In business there is always a lesson to be learnt, be it good or bad. Any entrepreneur will tell you that there is no cookie cutter recipe for success and you will make mistakes.
Success is measured by your ability to learn from your mistakes. They shape your management style and it molds your ability to safeguard yourself from repeating those same mistakes.
We had a very unfortunate incident a while back that I feel is important to share with you. It’s my way of paying it forward and sparing you the humiliation when an outsourcing relationship didn’t work out as intended.
I often ask myself how I allowed this to happen, and if there was anything that could have been done differently.
As you know, my business started out like any other, with limited capital, great ideas and a whole lot of hope for the future.
Now, nothing can explain how great it feels to serve your first client. It provides a sense of accomplishment that carries you through the good and bad times.
Over time my hard work paid off and I soon found myself and my team stretched. The time came to outsource some of my projects to keep our heads above water.
Finding a freelancer was easy and they were all referred to me. The quality of work produced was within scope, and my clients were happy. It all seemed like there was a good rhythm and we kept on moving forward. There wasn’t much need to second guess anyone. Or so I thought.
Then came one specific project for a good client that I simply didn’t have capacity for, so I reached out to my network of regular freelancers.
The brief was simple, everyone understood what was expected. It’s a process we were all accustomed to and there was no reason to think that it would ever change.
The project was completed on time, and within budget. The client was happy and so was I. I paid my freelancer and thanked him for his continued service.
Then a week or so later, I received a strange email from a person I’ve never met before. He claimed to have done work for this freelancer and that he was never paid. Stunned as I was, I immediately called my contractor to verify. But, low and behold- I couldn’t get hold of him, and a sense of unease started to settle when I looked at the evidence from this other person that clearly showed there was something amiss.
My freelancer didn’t return any of my messages and within a day, all hell broke loose. I had an angry freelancer demanding payment and my regular guy was nowhere to be found. Before long it was a sordid mess.
The mistake I made was to tell this other freelancer that I needed enough time to verify the facts (despite all the evidence substantiating his case). I was a fool for doing that, because I didn’t think of the bigger picture nor the risk. He reluctantly agreed but pointed out that he has proven to me that it was indeed him who did the work and that he was due payment.
Bare in mind this was a completely new and an unexpected experience for me. My judgement was blurred and compromised due to the pressure of the situation.
Two days later, the worst thing happened. This aggrieved contractor went to my client and explained what happened. The client called me, asking for clarification; and unfortunate results was, our whole relationship went south.
I tried to remedy the situation by paying the aggrieved contractor his fee, but by this time it was too late, the damage was done.
The client in question lost faith in me and took the business elsewhere and I couldn’t blame them. I was so distraught, I couldn’t believe what just happened.
In retrospect, I should have put some sort of service level agreement in place with any freelancer I used. This would have enabled me to have some sort of contractual mandate that would guide our rules of engagement (i.e. if I outsource to you, don’t outsource to someone else without my expressed permission etc).
I should also have done my homework by asking for a portfolio of evidence and some references. It all seems logical now, but trust me you don’t think of this when you are in the thick of the situation.
Even if your business relationship is online and across territories, doing a 2-minute introductory call via Skype or Gotomeeting, sure goes a long way in getting a feel for the other person.
Asking for alternative contact details also helps, because as mentioned I wasn’t able to contact this other freelancer. And till today, never heard from him again…
In the end, it’s about thinking ahead, making responsible decisions to safeguard you, and to take ownership when things go wrong.
I hope that I made you rethink the way you trust your suppliers so that you can already make provisions to prevent something like this from happening to you.
In my experience, most freelancers out there are professional, dedicated and hard working. It does however take just one bad apple to spoil it for everyone. Rather work smarter so that you don’t have to pay the price later because it is a lot harder to win back trust then to build it up.
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