Online Business – Be careful who you trust!

I have been sat on this one for a while, I had been thinking whether it was worth actually posting this or not, because one way or another it would become a name and shame article. As a freelancer, the long and short generally is – Time = Money. Time not spent working is possible Money not earned and when your freelancing its more critical than ever because you often are never sure when the next pay cheque is going to arrive.

UPDATE: Someone emailed me quietly i wont go into there email but they made the comment that i was using he/she and it could come off as demeaning, i have since where possible corrected this as i have no problems with the person themselves but rather its purely a business issue of protecting my livelihood in a manner of speaking, they also commented that my disclaimer inferred that i thought Bob’s mental status was related to their “transitioning”, i have since clarified this up as this is not what i think

It seems a strange start to a be careful who you trust article with such a comment but you will understand soon enough, but I start with my plea to all freelancers or self employed people out there, if you have offers of partnerships and business proposals, do some serious “Due Diligence” research before you commit, you will see how I failed below, make sure that such a proposal is sensible, the person has a generally good background, don’t be afraid to ask any questions about things you are unsure of, importantly if money is involved make sure the financial background is clear and that there wont be any foreseen snags down the line and most importantly get things in writing and keep ALL communications between yourselves. Anyway here is how I failed bad, for niceness I wont name the person that I basically got screwed by but I will name the project names so that you can be aware of them

Beginning of march this year the person (will refer to them as Bob from now to protect their identity) Bob, posted a request in the forum, which I frequent to keep an eye on the service for issues and help out to get my name known a bit, Bob basically needed a server guy and a designer to help get their web hosting company idea off the ground and running and rolling, the deal seemed simple, Bob would provide the cash-flow to get the resources we need to get servers etc up and running, Bob mentioned somewhere in the thread that they were dying of heart failure and didn’t know how long they had left (1-10 years possibly) and wanted to get something off the ground and not have it die with them essentially (alarm bells should have been ringing here!) I PM’ed the user on the forum registering my interest not expecting to hear anything as i was expecting a lot more replies to him and got a response and conversation between the 2 of us, Bob also shared that they had just bought a new iMac for him to work on for the new project – I thought at this point in time, great they must be serious if they have the funds to by a top spec iMac.

Myself, Bob and another designer (will call him Al, his ID doesn’t need protecting as he is a solid designer and reliable but I said I wouldn’t bring him into this issue so sticking to my word) Al started to work on this, we got things like Basecamp running for the project management and started brainstorming all the ideas and things we would need to get this going and lots of tasks were assigned and servers rented to start setting up and I was assigned the tasks of setting up servers etc, Al was assigned the design aspects of theming billing systems etc, Bob was responsible for management and strategy decisions and getting content. Initially there was a great buzz, there was lots of activity and things were getting done, then after about 3-4 weeks we hit the first snag, Bob had gone off radar, they weren’t responding to emails, wasn’t on Skype or aim and importantly wasn’t making comments in basecamp, we had gotten to a point where we couldn’t move forward without Bob making a few decisions (mainly financial) – again more alarm bells should have been ringing.

I left it a few days and then sent an email to Bob, CC’ing Al in saying I was concerned about the project and for it continue there needed to be open comms, Bob replied back reasonably quickly saying he was sorry etc and that they were concerned about how some of the comms were being done (via campfire – now I realise it is because its transcribed, there is a record for everyone – i.e. no doubt what was said) and that they had stepped back for a few days to “think” along with having some other health issues to deal with (which I thought was reasonable – personal health always takes priority over work in my opinion) Bob got back in the loop and we started moving forward again at this point Bob raised the discussion topic of project title, up until this point we had been working under the name for the project but seems to be no longer in use) but he wanted to use the name (now expired) or even (currently seems to be attempting to setup under this banner.) Bob chose

So designs were progressing, I had secured and optimised a few servers and got them ready for use in deploying hosting clients on to etc, at this point was started getting some content onto the website being built, it was a blatant copy paste job initially (and a bad one at that) but I thought this was just filler to fill the blanks to visualise what the site would look like, it became clear that this was not going to be the case and again for the second time after another 2 weeks or so later Bob went off radar to us, but was still super active on the forum and on a new site (which was later found to be just plagiarising content, and has now been transferred to a new owner that actually writes new content) as a division of the first company name, at this point i had had enough and decided to bow out quietly and gracefully from the project and Al had also concluded it was a safe time to stop as he actually needed to focus on real paid work, I was lucky that at the time I was doing it in my spare time so it wasn’t quite as much of a hit as for Al but still a hit all the same and a lot of work I could have otherwise done and earned extra money.

I had decided that that was the end of the matter and that everything was over, but a couple of weeks later Bob posted in forum something along the lines of not being able to afford an iPhone and asking for sponsorship to do strange (and probably funny) things so that they could raise funds for an iPhone. Bob said that they would donate any extra to charity. at this point was when Big Ben really started going off in my head and I couldn’t sit back and watch people take in somethingthat just didn’t make sense. I do not know which story is true but this story didn’t correlate with the one they had previously told me so I felt compelled to share something in the thread and at least get people to check there facts, I tried to be calm, honest and polite and just convey what I knew but it quickly turned into Bob having a real go at me and and sent some rather impolite messages, that if we strip the expletives out gave the excuse that they did not tell me to do the work (despite me having emails to prove the contrary). I politely responded back that I had this proof and was prepared to invoice them, I got a rather rude but shorter response back and Bob asked [the admins] to have the thread they started deleted and their account banned.

I was going to let it go again at this point but I noticed recently on twitter that Bob (or maybe I should use Bobbie as they are in the process of “transition”) that Bob mentioned that they had clients and resold at the time I was tired and gave a slightly short and sarcastic message to them that I didn’t realise they had clients to worry about (I was talking about their downtime issues that they were telling the world about). I decided to do some digging and found that lo and behold Bob is attempting to sell hosting under the name of (and quite probably using setups and designs that we had generated as part of the previous business venture) what was worse to me was that Bob was doing it so badly and the website is an absolute mess (I wouldn’t be surprised if it disappears soon after this post) so I decided enough was enough, I couldn’t let it continue, Bob is giving a bad name to the web hosting industry in general just from their website and I didn’t want to let users sign up without being aware of Bob’s clear instability or let my work be used without being paid for essentially

DISCLAIMER: I do not know what Bob’s background is financially, health wise or even mentally, from reading Bob’s blog they have mentioned mental health issues such as depression etc, his heart failure story (which hasn’t seemed to have been mentioned recently) and obviously he is in the process of “transitioning” (I am not saying his mental health issues are in any way related to his “transitioning”) – last I read Bob had a deed poll to change his name to a female one and was needing a witness to sign it. all I can safely assume is this person has problems and needs professional help which it looks like they are getting and is not stable enough to be trusted with a client website or VPS and is good at plagiarising.

Mistakes I Made and Lessons I learned

  • I never asked enough questions up front, specifically financially related, I wrongly assumed it was all ok based on other comments Bob made – Lesson: ask lots of questions if you are unsure, seriously do it, it could protect your livelihood. If they are serious, they will be able to answer all your questions comprehensively and in reasonable time.
  • I didn’t confront issues immediately I let them wait a few days, ok this was partly due to doing it in my spare time and not being able to get to certain things straight away but that shouldn’t be an excuse – Lesson: always communicate and talk about issues straight away, if the person is serious they wont go off radar without warning you and leaving suitable provisions in place, if they are really serious they wont go off radar and critical moments at all.
  • I should have got things in writing, while email is a good record tracker it cant really be called legal documentation, this makes any possible legal case harder to fight as its a, “He said, She said” scenario – Lesson: don’t be afraid to ask for some sort of formalisation of the agreement – it doesn’t necessarily have to be a legal document but something that you both can sign (scan and email if you have to) which states clearly what if any financial outcomes are and responsibilities, this will stand up much better than a bunch of emails. Again if they are serious they won’t have a problem with this

I can’t say how this is progressing but this is not the end of it, I am moving things through appropriate channels and hopefully once resolved I can more fully let you know.

Sorry for a really long and boring post but seriously BE CAREFUL with who you trust online in a business arrangement and always check and ask questions, if its too good to be true it probably is.

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