Monday, October 29, 2012

Business 101: Enter with your Mind Alert at the Beginning! (Part I)

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*From the start of this blog, let me explain that the purpose for this disclosure of events is to help others who may find themselves in a situation that at some point sounds "too good to be true," or otherwise stonewalled and not getting things in written contract form.  People get stuck in bad business deals all the time, and they end up being hurt financially and emotionally.  For me in this situation, I have been very blessed to be surrounded by many people with years of experience dealing with business deals who could advise and guide me in the right direction and let me know when I needed to walk away from what turned quickly into a potentially harmful deal.  I am not one who runs from humiliation, and in fact don't see this deal not working out as something that should humiliate me at all -- rather it saddens me that someone would try to take advantage of another person in this way.  And I don't want to see that happen to anyone else. 

Big Business is not a natural thing for me, rather it leaves me trembling and sweating... at least that's how I would describe myself.  But along the way I've often had people tell me that I have pretty keen business sense.  And during the ordeal I've just come out of, I am thankful for any kind of business sense I did have available to me.  I'm also grateful for the many friends, fellow photog collegues along with photographers who run longstanding successful studios, legal professionals and anyone else who offered me their advice to help me make the best decisions and protect myself along this journey.  So let's start at the beginning...

The Beginning

Don't you love to hear how a relationship started?  That's always one of the questions at a Wedding Rehearsal Dinner or an Engagement Party!  Everyone wants to know how it all began!  Well, for this business relationship it started like this.... It was a lazy Monday afternoon at the end July, after an exciting weekend of sessions and busy-ness in my life.  My phone rang, and on the other side of the line was a (big name) photographer in town.  He owns the BIG studio that everyone sees as the Photography Mecca in our area.  He was very kind on the phone, introduced himself and asked politely, "Do we know each other?"  I told him, no, we had maybe met years earlier, but we had never really been around one another.  He asked me if I would be interested in discussing the possibility of me working for him, and I simply responded gratefully that while I appreciated his interest, I just really had no interest in being anyone's employee.  I further explained that I really love what I do, and I love having the freedom as my own boss to control my own schedule and be away when I wanted or needed to be away. I also explained that it is important to me to continue to offer clients my creative side, rather than ever be in a position where someone else was controlling my creativity.  He didn't seem surprised by my responses, and even answered back that he didn't think I would want to be an employee, but he thought he would offer that first.  Then he went on to ask if I would be up for discussing the possibility of a partnership.  Our conversation went back and forth for about 20 minutes total, and I hung up a little dazed by the entire occurrence.  Basically, by the time we said our goodbyes he had asked me to think about a partnership that would transition into taking over interest in the business.  After a certain number of years (and yes, a number was mentioned even at that point) I would then control the business completely.  But I would be working to earn that control during those years.  Some of my initial questions and comments were: I travel to the beach often, on conferences with my husband, etc. and I don't want to be in any arrangement where that has to change -- I was reassured that was not a problem - that he travels a lot himself and I would just schedule around my travel;  I told him I had worked very hard to build my business and didn't want to give up my name -- and I was told that he certainly didn't want that to happen either, that he saw keeping my name as a positive thing for the business. 

Anyone who knows me will not be surprised by what I write next.... but the first thing I did after hanging up was to start thinking of WHO I could speak with that could give me a bit more information and insight into this photographer.  I wanted to learn all that I could -- not about him as a photographer, but about him as a business person, as a human being, his reputation for being upstanding and honest and forthright.  I also wanted some insight into all that he had presented me with during this initial phone discussion. As I would with any kind of important call (whether it's with customer service, a client or anyone!) I had taken notes throughout our conversation and had written down each point he had brought up as well as each question I had asked along with his response.  The last thing I wanted to do was remember something incorrectly or have any misunderstanding of what was discussed. 

It's funny how often we can sometimes find in our lives just who we need when a situation comes along, but that was where I found myself at this point.  There were people who gave me some negative experiences they'd had, but I knew that would happen with anyone.  But many of the people that I spoke with said the same thing: they knew him to be upstanding, and I was just warned to be sure to have everything in a written contract if I decided to proceed.  There were a few warnings that I was given several times from different people, and I appreciated and noted these cautiously. 

Upon hanging up after that initial conversation, we actually left it that I would discuss with my husband all that had been presented, I would check "him" (this photographer) out further, and if I had any more interest or questions I would get in touch.  He left me his phone numbers to get in touch.  It was a rather busy week already for me, and as I generally get lost in what I'm doing I really had no time to think much further about this phone call, this proposal, or about what I might want to do.  Therefore, I also had no time to give him a call back.  That part of me that tries to never be rude to anyone reminded me at the start of the weekend that I hadn't returned his call, and I made a note to get in touch with him on Monday.  But my phone rang again before the weekend was over. 

On Sunday afternoon I was working on some editing in my office when my phone rang.  Honestly, I considered not answering it, as I was really lost in what I was doing and trying to finish up a clients session.  But like most people, it's hard for me to leave a ringing phone unanswered!  On the other end was the photographers business partner calling me.  She introduced herself, and simply stated that she was calling to ask if I had considered the offer for a partnership.  Being the overly transparent that I am, I apologized and explained that I had planned to respond to his phone call, but that my busy week had caused me to lose track of time, and the week got away from me before I knew it.  So she asked if I'd be willing to meet with him.  I checked my schedule and the two times I had available were Monday (which I generally leave open each week!) and a little bit of time on Wednesday.  We decided on a meeting for Monday afternoon.  Finally I would get some clearer answers on all of this, and I actually was looking forward to hearing what was to be said. 

Doesn't sound too bad at this point, does it?  And it actually won't for a I hope you'll come back for "Part II" and find out more of the story....

Disclaimer:  The purpose of these blogs is simply to share my experience, go over the warning signs that were there along the way and use my experience to keep anyone else from finding themselves in a situation that could end up hurting them.  I had very good advice along this journey, and I have walked away with just some hurt feelings and disappointment in how I was treated.  It could have ended a lot worse! 

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