Last week I was having a memory round-up (unbidden) of fairly recent occasions when bigger businesses than me had sought to bully me – and won. I don’t always have the energy, as a solopreneur, to fight every battle that comes my way. It is a matter of conserving my time, my energy and my focus for what’s really important to me, my own wellbeing and peace of mind, and my work with clients.
A British broadsheet newspaper took issue with our domain name and our business name, something we had been actively using and trading for profit for some time, many years ahead of them. They wanted to use something similar for themselves, a brand within their brand, which would have been similar to our name and they objected to us using our own name! I notice they are no longer doing the thing they wanted to squeeze us out of the market so that they could. Hmm.
A global website using a particular word which I love watched me form a domain name which incorporated that lovely word, set up a website and populate it with quite a large team of writers for 12 months before getting their hot shot lawyers to send me a cease and desist letter. I don’t know whether their MO is to wait until you have put a lot of work in before they get you to stop using “their” word, or whether they wait to see if you turn from a minnow into a smallish fish or what before they put their sharks onto you, but as a way of doing business, it rankles. They had not begun to trade in the way we intended but they could see the direction in which we were headed and felt threatened by that. After all, they “owned” that word. I really strongly resist the idea that anyone owns a word. Surely we all own all of the words in the world, don’t we?
A big photo agency who, although we’d followed their confusing rules and sought not to use their images illegally, still sent us a massive invoice which we paid to make the hassle go away. We later discovered that was just their normal business (sharp) practice and that their Ts & Cs were deliberately designed to confuse so that they could create this extra income. I have learned since that often the best way is to simply ignore something like that. If you reply they know you are a nice middle-class person who likes to pay her bills when she can and they know they’ve got a live one on the hook. Often, when you ignore them, it goes away. Effectively, they are trying it on.
A journalist who pretended to be something she wasn’t and wrote a piece taking a stance against something I was pursuing at the time. When her article was ready to go to press she came to me by phone, up against her deadline, to reveal herself and ask for a comment but I didn’t have time to give one that day, too busy doing fiscally-productive work helping others not destroying them. I am not sure I would have pandered to her even if I had had time. Fortunately, my friends piled in in my defence, commenting on her piece en masse, testifying to my character, knowing I live to serve (I’d even tried to help her!) and buried her article on page boondocks on t’internet. Good to know too that today’s articles still wrap tomorrow’s virtual chips, even online.
These were not just differences of opinion. They were bullying tactics. They were all examples of aggression which came out of nowhere. When I think of a couple of them now, they are flattering, that we’d managed to create something which a national or international brand felt threatened by. In fact, reading over what I’ve written here, I wonder if they haven’t bullied me into playing slightly smaller since those experiences?
When the reverse happens to me and people steal my ideas or my copy, I think that to surrender to feelings of darkness and revenge and to threaten or even let them know I know is just scarce and I laugh that they can’t think up their own ideas/words. They can never be me. Of course, if I had a trademark or owned the concept/brand, I might consider negotiation/retaliation, because sometimes you have to do that if someone is attempting to rip you off or pass off your work as their own or steal your IP. I wasn’t doing that to any of these people I describe above, deliberately or accidentally.
Business can be tough, and even after forty years in business, I am unprepared for the unscrupulous and consequently shocked. I think the Big U must occasionally send these reminders to me to get me to toughen up a tad. Mostly, it’s not working! My Grandpa used to say that the only person who makes any money going to court is the lawyers and I’ve also had the chance to discover that for myself too. It wasn’t fair and it wasn’t just and had I not been the defendant, obliged to – ahem – defend myself, then I would not have been involved in that either as Chris Evans concludes in one of the volumes of his autobiography in the context of his life-shortening legal battles with Virgin Radio.
But I remember when I stepped innocently into the dock to defend myself by telling my side of the story (for there are always two sides), the opposition’s barrister’s first few questions assumed that because I had been in business as an accountant for twenty years and because I was used to dealing with “businessmen”, his word, I knew how the darker side of commerce worked. I realise I did not, I do not and I hope I never have to discover that anymore. I’m a tiny bit tougher, sure. Perhaps wiser is the better choice of word. And I would resist more of this now, maybe. But better still not to attract it (or nasty bullies) in the first place if you can possibly create a vibe of abundance instead. Whatever you do, don’t let the poo stick!
My reality is that there’s plenty for all and that I have no need to go around threatening others in business, or taking them to court, or invoicing them unfairly or writing scurrilous articles about them. It’s been a while now since this was my reality. I am hoping this means something’s changed in me which means I no longer attract it. I feel sure of that, in fact.
I’ve just realised I was libelled too but chose not to pursue that either even though it cost me quite a lot of lost time and money and reputation, but going after the perpetrator legally was something I didn’t relish and I’m not sure he had any money either, so it would have been a pyrrhic victory. As I said, I choose my battles with bullies wisely, and with the ignorant. Doesn’t mean they aren’t out there though. Happily, not all that many of them or not in my reality and I hope not in yours. I read online there are many about. Watch your step, keep that vibe up as your Readybrek shield against such ne’er-do-wells and swamp dwellers.
I wonder what brought these thoughts to mind? Was it those scammers in their fake military uniforms wanting to become my pal on Facebook? Or is it my psyche warning me of an impending threat, or something I read, or a dream? Never mind, as you can read above, I am readier now. I’m not going to end with “bring it on”, a battle cry, because I much prefer to note these thoughts, let them subside and leave it at that. Bullies are no longer my reality, and six or seven bad guys in forty years don’t seem so bad, although if I am in business for another forty years I realise, as I write this, that I wouldn’t expect to meet that number again.
Bullies may have been my business and personal past but they are not my current or future reality. What a wonderful happy reassuring realisation.