Jerry Seinfeld used to tell a joke about the dining experience people have. He explained how when you’re first seated in the restaurant you look at the menu, thinking about how hungry you are getting excited about all the options. Inevitably you order more than you need and have a wonderful meal. Later on you’re full and content, and sitting at the table satisfied. Then the check arrives you can’t believe how much it is. You look around the table, cigarette in the mashed potatoes, belt loosened, and you think, who ordered all this food? I’m not hungry now. How could the bill be so much?
Like a lot of Seinfeld’s comedy, this smart observation touches on the core of human nature. But the same also applies to business relationships, whether it’s customers, clients, employees, partners or vendors. I recently had a deal that went bad that reminds me of the childish mentality that Seinfeld describes.
I was originally approached by a “friend.” He was a desperate business owner who needed more clients. In short, he seemed to be running a good business, but was just unknown and needed a little marketing. He didn’t have the budget to invest in marketing, but I was confident that we could both make money if I helped to grow his business. We struck an agreement wherein my company provided some basic local marketing services and we would be paid as work came in. At first it was great. We brought in clients and I started to receive a monthly check. We did our part, he did his; and his business grew. Then the checks stopped coming. This went on for several months and I was unable to get him back on track. He was no longer willing to make me a priority and instead kept all of the revenue for himself. Greedy.
In our most recent conversation, now several more months later, he explained that he really didn’t need any more clients, as he is now comfortable with the size of his company. And while everything is good with his business, he just can’t seem to find a way to pay me. He explained that he has a house and family (like we all do) and that he had to make them a priority. He expressed hope that he would someday be able to pay me but had no interest in offering a specific plan to do so. And while he openly admits to owing several back payments, he somehow doesn’t seem to feel any burden or responsibility to resolve the situation he’s created.
So now that he’s not desperate, not struggling to obtain clients, the story has changed. Of course this is exactly the scenario he promised would never happen. But that’s when he was desperate, and desperate people will sometimes say anything to get the help they need. In the end, it’s a matter of integrity, and some people just don’t have it. So beware of the desperate. Like a drowning victim, they might try to pull you under with them.
In case you’re wondering, I am very cautious with deals like this and I NEVER put too much on the line to the point where it would jeopardize my ability to support my family, service my clients, or pay my employees.