As you have probably heard before in my writing, I promote sharing as a great way to promote yourself and your work. I believe that the more you share, the better off you will be. Often, though, people counter that advice with, “But won’t others just steal my ideas or otherwise take advantage of me?” Yes, there are people who will take advantage of your openness, but I believe they are a minority. The benefits of sharing what you know far outweigh the actions of a few bad people. That said, it is important that you be able to identify those who are trying to take advantage of you so that you can avoid them as much as possible.
Friday March 18, 2011
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There are several “red flags” that can give you clear notice that someone is out to take advantage of you. This might often seem to be small, inconsequential things, but they are clear indicators of trouble ahead. If you run into any of these red flags, it is a clear indication that you want to proceed very carefully with any relationship. Don’t ignore your intuition. There is an old adage that says, “If it sounds to good to be true, it probably is.” You could also create a corollary to this. If is sounds suspicious/odd/dangerous, it probably is.
Red Flag #1: Asking you to discount your fees or defer payment
There are some occasions when discounting or deferring payment might be in your best interest. An unpaid opportunity might be just what you need to gain exposure to a new set of clients, but choose very, very carefully. If the first discussion you have with someone is about discounting your usual fees, it is often best to avoid an opportunity. Experience has shown me that those who ask for discount up front are often the most troublesome clients. It is never a good sign and clearly shows that they do not value your work as much as you do.
If someone asks you to defer your payment until the project is sold or otherwise funded, think very carefully. The person will often proclaim a host of non-monetary benefits the project will have for you — exposure, contacts, merchandise — but in many cases none of that actually materializes. If you do decide to defer payment, you need to very active in obtaining the supposed benefits. Too often, though, the benefits never materialize because your partner doesn’t have the ability to follow through on what they offered. Have clear guidelines about how much “payment” you expect, even if it is not measured in dollars.
Red Flag #2: Lack of a “bias towards action”
Another clear sign of trouble is discovering that your partner lacks a “bias towards action.” The more someone talks about something, the less they actually achieve. Here in Los Angeles discussions can go on for years without producing anything, if you let them. Make sure everyone you partner with has a bias towards action, or look for another opportunity elsewhere. Otherwise, you might wake up years later to realize that you have been spinning your wheels much too long.
Red Flag #3: Not meeting the clients
If your partner insists on being the only person to talk with the clients, the investors, the producers be very suspicious. This often indicates that they are taking sole credit for your work and may cut you out of the entire process the moment they think they can. If there are meetings with investors, make sure you are included and make sure your work is being clearly represented as your work. This is one of the most dangerous situations for you, as you can see your hard work being used to make money for others without returning a cent to you.
Despite these red flags, I advise you to continue sharing what you know as freely as possible. The fact is, just because people have some of your knowledge, this does not mean they can duplicate what you do and how well you do it. You need to share in order to be successful. Books, business plans, artwork or scripts do no sell themselves by sitting in a drawer. They must be shared in order to be useful. If you stop sharing your work, you will quickly find that opportunities will stop coming to you. Without sharing, no one knows the great ideas you have. No one understands how special you are. Don’t let your fears block you from great opportunities. Watch for red flags, yes, and avoid projects where they occur, but also look for those great opportunities that come your way.