Sunday, March 23, 2008

Avoiding Scams And Listening To Early Warning Signs

Sorry there haven't been any new posts from me in a few days but I was in some training (along with my already busy schedule) all week for what looked like a great opportunity.

A rather juicy carrot got dangled and 20/20 hindsight tells me I should've been more careful. A few things happened along the way and I continued to give the benefit of doubt. The benefit of the doubt is now reserved for friends and loved ones alone going forward!

I've spent a big chunk of the last few days examining the offers, examining the original job postings and talking to a few writing friends who were also in the training about what happened and there will likely be more to come once I catch my breath.

I've posted a little warning to other writers and those still going forward with the training in question on a WAHM forum post where, in a nutshell:
-What looked like an established company posted a blogging opportunity for bloggers for pay per post + revenue sharing in blogging and editing positions on a new blogging network
-The deal was open to 20 chosen people for 4 weeks unpaid training and either a blogger offer or an editing offer with paid training after the four weeks
-After the first week I was offered the first editing position and asked to help teach the rest of the classes. Excitedly I waited for the compensation plan part of the offer. I was rather shocked when I found out it wasn't revenue + salary it was a partnership position of 60% commission only. The company would keep 40% for hosting the blog and putting up ads. No guarantees but lots of talk of 6 figure incomes and sweat equity and talk about sipping pina coladas on the beach later on together. Is a commission only or revenue sharing offer ok? Yes, in the case where that is offered up front.

Revenue sharing alone is certainly not what the original e-mails and postings suggested....

In fact, it came out that anyone who didn't decide to become an editor could choose to go on a reserved list of writers who might be employed in future by editors for posting but the editors would pay for the posting, not the blogging company.

-After re-examining everything said and posted on the original forum, the training forum and in e-mails, I now believe I was pitched in a way that a classic MLM scheme might have been done. Well, at least I didn't buy a $200 kit of soap and I wasn't asked to refer 20 family members.

I don't see the value and what I do see is deceit. Maybe they'll do well and maybe their editors will get wealthy but there are no guarantees and at this time, all my non-paid efforts are going to go to either my own websites where I can continue on my own at 100% commission or to an area to help me as a writer for getting more gigs. I was signing up for salary + revenue sharing, not pies in the sky.

Some of the other red flags were:
-All 20 writers were told they could be editors
-The process was done informally and no contract or written agreement was offered prior to the training.
-The company didn't answer a e-mail with key questions just before the first week of training. I should've halted then instead of carrying on figuring my questions would get answered later.
-Many of my questions were not really answered. Double talking and skirting seemed to be happening and talk got more pitchy and MLM'ish as time went on.
-My last e-mail before quitting the training didn't get answered. Instead the owner put a clarification on the forum. Lack of addressing me directly after blowing that much smoke was a strong case of poor form.

I am always careful about scams. I don't think the company in question was trying to exactly scam anyone but they certainly were not forthright and I'm rather perturbed about the time I wasted. I am guessing they are from the typical school of hard sell sales pitching. They said they were intentionally vague to protect their business plan but the way it was done was not vague, in my mind, it was intentionally misleading writers into thinking there were guarantees when really, I think they wanted to psych everyone up and then drop the bad news after you were already convinced it was a great company and great opportunity. This way you'd take a chance and not want to miss out on 6 figure blogging incomes and beach side drinks with the other wealthy people.

I am sure I'll gain some knowledge from this whole experience because life and scams always teach you a valuable lesson and I will chalk it up to experience but must admit I am still seething a little from it.


Writing said...

What a wad of nonsense! These deals are such crap. Good for you for alerting writers to this horrid behavior!

Debra said...

Oh, Dana, how annoying for you. I'm sorry you had to go through the training before they showed their true colors. But thank goodness you didn't put in lots of extra work for them. I doubt you would have seen a penny of it. Thanks for the warning, and again, I'm sorry for your bad experience.

Dana Prince said...

Thanks Debra,
I'm surprised at how my gentle warning was received by some people on the wahm forum and I could've kept this info to myself and said nothing but I've come to find myself part of a writer's circle that supports and protects one another.

Samantha said...

Hi Dana. I'm a poster on the WAHM forums too, and remember that post. I too thought it was weird when everyone got offered an editor position but since I'm pretty new to freelancing, I still doubt my instincts. I'm sorry you had to waste your time with this "opportunity" but I'm glad you brought it to light.

Dana Prince said...

Thanks, Samantha!

suewrite said...

Thanks for making this public Dana but I am sorry that you had to find out the hard way - at least you didn't put too much into it.

Maria said...

I signed up for the same gig but I remained on the project. I think in the end, we go with our gut on things like this ... I linked to your post on my WAHM blog about this topic. :)

Dana Prince said...

Hi Maria
Thanks for stopping by and I wish you all the best with the new gig.

Theresa said...

You were right, Dana.

Dana Prince said...

What happened, Theresa?

Theresa said...

It was a total scam. They used us to build up a blog network, we never got paid even one cent, only promises of money, and now they are planning to sell a blogging class based on our work and possibly the blog network ... all with more promises of money. Everything that was said in the beginning changed and the owners just keep stringing everyone along, and some still believe their BS.

Dana Prince said...

I'm sorry that happened to you. It infuriates me that companies are out there selling on the benefits of sweat equity and then taking advantage of people. Hoping they get their just desserts and a lot of bad publicity.

Thank you for telling me.

Brenda Emmett said...

I think there were some great misunderstandings...The class is still free if you want to blog for Blog Island. The network isn't being sold.

Some people had asked about flipping sites and it was looked into and it was decided that it would be profitable to sell a small network instead of individual sites. A package of 5-10 sites for a network. That would bring in more money.

No one has to do it...only if they are interested. Please understand that some people have hurt feelings because some people were asked if they would be willing to do assignments for the project individually and knew about the project before they did. Some of the people think they need to be reported to by the owner on every step he takes before he does it. They fail to see that a business works this way and that they are just trying to make it easier by using people who have repeatedly stated that they had some extra time to help.

So I am sorry if people have hurt feelings, but they need to be sure that they are correctly informed before they make comments.


canadian_writer said...

While Brenda stated that no one had to do it the effort to take on this "new" task was diverting from the first task we had all signed up for--which was to build a profitable blog network and earn from that. The only new way to make money would be to take on even more work than we already had for the last two months.

To date the blog network hasn't made anyone any money and it seemed very dangerous to branch off on to something new when the first venture hadn't become a success yet. How were we to teach people how to make a profitable blog network when we hadn't been able to do it for ourselves first.

As for Brenda's comments on being report to--some of us had misgivings and expressed this to everyone in the group in the spirit of helping out other WAHMs. If someone discovered things that were of concern to an agreement I'd signed with a company I'd sure want to be told. Some of us did this out of the goodness of our own hearts in order to give everyone a heads up and suddenly there are meetings that we are not privy to.

Make no mistake--the only people that were not included in those discussions were the people that expressed concerns about the blog network.

This has nothing to do with hurt feelings. This has to do with a business' ability to follow through on what was promised in a signed contract.

Dana Prince said...

Thanks for stopping by, Canadian Writer & Brenda.

I hope I'm not coming across as condescending, Bren and I really hope that you aren't being taken advantage of.

Because you're being a great advocate for this company because you follow their listed mantra of believing that people are basically good, perhaps they're being extra nice to you because they know you'll defend them in public.

I've visited some of the blogs in the network and can see how much work everyone has put into them.

I'm glad my radar seems to have worked and protected me but am sorry others are being taken for granted. It really sounds like this company is looking to do just what I originally thought and that is to profit from others' sweat.

Doesn't it present as a win-win for them? They have nothing to lose other than time, paying for some url's and hosting fees and as an existing registered company, that could be a tax write off if it doesn't pan out for them. For everyone who is working so hard, sure you could hit pay dirt but it doesn't sound like it's being run very well and so it seems like only a win-win for them.

FoolMeOnce said...

Dana, you hit the nail on the head.

Scammed WAHM said...

I usually don't post negative comments on public boards. I learned a LONG time ago to keep them to myself and to learn from my mistakes.

As adults, we all need to make our own decisions. But, in this case I suggest that you think twice before going any futher than the free class that is offered, at Blog Island.

For a company that is supposed to know so much about making money blogging, I have seen no proof of this... and I've been there since day one. Now, I realize that their income projections were vastly overstated.

As Theresa mentioned contract terms have changed drastically, since mine was signed. There was never any mention of 'flipping blogs', until very recently.

Unfortunatly, I have learned that their are seemingly nice folks who take advantage of other peoples trust, to get what they want for little or, in this case nothing.

I'm sure my comment with be bashed by those who choose to remain. Please remember, there are two sides to every story. Consider your options wisely, before working for anyone, for free. As the saying goes... 'If it sounds to good to be true it probably is'.

If you want to learn how to make money blogging, there are MANY books and NO COST Internet resources that will teach you this. If you take the time to build your own blog network, the profits are yours alone. If you do it right, you won't have to share them with anyone else.