done even the most basic of checks, but had instead trusted a contact that I only knew vaguely.

By such things you learn and I haven’t been screwed since.

 

 

 

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