Hey, it is Cathryn Warburton again, your legal lioness and we are talking about bullet
proofing your business. Business bullies, is one of the topics that really gets me going. Bullies are something that I do not tolerate at all and in fact that’s one of the reasons why I do the job that I do, because I was bullied mercilessly as a child and the day that I stood up to my nemesis, he stopped bullying me and he actually stopped bullying a whole lot of other kids as well, then I realized the power of standing up to the bully.
So the mistake that people make in relation to business bullies is twofold. One, is just being really trusting and assuming that people are going to be honest and decent in business when that is not always the case. The second one is not being prepared for business bullies. The first one, it’s fairly easily solved, if you have a deal with someone and you put it in writing, which I discussed in another module in this course, you should be fine. More difficult for people to deal with, is when people are actually threatening your business and threatening your livelihood.
I had a client, Jackson, who traveled overseas to do some coaching with an overseas client. The overseas client turned out to be a bit of a stalker and this overseas client became very bullying and threatening, so Jackson didn’t feel safe, and he had to report it to the police. He contacted me on Facebook because obviously he was overseas and he couldn’t ring me, and asked me for advice on what to do. It was a very difficult and stressful situation and that is the most extreme case I’ve seen in my 20 plus years as a lawyer.
It is important to remember that not everybody is mentally stable, not everybody that you come in contact with is going to be rational, so it becomes extra-important to work out exactly what the boundaries of working relationships are. The person who had been stalking Jackson had somehow believed that this was going to be a romantic liaison and Jackson was very much married, so this was never going to be the case. But he hadn’t really put any boundaries or rules in place before he left for his trip. So what do you do about business bullies?
Number one, you have career boundaries in place, which might be your terms and conditions, or might be in a collaboration agreement. Even bullet points are better than not having anything at all, you need to put down exactly what your obligations are and what the other person’s obligations are. Also, what will happen if things go wrong, what would’ve happened if Jackson had missed his flight for example, so get your boundaries clear. Number two, is practical more than anything and is having a really good vetting process for your clients.
What I mean by this is very often people have or businesses will have a process by which there is a client questionnaire, for example on your website in which you get the client to fill out a questionnaire which will weed out some of some of the unsuitable clients. A lot of distraction and distress happens where businesses and clients are mismatched, so you might offer a Rolls-Royce service, they might be wanting a VW Beetle. You might be offering a do-it-yourself while they might expect you to do it all for them, and so a qualifying questionnaire can weed out some of the problematic elements.
Even if you have a robust vetting process in your business, sometimes you can still have problems. Just yesterday I was helping a client of mine, Jennifer, who runs a coaching program and she requires a deposit up front when she starts and then there’s more money that needs to be paid. Like many coaching programs, the deposit is nonrefundable and one of the reasons Jennifer does this is to make sure that the client is committed before they start, because she doesn’t want to work with anyone who doesn’t wanna work with her.
So the conversation yesterday was about a client who had accused Jennifer of unethical tactics and sales tactics, and was just being quite outrageous. If any of these things that the client had said were made public, they definitely would have amounted to defamation. It was just quite horrendous and it was some personal attacks on Jennifer and her staff. She’s got a fairly big organization and this person signed up and then changed their mind and then became quite vicious, my eyes were watering with some of the comments that I was reading. So whether it’s you running your business yourself or you’ve got clients that are dealing with customers, it is important to understand that sometimes people are not going to be kind and sometimes people are gonna be insulting and rude and sometimes they lie.
Sometimes they are dishonest and they will say you did something when you didn’t, or you promised something when you didn’t, so that’s why it is so important to always keep a record of conversations you have with people. In my own business, I actually do audio recordings of all of my telephone calls, all of my meetings that I have with clients are audio recorded. If I have a Zoom online meeting with you, it is recorded and these recordings have been invaluable to me in the past. I’ve been doing this for 20 years and it’s very occasionally that you get somebody who goes off the rails, but sometimes they do.
I personally had one client who accused me of doing the opposite in her case that she instructed me to do. It was an intellectual property case and I had recommended settlement and she was adamant she was never settling with this American giant multinational company. I thought the settlement offer was extremely fair and I suggested very strongly that she accept it, but she was not interested. She wanted to prove her point and she wanted to have her day in court. Six months go past, we go through the whole legal process and it’s getting now to the point where it’s about to actually get in front of a judge, and she phoned me furious saying why didn’t I suggest to her a basis on which to settle?
Then she came up with this great settlement plan which was exactly what she had refused six months before, and I told her we did discuss it here’s the link to the recording. I get people’s permission to record them and when I do the recording, my clients love it because then they get me twice. They get me in the meeting or on the phone call and then they get to have the advice again when they relisten to it, so it serves two purposes. It’s pretty cool to have to be able to listen to it again, but the second thing is that it makes sure that there is no misunderstanding, because if that thing with my client had gone further, how would I have been able to prove that she was making it up? But it’s quite clear when you listen to the recording.
Interestingly, this particular client was one who, when I traveled on holiday and lived along part of the route where I was traveling and we went out of our way to go to where she lived and I met her and we had lunch. She met my children and I felt that she was so lovely and we had a personal connection and we had similar stories and I felt we could be friends. I trusted her, but I still did the right thing by keeping proper records and being professional about it. Sometimes with small business owners, they don’t want to be documenting everything because it kind of feels weird, it might feel like you are saying to the person you don’t trust them, but it’s not that at all.
You provide a copy of the recording or notes of your conversation because that’s the professional thing to do and sometimes it’s gonna help you if the person has a different recollection of reality than what you do. Especially when you’re doing business with family or friends, this rule of keeping records of what’s being agreed is really important. Sometimes we can be a little bit more relaxed with our record keeping not expecting anything to go wrong, and very often all you have to do is show the person the notes or let them listen to the recording and then that’s the end of any potential dispute because they can’t argue against it. It helps stop people who are going to try and bully you before they even get started.
Another type of business bully that is out there are the ones that want a freebie. I read in the paper the other day about a youtube star who wanted to stay at a motel for free. She wanted to stay at a motel for free, and the motel owner said to her, “how is that gonna help me pay my staff who I have to put on to clean your room and feed you?” It turned out actually she hadn’t done her research because this motel owner was very social media savvy, and he had four times more followers than she did. It sort of came across as if you let me stay for free, I’ll say nice things about you and if you don’t, I’m going to trash you. He then put the exchange on social media without revealing her name. Then she came on to social media ranting and going crazy and saying, how can you say these mean things to me in front of millions of people?
But he didn’t reveal who she was, she revealed her identity, so there was a massive backlash against her, because it was quite clear from the exchange that she had been fairly threatening, when he decided not to give her the free weekend. So in that situation, it actually worked in favor of the motel owner, because everybody said I’ll come and stay at your motel in Scotland because you’re so awesome and you don’t bow to pressure.
But what happens in your own business if somebody says you’ve sent me something and it’s broken, but you’re confident it wasn’t? Or you’ve not provided the services you promised to provide? Firstly make sure it’s very clear in your terms and conditions what it is you’re providing and what they are paying for and under what circumstances you offer a refund if any. Talk to the person, sometimes it’s just a miscommunication, see what else you can do to resolve the matter without escalating it. But sometimes people just want to fight, so understand that. If you speak to somebody in a dispute situation, be very careful about what you say because anything you say can be held against you, so it is very important not to apologize.
I’ve had so many clients come to me after they’ve received a letter of demand from Getty Images about infringing copyright. Clients will come to me and say “I’ve sent this email and the email says, I’m so sorry. I didn’t know I was infringing,” by doing that they’ve just admitted that they’ve infringed. So don’t ever apologize, although it’s human nature to do so. My mom got into a fender bender, where somebody crashed into her car, and my mom got out of her car and went, I’m so sorry are you okay? And that actually nearly invalidated the insurance claim that my mom filed because the insurance stated they’ll pay provided you haven’t admitted liability and an apology is taken as admitting liability.
When you apologize, sometimes it’s taken as a legal admission that something has gone wrong, an admission that your service has been defective or all your product was bad, for example. So be careful about apologizing sometimes it really is necessary to get a lawyer in at that stage and sometimes a legal letter is the only thing that will stop the business bully. I had a client and her daughter is actually a social media up-and-coming star, she’s not really well known, but she’s got thousands of followers and does unboxing videos. Where you send her something, she opens it up, tastes it and then she tells you if she thinks it’s wonderful or not.
According to Australian law, you cannot engage in conduct that is misleading or deceptive in trade, so this is her trade, this unboxing, so she cannot give false testimonies. It has to be true, she was paid $200 to open three of things for three different makeup types of makeup, it was lipgloss, there was something else, and then there was eye mascara. So she did the first one, she loved the product, beautiful review. Second one, she loved the product, beautiful review. Third one, she was pretty happy with it, but what she said was, for her personally she didn’t really like the look it creates, while some people do like the looks it created, but she probably wouldn’t buy it, because that was not a look she liked. She was very fair and everything else she said was very positive, and then she received a threatening letter from the talent agency saying that they were going to tell all of their clients that she was irresponsible, unprofessional, and unreliable.
She had tried to be reasonable with them but there was really not much she could do, so I sent a letter on her behalf and told them that if we became aware of any such comments being made, it would amount to defamation and we most certainly would be considering taking it further. We then got a letter of apology saying “sorry, that’s not what we meant, we said we’re gonna say all these mean things about her, but we weren’t actually going to.” They just wanted to force her to give a good review, which was against not only her personal moral code, but actually illegal according to the Australian consumer law. So in that situation, what got them to back down was a legal letter from me telling them in no uncertain terms that we would not tolerate this business bullying.
Business bullying is always a painful situation, but sometimes you do need a strongly worded letter just to cut things off at the knees. I also find with some of my clients that if things go wrong for them and then they get a bit of a pushback from their clients, sometimes if you take a hard stance in one situation, you’ll get a reputation as somebody who knows the law and is not scared to enforce it. For example, I have got a client who is a photographer and she takes it very seriously, the word on the street is don’t mess with that particular photographer because she will not tolerate it if you infringe her copyright. So sometimes spending a little bit of money to resolve one potential dispute gives you a reputation and which can help you avoid future legal disputes because people know to not mess with you.
So, business bullying is real and you need to be careful who you deal with, try and check people out as much as you can, have your terms worked out as much as you can. But at the end of the day, in business most of us are gonna come across people who are dishonest. So it’s important to have an idea in your mind as to what you’re going to do if you find yourself in that situation. Some of our clients actually have a business buddy and if they have a difficult business situation they will talk to their business buddy about it, and sometimes the business buddy can give them a suggestion for a solution. Brace yourself, because it can be a bumpy ride, but that’s all part of the excitement. So hopefully you are not experiencing business bullies, but if you are book in and have a chat with me because very often I can brainstorm a good solution for you.