Everyone you run across is not attempting a sophisticated heist. Yet, if you run a successful business for any length of time you will eventually encounter a con-artist or two.
You know the type… shady characters with ulterior motives and cruel intentions (pun intended). The problem is that most people tend to realize they are being taken advantage of, after it’s too late.
As an entrepreneur you should know how to respect yourself. Similarly you should also help others learn how to respect you. While your instinct is often reliable, there are practical and tangible ways to prevent yourself from being taken advantage of in business.
As a leading female entrepreneur, I’ve learned how to navigate the usual suspects and their shady business practices. Here’s a look at 5 signs you should watch for before you strike a deal.
1. They are deliberately vague
Much of business is black and white. It can be planned, executed, measured and optimized. People aren’t data, of course. But you can easily calculate when something doesn’t add up.
If you pay close attention we are always telling others precisely who we are. When it comes to your livelihood there is little to no room for gray areas. If a new business partner is unwilling to flesh out the details of your joint venture or a negotiation lacks transparency, walk (no, run) away. Never let your eagerness to turn a profit make you lose sight of who you’re dealing with.
2. They play the victim card frequently
Many entrepreneurs are taken advantage of simply because they let their feelings drastically override their business sense.
Be watchful for people who often share exaggerated complaints about their hardships to make you feel sorry for them so they get what they want. If every money conversation is a hassle, it’s time to rethink the partnership. Business has much to do with reciprocity. There’s a stark difference between empathy and thievery. It’s okay to make concessions, but do they make sense?
3. They won’t sign on the dotted line
Don’t let people tell you a contract is just a piece of paper. So is money and I’ve yet to see a dollar in the trash. Contracts set a mutually agreed upon standard. The fundamental purpose is unwavering: to define the responsibilities of all parties involved with respect to a desired outcome.
If you’re an American, like me, you live in the most litigious country in the world. “According to the American Bar Association, there are currently 1,116,967 lawyers practicing in the United States, which relates to about one for every 300 people.” There’s no shortage of strangers (and “friends”) that will praise you today and sue you tomorrow.
Neil Patel, founder of Crazy Egg, candidly shared his story of a business partnership gone wrong. Allegations of money laundering and mismanagement of funds cost him upwards of six figures. Between buying out his former business partner and legal fees, he counts the experience as a costly mistake.
4. They are masters of shiny object seduction
Your business acumen must be bigger than your ego. Don’t let people manipulate you with charm and flattery, and play on your need for approval or sales. If you let everyone whisper sweet nothings in your ear you will easily be taken for a ride (and were’ not talking comfy and sleek Uber Black here).
Entrepreneurs that are easily seduced by shiny objects end up chasing after things that on the surface look appealing but upon investigation prove to be a waste of time and money. Ask yourself 3 questions:
Will this benefit our customers?
Can we afford to invest our resources in this area?
Will this grow our business? If so, how?
If you can’t gauge a clear answer on all of the above proceed with caution. Shiny objects are pretty, but often produce little in return.
5. They attempt to guilt you at every turn
Unfortunately, there are people that will use your conscience and desire to be a good person to control and manipulate you. Before you say yes, ask yourself, “Why am I saying yes?” It’s a simple step that can save you future hassle and headaches.
It’s easy to make the wrong decision when you’re pressured by someone. Jamie Turndorf, PhD, points out in Psychology Today, “Nobody can take you on a guilt trip, if you aren’t willing to pack your bags and take the ride.”
If you’re not used to saying no, then take a more palatable approach. For example, “I appreciate the offer, but we don’t have the bandwidth to handle your request.” If the pressure is still on then pull out the big guns, “Thanks for the consideration, but this is not a good fit. I’ll be in touch should things change.” Keep it simple, effective and to the point.
Reclaim your power
More often than not, people take advantage because you give them the opportunity. You can be all of the wonderful things you are and still have boundaries.
There’s no practical reason to do business in a perpetual state of anxiety. As a founder it’s your responsibility to be smart. Conduct your due diligence. When you take a professional approach to business and respect it, others will too. And if they don’t – the deal is off the table.