My Life has been a whirling roller coaster ride of experiences with both incredible successes and major disappointments. While I once lamented this unusual Life ride, I now see all of my experiences, as an opportunity to both grow personally, and impart the knowledge I obtain from them, to my readers. Some experiences, like trekking off for an extended stay in Europe, were just so great that I want everyone to live them. While others were so awful that I hope to share them, in order that, you may be spared the same fate. Thus, for 2011 TGATP is starting a new category of monthly posts called “Life Lessons”, which will be my musings and best Life advice. Take from it what you can and will.
Unfortunately, this month’s experience falls into the “so awful” bucket but was a particularly interesting one, chock full of important lessons. Last year I experienced a betrayal that, while it led to a few days of heartache, ultimately gave me tons of business insight. Having always worked in some form of media, an industry notorious for treachery, backstabbing and other dirty dealings, I have naturally seen and survived a lot of it. I’ve had TV shows stolen, lazy partners, shady agents, obsessed copycats, the whole nine yards. But nothing quite prepared me for the sneaky business move, that was played out from someone I thought of, as a friend and ally.
The skinny: I absolutely adored Eve (not real name) and constantly touted her as a rising star in her field. From the moment I met her, I wanted her on every project I was working on and pictured her in all of my business scenarios. Not only did I have her attached as one of the host on a TV show I am pitching, I wanted to make sure that she was on board for my latest TGATP business foray into event planning. Ace in her field, smart, funny, glamorous, and also involved in numerous charities, this was no mere woman, this was a Gal, Just someone I held up as a gold standard. The type of gal that you would want to invite to every party you ever had and that you could imagine actually sharing the major moments in your Life with. In other words, a seeming rare jewel of a friend, a mensch.
Thus, when a major electronics firm approached me to help plan a series of parties for them and needed someone to handle their staging, I right away started talking her up. As design is her expertise, at my behest, she was brought in. Well, imagine my shock when she sent the client a budget proposal for her design services that included outsized demands that superseded my own and included her throwing a host of parties! She even demanded that her slate of parties were to be given first dibs on dates over mine and the client’s! I explained to her that her proposal was unacceptable and obviously infringing on my potential gig, so she claimed to me that she would withdraw her demands. But instead, she simply dug her heels in and went behind my back to the client. It was literally like finding your adoring husband in bed with another person, when I realized that she really didn’t care whether I got the gig or not. She was going to proceed with her demands. The supposedly stand-up Gal was, anything but, when it came to business!
Once I worked completely through Dr. Kubler-Ross‘ five stages of grief – denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance- I happened upon an amazing unread book in my library called “Never Make The First Offer” by Donald Dell. Tucking it in my bag and heading off to the beach, I completely devoured his sage advice. Dell seemed to be speaking to the exact situation I was in, particularly when he spoke of a former friend, who had lied to him and robbed him of a business. (As always happens, because God clearly doesn’t like ugly, Dell’s friend ultimately lost the business and a valuable ally, as did mine.) So here are the 8 lessons I learned from my experience and his book.
1. Friends can be worse snakes than strangers since you trust them more. When it comes to a good business opportunity or money-making idea, no one is your friend.
In business, it is best to treat everyone equally and as a potential competitor. It is especially important to keep your great cards pinned to your chest. Think about it. If what you have is go great, people are bound to want the same thing for themselves. In my case, it was not enough to offer my friend a piece, she decided to go after the whole enchilada. So do not expect your friendship to supersede an unscrupulous person’s greed or ambition. Especially if you, like I was, are dumbass enough to let them know what a great deal you have. My good friend Leander told me after hearing this story that you only have two friends in this world, Jesus and your Mama. This is doubly true when it comes to business.
2. Trust your instincts.
That niggling feeling in your gut is never wrong, trust it. My first conversation with Eve about the project involved her telling me to do what I was already planning to do, as if it was her idea and her plan, which set off an alarm. And her first encounter with the client also involved her stepping into my realm, so it should have been no real surprise when she tried to wrest my position out of my hands. When a snake peeks out of a hole, it is not a kitten that will eventually emerge! As Maya Angelou says, “Once someone shows you who they are, believe them the first time!”
3. Listen, Listen, Listen!
People will often reveal their real sides in very small comments, so it is best to listen very carefully. In his book, Dell advises that you listen much more than you talk. In my case, Eve stated that she admired my ability to create opportunity, which was a talent she wished she had. While I took this as a compliment, it actually revealed that since she felt incapable of creating opportunities for herself, she might be willing to steal other people’s! Dell suggests that you listen and then figure out ALL of the connotations both positive and negative of what an individual is saying to you.
4. Never refer people to a client that appear to have more cache that you do even if you have the same or more ability to implement strategy.
This reminds me of my Mom’s advice that even a very attractive woman should never go man hunting with a supermodel. In my case, I participated in my own undoing by over recommending Eve. I went on and on about all her numerous “Today Show” and “Rachael Ray” appearances and how much she could bring to the project. By the time she arrived, the client was oversold on her. Thus, despite the fact that I was bringing her on precisely because I saw her as part of my strategy for them, she arrived and made it seem like my ideas were hers! She was just ONE of the folks (many even more well-known than her) that I was bringing to the project. However, due to my talking her up, the client became so bedazzled that she mistakenly thought that Eve could bring more to the project than I would. I literally sold her instead of myself!
5. Do not bring your team on too early and get a non-compete signed before any introductions.
It is best not to introduce your team to a client until you are fully contracted yourself. Since I thought Eve was a friend, I saw no problem including her in the early conversations with the clients. But I now know better. Especially in a tough economy, where opportunities seem limited to the less faithful amongst us, unethical team members will see such an introduction as an opportunity to usurp you before your deal is signed. Best to solidify your position, then bring them on. In addition, for further protection, make any referrals and potential team members sign a non-compete. If a deal is great, you need to get a non-compete even if you are referring your Mama! No one is immune from the potential to want what you have for themselves.
6. Do not assume that a good resume and success implies integrity or business common sense.
This is one of my favorite pieces of advice from Mr. Dell, as I have fallen victim to this time and time again. In his words, “some of the most successful people in the world are some of the shadiest.” Do not confuse success with common sense, as sometimes it is more down to the individual’s alignment with someone else. For example, many successful people are not that bright themselves rather they have an agent or even a good friend, who is business savvy. Many times, just like they have screwed you, they have a path of people that they stepped over to get to where they are. In many cases, their success is simply down to good old fashion luck.
7. Don’t let your Love and Admiration for an individual cloud your business sense. In other words, don’t mix business with pleasure!
Women are often very careful not to let their relationships with a man cloud their judgment in business. But our so-called BFFs can often be our worst enemies. Again, best in business, to view your friends as simply people just like any stranger you would do business with. Eve’s antics were particularly painful as I feel, not so much a business loss (I have TONS of business ideas) but that I lost a friend.
8. And finally, don’t be too hard on yourself.
Time truly does heal all wounds, so let yourself have a few days to mourn your friend and move on. It is impossible to control bad behavior on other people’s parts or to help them see the light. In my case, I have tried to contact her several times, but Eve still sees absolutely nothing wrong with what she did and seemingly thinks I somehow wronged her! So there is no point making myself blue in the face trying to force her to see the error of her ways. As my one very intuitive UK friend pointed out, she is not losing any sleep, why should I? Stay faithful in the soothing belief that “no weapons formed against the righteous shall ever prosper.” It’s true. If a s0-called friend is willing to screw you over, she resides in a lower energy which will eventually come back to bite her squarely in her ass! While it would be entering a lower energy yourself to wish that on the person, you can rest in Faith that no one, who breaks the laws of the Universe, ever truly wins in the long run.
Epilogue: This story actually turned out for my own good. The clients did not end up working with Eve and we held a successful event. In addition, Eve unmasked herself to me before I involved her in any more lucrative business deals. And God Bless her, I had to crack a smile when I recently caught her on a Today Show Christmas segment doing her thing. She now solicits my gratitude as she played a vital role as a teacher in this scenario. Because while I may fall for something else, I will never be duped in the same way again.