As we slowly make our way out of the pandemic, more and more people are looking to go back to work. While we may have been able to practice our art throughout the worst of the pandemic, and even played an essential part in helping ourselves and everyone else make it through, many of us lost day jobs, side jobs, and those opportunities to practice our art that came with a steady paycheck.
Regrettably, it’s not just Utica area artists who are heading back to work. Scammers see the gradual return to the life we were used to before as a new job opportunity as well. Here are just a few of the most common scams to target job seekers in the summer of 2021.
Academic or job training funding
Going back to school to earn a new degree or learn a new trade is a popular first leg of a “back to work” journey. As the recent quarantine and isolation has given many of us increased time for prayer and reflection, many have come to realize they need a change in the way they earn their living. They may decide to branch off into a new area of the job they do by day, prepare for a promotion, or veer off into a completely different career path, but none of those options is likely to come without a significant investment.
Most need some type of financial aid to cover the cost, and this can present yet another hurdle. Financial aid searches can be daunting and frustrating, with every program seeming to disqualify everybody over a single detail. It may be tempting to respond to organizations promising to streamline the process for you by taking your information, and producing a list of financial aid options tailored to you, for a small fee.
These are never legitimate offers. The same information is already available online for free. Sending in your money will only result in the company you hired disappearing, or at best, sending you a list you could have gotten yourself simply by typing “financial aid” into a search engine.
If a financial aid search is too daunting, visit the financial aid office of the school you plan to attend for help.
Fake Zoom Meeting Invitation
During the worst of the pandemic, we all grew accustomed to conducting face to face meetings, visits, and job interviews via video calls on sites like Zoom. While the offline, shared physical space version of in-person gatherings are slowly increasing, many find that virtual interviews and meetings are still a necessity for anyone who has not been vaccinated, as well as those who are, but may not be able to travel to get to an interview, or who may be dealing with other health problems that would necessitate avoiding close contact with strangers indoors.
This can make an invitation to a Zoom job interview or virtual job fair seem completely legitimate, and sometimes, they can be. But do some research before you click on that link.
Real invitations to gatherings held via Zoom come from the host of the event, not from Zoom itself. If you get an invitation to a Zoom employment event, write down the name of the sender, click out of your email, and research that sender to make sure it’s a legitimate company or organization. If you find a webpage, physical address, email address, and a phone number listed, that’s a good sign, but you are still not finished. Step two is to reach out to the company using their contact information, to make sure that they did in fact send you a Zoom meeting invitation.
Clicking on a Zoom meeting invitation link when you are not completely sure it was sent by a trusted person or business can result in malware being installed on your computer. This malware can be used to access your personal information, including your bank accounts.
Cryptocurrency investment scams
One unfortunate economic lesson of the pandemic is that a lot of paying jobs can vanish pretty fast. This leads many of us to work to secure passive income in addition to looking for a new paying job.
Investment opportunities vary, but the latest fad in the “how to make money” community is investing in cryptocurrency.
Bitcoin, Dogecoin, and other cryptocurrency is a form of digital currency that only exists on computers. It can be compared to a casino chip or other token, but there is no physical object. The currency is made up entirely of computer code that is passed from person to person. There is no central computer that holds it all, and it is not backed up by any government or banking system.
The money advice website nerdwallet warns that because there is nothing backing it up, cryptocurrency is volatile, prone to extreme rises and falls in value from day to day. However, if you want to invest in cryptocurrency, or learn more about the option, make sure to stick to the websites of established investment firms that offer the form of cryptocurrency that interests you. Any other offer, website, or “opportunity” is likely to be a scam. Like the scholarship scam, these sites may charge for information or coaching that can be obtained free through an established investment firm, or they may be selling cryptocurrency they do not actually have and pocketing your money.
Travel scams are such “classic” scams, they’re a running joke in American popular culture. Who hasn’t seen a comedy in which a hapless, lovably naive character goes crazy over winning a dream vacation for a small processing fee or finding “the deal of a lifetime”? Cut to the next scene, and they’re gazing helplessly at the “L.A. Beach vacation” that turns out to be a skid row hotel room with a pile of sand dumped on the floor, or the “New York City arts tour” that only results in a bus dropping them off an at abandoned gallery in a crime-ridden neighborhood and driving away.
These types of scams are back with a vengeance now that people are once again traveling, both as a way to give themselves a break after the year we’ve all gone through and for work. And these new versions are often much harder to detect than the obvious “too good to be true” offers from the past.
One common tactic is the use of a spoofed website. These sites are carefully designed to look like the official website of real travel sites. Some of them even feature stolen recordings from the real sites.
The best defense against these types of scams is to go directly to a well-known, established travel website, or give a local agency some business and contact someone who specializes in booking travel in town.
Job searching this summer is difficult enough. Businesses complain nobody wants to work, but potential workers are actually sifting through positions that do not pay enough to cover even their basic expenses. Nothing can prevent substandard employment offers, but we can avoid the outright scams.
Between multiple jobs or projects in our art career, day jobs, side gigs, chores, and everything else we do all day, time to cook and clean up afterward isn’t always available. And when it is, sometimes the energy just isn’t there. Fast food is always an option, but it’s never as healthy, and never quite as good as a home cooked meal.
Acropolis Restaurant in Utica may be the perfect solution. One quick phone call to place your order and schedule a pickup time, and you’re looking forward to the best home cooked Greek dinner in town, without spending the time and effort to cook.
Each Friday, Acropolis offers a fish fry. At first glance, you wouldn’t think this dish would be anything special. A lot of places offer a fish fry on Fridays. But no place serves a fish fry that’s quite this good. Fish is not a favorite food of mine, but the large slabs of perfectly golden, yet still tender and flaky Haddock seasoned with just a hint of the juice of the lemon that rests on top, and dipped in the little cup of tartar sauce, quickly became the only fish I truly enjoy. Acropolis’ fish is served next to a side of Cole slaw, and resting on top of an order of the best French fries in town.
Those looking for a traditional Greek meal may want to try one of their “neighborhoods” or “plates.”
All I could say when I first tasted the “Lamb Neighborhood” was, “This is the best lamb I ever ate.” The dish consists of one skewer of lamb marinated in olive oil, lemon, and spices, a fresh Greek salad featuring a single stuffed grape leaf as an extra treat, Pita bread, and traditional Greek tzatziki dip. The only reason I didn’t want more is because the portion was so big, I was too full to take another bite of anything.
While the “neighborhood” dishes include a salad along with your main dish and pita bread, the “plates” are served with a side of cooked seasoned vegetables and rice topped with a tangy, slightly spicy tomato sauce. A plate of the rice and vegetables alone is available, and would be worth it just to have their sides. The vegetable are perfectly seasoned, and the sauce and rice is a treat all by itself. I tried the “Gyro Plate,” which includes slices of a gyro loaf made of beef, lamb, and spices. A bit smoother in texture than American meat loaf, this gyro loaf tasted like taking a bite of perfectly spiced lamb and beef gyro at the same time.
When I learned that I am partly of Greek descent a few years ago, I made it my goal to try as much traditional Greek food as I could find, and to locate the best Mousaka and Pastitsio in town. And here it is, at Acropolis.
Mousaka is pretty good anywhere, but Mousaka Acropolis has more eggplant and zucchini, more flavorful ground beef, and creamier behamel sauce than anywhere else. On their menu, Pastitsio is described as “Greek lasagna.” Lasagna has always been a favorite Italian dish of mine, so I especially looked forward to trying this dish. The description is spot-on. The flavor is definitely Greek, with different spices and a creamy bechamel sauce rather than the flavors found in Italian cooking, but it has the same comforting, tender layers of pasta as its Italian counterpart. As an added bonus, both of these dishes are served with Acropolis’ seasoned vegetables and rice.
Acropolis Greek Restaurant is truly the best place in town for those days when working on a project makes it impossible to prepare a home cooked meal, or when you just want to enjoy…or try….an authentic Greek home cooked meal. The meal prices are reasonable, ranging from $9.95 for the aforementioned Rice and Vegetable plate, to $20.50 for a Lamb Souvlaki plate, and $22.75 for a Grilled Lobster Neighborhood. Appetizers are also available, ranging from $5.95 for French Fries to $7.50 for a traditional Spinach or Cheese pie (Spanakopita or Tiropita) to $12.75 for a fried shrimp appetizer. Dessert selections include Greek Wedding Cookies, Rice Pudding, and of course, Baklava.
All prices and dishes were taken from the 1/7/21 edition of the business’ menu, and are not a complete list of the restaurant’s offerings. Visit them on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/AcropolisUtica for updated information and a copy of the current menu.
Acropolis is, as of the writing of this piece, open for takeout only, every Thursday, Friday, and Saturday from 4:30p-7:30p. They are located at 621 James street in Utica. Once you check out their menu, place your order by phone at 315-793-1015.
Most of us have needed a side gig at some point, but for a while, it seemed as though every “how to make extra money” or “find your side gig” YouTube video, blog post, website article, or podcast contained the same options. We were all told great fortune awaited if we just taught Chinese children to speak English online, became a “brand ambassador”, or partnered with a company that paid us to pick up and/or deliver groceries or takeout on our own schedule. And then suddenly….these weren’t being promoted anymore. “Side hustle” content creators have moved on to completely different things, mostly online sales and marketing.
What happened to these former “make money online” trends? Can we still supplement our art career income with these?
Teach English to Chinese kids online
VIPKid, ABCKids, and MagicEars appeared to be the most popular companies offering this opportunity, but they were far from the only ones. Opportunities to teach children from China to speak English seemed almost limitless. Teachers did need to have a Bachelor’s degree, but they did not need teacher certification or teaching experience. They only needed to be fluent English speakers, and willing to teach in the startlingly upbeat style taught by the company.
These were not promoted as “get rich quick with no investment” schemes. Both teachers and the companies’ web pages made it clear that you needed to have high speed internet, a microphone, and a quiet, distraction-free, and child-friendly space available in order to do the work. And while the corporations did not ask you for money, it was expected that teachers make a small investment in their teaching career by purchasing teaching aides such as cutout letters and shapes, puppets, props, and backdrops that made the teacher appear to be sitting in a classroom. But once you had all of that, you were on your way to a side hustle that could potentially replace the income of your current career.
As of the writing of this article, MagicEars, VIPKid, and a company called GoGoKid still maintain active websites, including links to apply to teach. The estimated pay ranges from $12-$26 per hour. They just aren’t the trendy thing to promote anymore. The only promotion of VIPKid and GoGo Kid found during a May 2021 YouTube search of “most popular side hustles of 2021” was from Rachel Cruze of the YouTube channel “The Rachel Cruze Show.”
Many more recent videos describe quitting, or even being fired from, these companies. The work is the same, reality has just set in for a lot of workers. Working for them really means working with them. You hire yourself out as a teacher to VIPKid or MagicEars or Gogo Kid, you are not an employee. This means you’re responsible for taking taxes out of your own paycheck, a responsibility many are not prepared to meet. Add to that the struggles of having to be at work at two, four, or six a.m. your time in order to meet the scheduling needs of students in Bejing, and the difficulty of recruiting and keeping your own students within the platform, and the work is just much more difficult than the brightly colored ads featuring teachers beaming into their laptops make it seem.
Sign up as an “influencer” or “brand ambassador” and share what you love
The most common way to bump into this side hustle opportunity in the past few years has been to join an online group dedicated to budgeting, frugal living, making money, or coping with work stress and share your story. Someone will likely comment offering you an opportunity in network marketing. For a small startup fee, you can earn money the way your favorite content creators on YouTube, Instagram, and TikTok do, simply by sharing great products and talking about the things you love.
This one is still going strong. It is just increasingly being exposed for what it really is, the same old multilevel marketing companies that have been around longer than any of us reading this have been alive on this earth. They just changed the wording to make it more appealing, and to disguise what those they recruit are truly involved in.
A real brand ambassador is paid by the company for promoting the brand. That’s it. They promote the brand, and they get paid. A real influencer is someone who has built a large social media following, regardless of whether they’re making money from influencing their audience or not. When you pay a company to send you a sales kit, you can call it whatever you want, but you just hired yourself out as a salesperson for a multilevel marketing company. You won’t be earning any money unless you sell their products, or recruit others to sell their products.
Artist Cafe Utica is no longer a part of the anti-MLM community in that we no longer criticize anyone who chooses to work with these companies. If you really like Arbonne, Avon, Mary Kay, Pampered Chef, or any of the other multilevel marketing company products out there and want to sell for them to try to earn some free products and maybe a little extra cash, go for it. But this is not a pro-MLM or network marketing site either. Multilevel marketing companies are set up to ensure success for the top one to three per cent by taking advantage of everyone below them, and that alone makes them something we cannot recommend as a side hustle.
Work as a driver or delivery person on your own schedule
Driving for companies like Uber, Lyft, GrubHub, DoorDash, and in some cities,Postmates is still a viable option for those who want to drive as a side hustle. Video titles on YouTube have just gone from things like, “I made eight thousand dollars a month driving!” two years ago, to “Why you shouldn’t drive…” in the past eight or ten months.
Like the “teach Chinese children to speak English” work, driving for these companies isn’t them giving you a job. It’s you hiring yourself out as an independent driver or delivery person to the company. You’re responsible for paying your own taxes and other expenses that come with using your car as a rideshare or delivery vehicle.
This work is also not the guaranteed money maker ads screaming “Make $30 an hour with (name of company!) make it seem. You get to set your own schedule, but if you aren’t available to work when people want rides or takeout or grocery delivery, you aren’t going to make much, if any, profit.
“Best side hustle” videos can be fun to watch, and generate useful ideas for making money. But like most online content, creators often follow trends and fads. It’s always important to take a step back and get a bigger, clearer picture of any side hustle work you find.
There seems to be a fresh crop of everything in the spring. It brings new flowers, vegetables, colors, academic semesters, plans….and scams.
While we are all alert and vigilant enough to see right through these, it is important to keep them in mind in order to help a family member or friend who may be vulnerable due to the impaired judgment or mental fog that can be a side effect of the increased isolation, job stress, financial stress, and other issues we have all been coping with over the past thirteen months.
Here are just a few of the most common fake claims circulating online this season.
Get additional funds added to your 2021 stimulus payment
According to a March 12, 2021 article by the Better Business Bureau, scammers are sending out email and text messages designed to look as though they are from the government. These messages state or imply that you may be able to get additonal direct deposits, checks, or pre-paid debit cards with additional stimulus funds, and invite you to click on a link and enter your information “to ensure that you are getting all the benefits you are entitled to receive.” Once you click on the link, the form that appears on your screen asks for the standard information you would enter on a government form.
Do not click this link or fill out any forms. The contact information, and the screen belong to the scammer, who can then use your personal information to commit identity theft. The scammer may also demand a “processing fee” for money they claim you can collect, or install spyware on your computer that grants them access to your banking information.
Use your stimulus money…or any money you have…to help a friend or family member
The stimulus checks are a means for many of us to help others who may have fallen on financially difficult times over the past year, and the scammers are all too aware of this. This scam appears to be particularly popular on “WhatsApp,” an instant messenger app intended to be used to keep in touch with friends and family. However, the scam can occur anywhere you send and receive messages from people.
Scammers create an account that appears to belong to someone already on your contact list, and message you. Posing as your friend or family member, the scammer claims to need money in an emergency situation.
Always reach out to your friend via a known social media account, email address, phone number, or in person to verify that it is indeed them contacting you before you send any money or contribute to any fundraisers at their urging.
Get a great deal on that item you need for your spring project
The plain old rip off is far from a new scam. People have been selling fake items and passing off substandard versions of the items in ads before everyone on earth today was even born. The internet just makes it especially easy to gather and post misleading images and videos. And the arrival of the latest stimulus checks, coupled with the feelings of hope and renewal everyone is clinging to this spring, makes it especially attractive to scammers right now. They know a lot of people are spending some of their stimulus money, and they know it’s a time for projects and plans.
Meet anyone you encounter in an online marketplace in a well-lit, public space before accepting any goods from them, or giving them any money, and never go to the meeting alone. Remember that you have the right to examine the item before accepting it, and are not obligated to take anything wrapped in packaging, or to make the exchange quickly. If the seller is in that big of a hurry, they can take the item back home with them and re-schedule the meeting for a more relaxed time.
When ordering online, resist pop up ads on social media. No matter where you see the ad, close the site down, open a new tab, and type in the webpage of a known, trusted retailer that sells the item.
Here’s an easy way to improve your finances after quarantine, or save up for that dream vacation this summer
It’s no secret that a lot of us are not doing our best financially right now. Performing artists haven’t been able to get many gigs, visual artists have faced galleries closed for months, and fewer people have the cash to buy albums, novels, and films. Many of us have lost day jobs and second careers as well. This can make the red flags of a job scam easy to overlook.
Today’s most popular version of the job scam is even easier to fall for, as scammers often join legitimate job sites such as LinkedIn or Indeed, posing as recruiters or hiring managers for legitimate, well-known companies. The hoax can be rather elaborate, including entire websites that appear to belong to corporations we have all heard of, such as General Electric, Microsoft, or Facebook.
Avoid these scams using the same tactic you use to avoid purchasing goods from a scam site. Click all the way out of the site. Open up a new tab, and go directly to the official site of the company in question. Search their page for their “careers” or “employment” link, and check there for the job listing. If you still are not sure, contact human resources at the company.
Welcome a new pet into your family
During the height of the quarantine, pet adoptions soared as people adopted pets to combat loneliness. Some of these adoptions resulted in the pet finding his or her forever home. Others ended with the pet being abandoned or returned. Current pet scammers are playing on the desire of true animal lovers to rescue these pets. Another common avenue is to join online groups for specific breed enthusiasts, claiming to have a dog who just had purebred or popular mixed breed puppies early this spring.
Overly staged or “perfect” photos, showing just the puppies or kittens on a pure white or pink background, or in a logo, are a strong giveaway, but don’t be swayed by more realistic looking photos, with someone’s carpet, TV, pillows, or even family members or other pets in the shot or in the background. The scammer could genuinely have the animal or litter, but just have no intention of parting with them after receiving your money, or they could be “selling” puppies from a litter that have already found homes. And it is much too easy to steal other peoples’ candid photos from various social media sites.
It is best to adopt a pet through a local humane society or established breed rescue organization, or through someone you already know well and trust offline, but if you feel strongly about a pet you see online, do your research before becoming attached, and never give anyone any money until you have the pet with you physically. The sadness of being drawn to a pet you have only seen online and finding out it was a scam is going to be a lot easier to cope with than that same feeling coupled with the loss of your money.
Scammers regularly create new scams, or reinvent or rejuvenate old ones when the time seems right for them to be particularly effective again. Keeping updated on what’s making the rounds is the first step in keeping you and your friends and family from becoming a scammer’s latest success story.
On many things, Artist Cafe Utica is firm. This is strictly a Christian, politically liberal, and pro-arts and artists website. It is written for and about Utica artists, and there is no goal of expanding the audience. That will never change. But every once in a while, there is a specific issue where the stance of the page may shift. This happened gradually over the past year and a half with the issue of direct selling, also known as network marketing or multilevel marketing.
Artist Cafe Utica began as an “anti-MLM with Avon as the one exception “site. The more I learned about the current culture and some practices of Avon, the more I came to believe that there were no exceptions in MLMs. The site grew into a strictly anti-MLM online space, and I considered myself a part of the anti-MLM community…..a tiny local niche part…but a part.
Over the past several weeks, anti-MLM education and activism has taken a hit, and a well-deserved one. The latest trend in anti-MLM videos and articles is “We attended a multilevel marketing party so you don’t have to.” In order to write or film their content, the anti-MLM activist either joins an online sales party for a multilevel marketing company, or obtains samples of the product and watches a filmed party or training session.
Some of these are useful for anti-MLM education, as the content creator points out the aggressive recruitment tactics, inflated income claims, and other features that are legitimate criticisms of most MLMs and many of their representatives. But a recent social media trend has taken a disturbing turn.
A few weeks ago, a new anti-MLM video was posted on YouTube. In this video, a well-known anti-MLM YouTuber participated in this social media challenge with her best friend by trying some of the MLM company’s products a fan had sent her while watching a filmed party. The vlogger and her friend appeared in the bottom corner of the screen while the party video played above them. The particular company they chose to highlight sells lounge wear, lingerie, and bath and fragrance products, along with more intimate, adults-only items in the back of their catalog. The details are left intentionally vague to keep this a “safe for work” article.
Rather than focusing on criticisms against multilevel marketing, the vlogger and her friend shrieked, giggled, and made cruel remarks about the MLM sales representative’s body and sexuality, engaging in behaviors such as putting the products on their hands, sniffing them, and shrieking in horror because they now smelled like the MLM representative’s body parts….including her “private parts.”
The YouTuber/vlogger’s comment section was full of fans cheering her and her friend on, and requesting more videos like this one.
It is true that the content creators have the legal right to produce the content, and the fans have a right to enjoy it and to support it. They are not inciting a riot or any other criminal activity, and therefore have the first amendment right to say whatever they want. But the first amendment protects you from persecution by the government for what you say. It doesn’t protect you from your actions having consequences you didn’t want, or from other people disagreeing with you or disliking you based on what you say. I’m not suggesting the content creators be arrested, fined, or denied government services for creating the content.
Artist Cafe Utica simply does not support or condone behavior like this. This is not activism. It is not education. It is bullying.
Was I wrong about MLMs? Did my support of the anti MLM community only serve to support internet bullies? Let’s look at each of my arguments against network marketing, and their rebuttals.
Network marketing, direct selling, or multilevel marketing is based on a flawed business model. It sets most people up to fail. The only way you can become a top earner is to recruit a team of people. Eventually, you are going to run out of people.
Honest network marketers openly admit that most people do not reach the top levels when signing up to sell for these companies. But everybody does not join to become a millionaire. People may join with the intent to use their sales and even team building, as a side hustle to make some extra cash. Or maybe they want to make enough money to build a small vacation fund, or ease the burden on the family finances by paying a single bill. McDonalds has run ads suggesting that their jobs are launching pads for amazing careers, and every job there certainly isn’t a guaranteed road to fortune. It is possible for someone to join a network marketing company, and still be levelheaded enough to tell the difference between corporate hype, claims from more naïve co-workers, and reality.
The products and services offered by these companies are of lower quality than those offered by retailers at the same price point.
The quality of many of the products offered by these companies is subjective. One person may swear by the store brand nutrition shakes they get from Walmart, while another will only drink what they buy from GNC, and yet another may honestly like something from an MLM. Some people insist makeup and other cosmetics from the Dollar Tree are as good or better than high end brands. While it is fair to criticize any company whose products have caused consumers harm, such as Monat’s series of lawsuits due to hair loss and scalp burns, there are certainly traditional retailers who have produced similarly harmful products. Claiming that an eighteen dollar lipstick from an MLM is only as good as a two or six dollar lipstick from a retailer is unfair, because it only means that I liked the one from the retailer better, not that it will perform better for anyone else.
In the time you put into working for an MLM, you could have worked a minimum wage job and earned more money.
Taken alone, this statement is true. Even if you spend only ten minutes each day checking your sales page, you spend so much time devoted to your MLM, you could have earned more money by working the same amount of hours at McDonald’s or Starbucks or the phone kiosk in the mall. But is this a fair comparison in terms of the work you have to do? You can check your direct sales page while sipping your coffee in the morning or popping into the break room for your ten minute break during a shift at your main job. To earn extra money with an additional minimum wage job, you will have to stand on your feet for hours at a time, cope with irate customers, and suffer all the other well-documented indignaties of most minimum wage work.
The friendships formed through these companies are false. Your friends you make in an MLM will vanish as soon as you stop devoting all your time and energy to the company. They’re only interested in you for the money they can make from your labor.
There is certainly a lot of anecdotal evidence for this. Stories abound of people who were drawn in with promises of sisterhoods and families, and behavior that could only be described as “love bombing,” only to be insulted, pushed aside, and abandoned when they questioned anything or decided the company wasn’t for them. But perhaps it is unfair to assume that absolutely everyone who joins a network marketing company behaves like this. Most of these stories are found on anti-MLM sites. People who navigate to these pages know they’re not going to be welcome if they have a pro-MLM or even neutral story. Only the stories of cruelty are going to get posted. This would only be a fair claim if the research were done on a site that invited stories of both harm and benefit brought by the MLM.
MLM representatives endanger people by presenting themselves as experts, when all they did was pay a fee and open up a box of paperwork and maybe some products from the company.
This is common, and it is dangerous. You are not an expert on fitness just because you signed up to sell workout programs with Beach Body. You’re not a nutritionist just because you signed up with Arbonne or Avon and they offer vitamins and shakes now, or a makeup artist because you sell Jafra or Mary Kay. Any MLM representative who does this should be avoided. But so should anyone else who takes an entry level job and tries to behave as though they’re an expert. Just because something is a common problem among a group of people, that does not mean everybody in that group exhibits the same behavior, or that the problem does not exist outside that group.
Some claims common to multilevel/network marketing are indeed false. You do not have your own business. You’re hiring yourself out to the company as an independent sales agent. The outlandish income promises help no one but the corporation. And the common tactic of behaving as though anyone who works a traditional job is foolish or lazy is unfair, no matter how much you love your network marketing work. But the anti-MLM community is flawed as well. Making fun of people who may have joined one of these companies for any number of reasons, painting everyone either as an easily led fool or a cunning and ruthless manipulator and user, is hardly fair. Given the sheer number of people who sign up for these things, it must go well for more than one per cent of people.
Which side are you on? Are MLMs cult-like, financially and emotionally destructive, and never a good idea to get involved with at all? Or are MLMs just ordinary companies with an open hiring policy, with your experiences dependent entirely upon which company you work for and who you get involved with? Or do you fall somewhere in the middle? Is it a good idea to support a friend who works for an MLM, but maybe not the best way to earn extra cash?
Tell us what you think on the Artist Cafe Utica facebook page at: www.facebook.com/ArtistCafeUtica
There are a lot of things we believe that are just not true. It is not against the law to cut a tag off of your pillow or say a prayer inside a public school building. Cutting your hair does not make it grow faster. Starbucks does not train their employees to mess up your name on your cup in order to trick you into advertising for them. These things can be used in our art work to make a character seem silly or gullible, or as a piece of dialogue that reveals the gullibility of others.
But there are other things we think are silly, just our imagination, or untrue that are actually reasonable and real. Creating a character or persona who doesn’t believe these six things will result in a very different song, story, play, film, poem, or routine. Use one or more in your next project, or just look them over and find out if you, or your friends, believe any of the misconceptions.
There is a legitimate reason for cashiers to verify if your cash is real for small purchases.
You’re out running errands, and suddenly feel too thirsty to wait until you get home. You already paid for your groceries, but want to grab a soda from the cooler before you go, using the cash you keep stashed in the back of your wallet to pay for it instead of swiping your debit card again. Before handing you back your drink and change, the clerk checks to make sure the bill from your wallet is not counterfeit.
“Come on,” you think to yourself. “ They’re just doing this to be difficult. If I knew how to counterfeit money, and I were willing to risk the jail time, I’d be treating myself to something a lot nicer than an extra soda to drink in the car on the way home.”
But there is a good reason for the clerk’s action. Counterfeiters often do make small purchases with fake money. This is done to get the cashier to give them back real money for their fake bill. If the counterfeiter “breaks” a phony fifty or hundred by pretending he has no other way to pay for a two or three dollar purchase, the clerk is going to hand him $47 or even $97 or $98 real dollars, along with the item, making that item…and the cash he gets back in change…free to him.
Your soda does taste better at McDonald’s.
There is plenty of soda in your fridge. You buy a bottle or two, or a case, from the grocery store every week or so and keep it on hand as a regular drink. Or maybe there’s no soda in your fridge, because you’re not much of a soda drinker. But unless you never touch the stuff, you probably order a soda when you go to McDonald’s. It just tastes especially fresh and flavorful there.
Some contend that it’s nothing more than the power of association. McDonald’s food is a treat for most of us. It’s a break from cooking and washing dishes if we go through the drive through on the way home, or a little treat from Door Dash or Uber Eats if we have it delivered. The soda tastes better because it’s part of your treat. But McDonald’s soda is slightly different than the soda you get anywhere else. The Coca-Cola company ships most of its syrups in plastic packaging. McDonald’s soda syrup is shipped to them in steel tanks. This impacts the flavor of the syrup. McDonald’s also keeps both the syrup and the water much colder than other restaurants before putting the products into the soda fountain, which maintains the carbonation longer.
Those flags for ridiculously small purchases on your debit or credit card are for your financial safety.
The reward points on a credit card can be redeemed for something you’ve been wanting, so you take out the card, promising yourself you will only make purchases totaling the amount of spare cash you have on hand, and will pay everything off before it generates interest. But soon after activating the card, you find such a good deal on the item, you forget about the points and stash the card in your desk drawer. Several weeks later, you decide to use the card after all, and make a small purchase at the mall an hour away from your hometown. The credit card company flags your account and stops the purchase.
Your reaction is similar to the one you had over the counterfeit cash screening. This seems ridiculous. You think credit card company employees simply don’t have enough to do and must be flagging things at random, just to keep busy. Surely they don’t think someone would go through the trouble and the risk to steal a credit card, only to get two CDs or a new set of pans for the kitchen at the mall.
Except that this is exactly what identity thieves do with stolen credit cards. The first purchase isn’t typically the high end designer wardrobes, massive video game collections, or trips to Vegas we think of when we picture identity theft. The thieves start by making one or two small purchases, both to see if the charge will go through, and to test whether or not you carefully monitor your statement.
Your hair does grow slightly faster in the summer.
When you said you needed yet another haircut or trim last summer, everyone probably brushed it off as you just wishing you could get out more, hoping that your salon would return to normal soon, boredom, or a combination of those factors. And they were likely right, though our hair does grow slightly faster in the summer. This is due to the peak of our hair’s growth cycle coinciding with the summer months. We are also usually a bit healthier in the summer. The summer of 2020 was of course different, but in most summers, we get out and get fresh air more. We walk places rather than drive more often, or we take walks. Picnics, barbecues, and events in city parks lower our stress level. Increased sunlight lifts our mood. None of this is directly related to hair, but we tend to have healthier hair when our overall health improves.
Binge watching tv shows actually can help reduce stress.
In the past, we watched tv shows once a week, on the day and time they aired. If we liked an old show, we might get to watch two or three episodes each night on a “classic tv” station. The opportunity to watch several episodes in a row only came up if a tv station held a “marathon” of a certain show. Once videocassettes and DVDs came along, we could often rent or even buy whole series and sit and watch them all day if we wished. But all of that took at least some effort. You had to go and buy the tapes or discs. Now, thanks to streaming services, the opportunity to watch multiple episodes of a show in a row is as easy as a click of the remote.
Psychologists and licensed professional counselors repeatedly warn that doing this excessively is not good for our mental health. We’re all seeing the detrimental effects isolation can have on us due to the current public health crisis, and making that even worse by spending entire days completely alone staring into a screen is not going to improve things. And of course it’s never good to sit around for days instead of getting exercise, stay up too late because you’re watching something, or skip showers and meals to watch tv. They note that “I was binge watching my show to relax,” has become an excuse for neglecting important details in your life.
But some experts note that, if done within reason, binge watching really can relieve stress. It does this by taking you out of the world for a while, allowing you to focus on a story instead of the news or your bills or whatever else is weighing on your mind. It can also improve your social life, especially now, when we’re all stuck at home, by giving you something to talk about with others.
Store employees who ask to see your receipt really do have to ask…just not for the reason you might think.
Though the practice has faded down in recent years, with many stores abandoning it altogether, we can all remember when certain big box stores featured “greeters” waiting to ask to see your receipt as you exited the store.
This can feel insulting, as though they’re treating you like a thief. It also seems to be a pointless waste of their time.
“I don’t steal,” you think. “But if I were going to steal something, I would destroy the packaging that set off the alarm and conceal the item, not parade past half the store’s employees with the packaged item sitting in my cart.” And you would be right. Somebody standing in the doorway reading your receipt for tissues, toothpaste, and a new throw pillow is not going to do anything to stop theft, except maybe send the message to would-be thieves that the employees are watching them.
But it is true that the employee is required to check, for reasons that have to do with them, not you. In most cases, the person tasked with checking receipts at the doorway of a store has the lowest level job in that store. They get paid the least, and get bossed around by everybody from the cashiers to the floor associates to the customer service managers who actually are their supervisors. While there is absolutely no reason for any store employee to raise their voice at you, block your path out of the store in any way, embarrass you, or treat you like you’re doing something wrong when you aren’t, the person needs to do something that constitutes “checking the receipt” in order to keep their job. And they are often being monitored by several other employees in the store.
Much of what we read, hear, or experience and think “that’s ridiculous,” actually is ridiculous. Healthy skepticism and critical thinking is a good thing, and is especially important at a time when believing wildly farfetched stories about serious issues backed up by nothing more than other people yelling …or posting..nonsense can be harmful to ourselves and others. But every once in a while, the absurd, silly, or useless turns out to have a legitimate reason behind it.
We have all heard the conventional wisdom when it comes to a career in the arts. Declare yourself an artist and identify yourself that way first. Make sure you have a second passion or strong side job to pay the bills. Don’t let rejections deter you from continuing in your art career. These all sound like the right thing to say, and they usually work out. Then there are those things “everyone” swears will hurt your career in the arts….but might actually help.
Getting random, non-arts related side jobs.
This is often advised against out of fear it will take time away from your art, but it can provide fuel for your projects.
Taking temporary jobs, getting side jobs on the side of your day job, and performing other money making tasks can generate ideas for your art work. You may decide to fictionalize a restaurant or store and use it as a setting in your next piece. Maybe that rude, frightening, or just plain odd customer will say something you can use for your next villain. You may overhear a conversation that sparks a new song, or see something you feel called to paint or draw.
You also get to keep the money from random jobs, so they provide some extra income as well. Having a little more money helps to reduce financial worries, and frees up even more energy for your creative work.
Getting a job that allows you to practice your art, but also provides a steady salary or wage.
People typically warn against this out of fear that your art work will be taken over by someone else. You’ll sell out. You’ll become a corporate drone. This could happen in some cases, but if you keep your focus on your overall goals as an artist, and make sure you’re doing something you believe in, it can enhance your art career.
My own career in the arts has three parts. I teach writing skills to adults online, write novels, and write and run Artist Cafe Utica, designed as both a resource/online space for other artists in Utica and a portfolio for me. The teaching job is what pays my basic expenses. I am on the faculty of a university and I earn a salary. Most of my teaching is done through creative writing. I wrote, and continue to revise and update, a short story about a character named “Ellie” and her classmates at a fictional university. When I first got the idea to try this, I hesitated. I was afraid I’d spend all my time on the Ellie story, and neglect the rest of my writing. I feared the students would find it ridiculous. As of the writing of this article, “Ellie” has provided plot ideas for two novels, and I’ve been nominated for a teaching award four times. A solid ninety percent of the compliments I receive from students are for Ellie, not for me….but…..that’s okay.
Having non-art interests and hobbies
If you’re an artist, much of your activity naturally centers around your art. This is true for anyone in any type of career.
It is also not uncommon for an artist’s hobbies and interests to be other forms of art. My second passion, along with creative writing, is music. My favorite hobby has always been singing. I also enjoy watching films, theater, and seeing and learning about paintings and sculptures.
Languages also fascinate me. While language is a building block of many forms of art, it is also a separate field. One can be an expert in linguistics, or speak multiple languages without being an artist.
Like taking on non-arts related side work, studying languages often generates ideas for my art work. It helps me understand the sounds and patterns of language better overall.
These three activities may have helped my arts career when I expected them to be detrimental, but there are a few other guidelines I no longer follow, because they resulted in a drain on time, energy, and money to devote to my art.
Taking any work that allows you to do anything even remotely related to your art.
Most of the time, I encourage everyone to take any opportunity they can to practice their art, but if the situation is unsafe, or if you are spending so much time and energy on one event or job that you’re neglecting other aspects of your career, there’s nothing wrong with turning something down or walking away from an opportunity.
Conventional wisdom dictates that a writer should take any writing job. If you’re really a poet, but someone wants you to write an email drip campaign for window cleaner, do it. Work as a reporter even though you have no interest in journalism and you’re a screeenwriter. Take that job writing ad copy, even though what you really want to do is write about rock bands for a magazine.
This remains solid advice if you are new to writing, but after earning a graduate degree in writing and working as a professional independent writer for more than a decade, I no longer accept any writing assignments that are not linked directly to the arts. It gives the wrong impression. Potential clients think I’m new to writing, or that I’m making a career change from the arts to their field.
Working only in a dedicated workspace
Those fortunate enough to have a studio, or an office in their home should absolutely take advantage of it. Setting aside a space as your workspace in a smaller home can be helpful too. Just don’t take it so far that you begin to think of that as the only place you can work.
“Set up an office, it will help you take yourself and your work seriously,” is great advice, but it is not completely necessary. As long as nothing in the environment distracts you continuously, you should be able to get work done in a variety of places.
Sometimes, a change of scene helps rather than hinders creativity. Getting out and working at your favorite coffeehouse, or working at a diner or in the library (once it is safe to do so again) can give you the jolt you need to come up with a new idea.
Working all hours
When we picture someone doing work they love, we think of them working around the clock, stopping only for things like meals, showers, and other obligations when they absolutely have to. We often think that a “true” artist wants to sing, write, dance, act, paint, or work on their act all the time, and feel guilty or neglectful when we get tired or temporarily bored with our work.
In reality, nobody is enthralled with their work every moment of every day. Everyone, artist or not, has tasks they don’t care for, or days when they just want to get done and go sprawl in front of a t.v. show marathon with a big helping of their favorite snack.
Rest is necessary. We all need that time to just relax, and we all need sleep.
Multilevel marketing is on the rise as people have lost jobs or seen their hours cut due to the current public health crisis. Even if your career has not been impacted any more than any other artist, and your salaried work is secure, it is often tempting to talk yourself into joining one of these companies for a little spending money to give yourself a few little treats during this stressful time. Some people even join as “personal use” consultants. This seems safe. You sign up as a consultant just to get the discount on the products. At best, you predict you may get a few pity sales from close friends and family, making your products free to you. At worst, you get to pay a lot less for products you wanted to treat yourself to anyway. But even signing up as a personal use consultant will only waste your time and energy, and possibly even cost you more than you save. Before signing up “just to get that discount” or “to earn some free products,” consider the following about multilevel marketing companies and their goods and services.
Even if you’re a “personal use” consultant, you still have to sell enough of the company’s products to earn the discount.
Many MLMs are a good deal at the very start, as they offer their consultant discount on the first order, regardless of size. This means if the startup kit costs $50, and the total cost of what you were going to buy anyway is $150 with a 50% discount, you just got a nice $25 discount on your products, plus whatever you care to pick out of the starter kit. But that “discount just for being signed up under us” is never a permanent offer. After the first, or at least the first few orders, you will be required to sell the company’s products in order to get that discount. If you can’t sell the products, then you will have to purchase them yourself, and buying things you never wanted just to get a discount on things you did adds up to spending more than full price for the stuff you wanted.
The majority of the products offered by MLMs are of much lower quality than others of their price range. You would save more money by buying products of comparable quality someplace else.
Often, the price of a product has little to do with its quality. In some cases, you get what you pay for, and cheaper products are indeed lower in quality. And in others, the price is so marked up, the cheaper item is of the same or better quality. The products offered by MLMs typically fall into the third category, as it is necessary for the company to mark up the price in order to pay all the “levels” in the multilevel marketing scheme while still making a profit for the corporation. A $50.00 frying pan from an MLM that sells kitchenware is likely to be similar to a $15.00 pan from the store. While an $18.00 lipstick from a non MLM makeup company is a high end product, an $18.00 MLM lipstick is going to be of the same quality as an $8.00…or even a $2.00 drugstore lipstick. Even if you go by your initial, promotional discount, it is going to be cheaper to just go buy a similar product from a traditional retailer.
Your upline is not likely to take your “personal use” decision as graciously and respectfully as they appear to in the beginning.
When you are first lured into an MLM, the person you sign up under is going to tell you it’s the perfect situation for you, no matter who you are or what your situation or goals might be. If I tell them I love my job and just want free products, they will tell me of all the people they know who only sell enough to make their products free to them, and assure me it’s no pressure. If the next person who speaks to them claims to want sales training for a career change, that same opportunity will suddenly become an alternative to a degree in marketing. Everybody gets told what they want to hear. Once you’re signed up, prepare for an onslaught of phone calls, emails, texts, and comments on your social media, all pressuring you to get out there and sell for the company. This will continue, no matter how many times you tell them you’re only a “personal use” consultant.
Even if all you ever do is make a few social media posts announcing that you’re selling the products and then spend ten minutes per day checking your email or sales page online, you still could have earned more in the same amount of time with a minimum wage job.
After a year and four months of doing nothing more than making a few social media posts about selling Avon and spending approximately ten minutes checking my page each day for 300 days, I worked for a total of 50 hours. For my 50 hours of work, I earned $200 worth of Avon products and just under $35 in cash. I could have taken a minimum wage side job, worked just seven part-time shifts for a total of 28 hours, and come away with about $250 after taxes.
The people above you in the multilevel marketing “team” will not likely respect your decision should you insist you are personal use only, or even if you decide to stop selling altogether, and may do things you do not agree to in your name.
One common ploy in MLMs is for someone with several consultants under them to fake sales for those who choose to quit selling. They do this by having another consultant purchase products from the lapsed consultant’s page. Most MLMs will continue with this practice, even after they have been told the former representative no longer wishes to be involved with the company.
The “just under $35” I made with Avon was earned in this way. I wrote to Avon asking them to remove me as a consultant. They responded with a form letter intended for representatives who had not sold in a while, talking about looking forward to welcoming me back when I started selling again. I wrote another letter. I received another form letter response, but I also began receiving messages threatening to shut my page down if I didn’t place an order soon. Of course I ignored those too, since shutting the page down was what I had requested. Right before my page was scheduled to close down, someone outside of my hometown area, but within my upline’s territory, just happened to place an order, returning me to active status again. The order was for just under $50, earning me around $10. I responded this time by completing ignoring all correspondence from Avon until the sales page was shut down. Several weeks later, I received another $14 and change in comission, as the same person had placed a similar order, re-activating the closed sales page I had repeatedly told them I no longer wanted to maintain. This may not seem like anything detrimental on the surface, and in fact may seem like a nice way to get a free ten to fifteen bucks every few months. But it still involves someone doing something in your name when you told them they did not have permission to do so.
It was not until the person did it a third time, and I launched another complaint with the company that the sales page was closed down. I’m waiting to see if this individual breaks into my closed page and does this again.
“Personal use” consulting for an MLM will bring on more trouble than it is worth. There are many other ways to cut costs and earn money, without all the trouble these predatory companies bring.
Romance scams, also known as “catfish scams,” are the central theme in the novel “Chatting as Adalee.” They are also part of the plot in the second novel featuring Heidi from “Chatting,” as she becomes a support person and advocate for other victims. Reaching out is a first step, but there are also a few things to keep in mind as you help a friend or family member heal over time.
The person will go back and forth over whether or not the relationship was real.
This can be frustrating. You think they understand that what they went through was a scam, and not a real relationship. They seem to have accepted that the one they thought they loved was not real, or at least was not completely real. Then they reference the time they were “dating” that person.
Remind them as gently as possible that what they’re talking about was a scam. Never play along with the idea that the relationship was in any way real, but resist the urge to correct them harshly, laugh it off, or tease them about it. Your friend may have spent months or even years believing the relationship to be genuine.
Your friend may shed some beneficial habits or practices.
Being scammed is never a good thing. But sometimes people develop good habits or practices in an attempt to impress the person they thought they were with, or prepare for a new life they thought they would soon have. They may have begun studying a language the scammer claimed to speak, altering their appearance in a way that makes them feel more confident, saving up money, or doing more reading or studying or looking for a better job.
It can be a bit jarring when the person abandons these things as they accept they have been scammed. Keep their best interests in mind, but don’t fight them on it. Don’t encourage them to blow their entire savings account, but don’t lecture them when they realize they don’t need to save up to buy a house after all, or stop looking for a better job when the only reason they were doing so was to get money for the scammer. They need to let go of things they took on for the scam.
Expect extremes in attitudes about romance, crushes, and dating.
Once someone realizes and accepts they have been the victim of a romance scam, they often show extreme feelings about romance for a while. Some people want nothing to do with it. They do not want to meet your other single friends of the appropriate gender and orientation to date them, go out in a group, or be flirted with by anyone. In some cases, they do not even care to hear about others’ relationships or even celebrity crushes. Others become fixated on it, wanting to get out there and find a real relationship to replace the fake one right away. Both of these are normal and expected reactions.
Anger or concern for people in stolen photographs or invented stories is normal in the beginning, but should lessen over time.
Even the most levelheaded person will be somewhat disoriented and confused when they first realize they’ve been scammed. Many people struggle to accept that they never were talking to the person in photos stolen by the scammer, or that children, exes, siblings, pets, or parents in the stories they told either didn’t exist, or were very different people in reality. Your friend might express a wish to find and tell off the person in the photo, or wistfully wonder how a child or pet the scammer talked about is doing now. Gently remind them that the person in the photo had nothing to do with the scam, and had no idea their photo was even being used. Further remind them that characters in scammer stories are just that, characters, even if the scammer based them on real people in their own lives or stolen stories. As time goes on, they will learn to accept these truths.
Healing happens differently for everyone.
The healing process is going to vary depending on a wide number of factors. Most of the time, people who spent a shorter time believing they were in a relationship with someone who turned out to be a scammer are going to heal faster. Those with a lot of real friends and supportive family members may need less time. Confident people, secure in who they are, tend to move past the experience of being scammed relatively quickly. On the other hand, those who were enmeshed with the scammer for several months or even years, people with few meaningful relationships, and those who lack confidence or who have a tendency to try to be what other people want or expect rather than themselves tend to take longer. Mental health care needs vary as well, ranging from a few weeks of self-directed learning about the issue of romance scams and a little time to themselves, to regular therapy with a professional.
The wish to confront the scammer/catfish is normal. Actually attempting to do so is potentially dangerous.
MTV’s popular series “Catfish” serves others well in publicizing romance scams, educating the audience about some of the signs of romance scams, and making the public understand that romance scammers, or catfish, to use the term coined by the show’s founder, Nev Schulman, can be from the United States, or even someone the victim already knows offline. Before the show, many people believed romance scammers only existed in countries like Nigeria, Ghana, and Russia, where organized scam rings are based.
However, the show does an even bigger disservice by sending the message that American romance scammers are just ordinary people lacking in social skills, everyday oddballs who will make great friends if someone just sits them down, explains what they’re doing is wrong, and gives them a chance to be a real friend.
Romance scams are carried out for a variety of reasons. American scammers may be after the victim’s money, or trying to trick them into doing something illegal, as the Nigerian scammers are. Or they might be running their scams in order to lure victims for violent crime, including rape and murder. The hosts and producers of “Catfish” display alarming naivete when they check in with the scammer at the end of the show or encourage the victim to build a friendship with the scammer. The person has already been proven to be a scammer, and they are well aware that they’re surrounded by a film crew and about to be broadcast on cable television and streaming services. Nobody…including the people who make the show…have any idea what that person would have done if they’d been confronted by the victim, or the victim and a small group of their friends, alone. And they have no idea if the scammer is telling the truth about changing their ways.
Reach out to the appropriate professional if your friend harms, or expresses a wish to harm, themselves or others.
Self-harm, plans or wishes to harm themselves, and abuse of pets, children, or adult friends or relatives living in the home are not a normal and expected part of the healing process from a scam or anything else. Never brush even the slightest incident off as your friend just venting, or something that will never happen again. Contact the appropriate authorities, just as you would if the situation involved someone who is not healing from a romance scam.
Artists who perform or present their work, or provide lessons or tutoring in private homes expect to be thoroughly screened. We know the client is going to carefully examine our portfolio and social media activity, make sure they know our government name and not just our band or stage name, and even reach out to past clients and other professional contacts for references if we are a stranger to them. Even if the event is held in public, or in today’s environment, online, we would not be insulted if a potential client spent some time reading our social media posts and asking around to make sure we’re not likely to take payment for the music lesson and then never log into the Zoom call, or agree to headline their company’ first post-pandemic party later this year, and then not show up.
But in our excitement to find a paying gig, we often forget that we need to screen clients too.
Take some time to make sure the potential client understands your work and what you offer.
Misunderstandings do happen. Someone might play a single video clip of you doing a ballad and not realize that most of your music is metal. Or they might see “writer” on your LinkedIn page and contact you before reading on and realizing that you do not offer homework help or resume writing services. You don’t need to send everyone a quiz, but don’t be afraid to ask them if they’ve read your website or seen several clips of your band playing.
Keep a paragraph, FAQ list, or even a page on your artist’s website that makes it clear you’re an independent artist and not looking to be someone’s employee. Check and make sure everyone who hires you has read it.
In simplest terms, employees fill out a W-4 tax form and get a W-2 at the end of the year. Independent artists get form 1099. If you get “W” forms, taxes get taken out of your paycheck. If you get a 1099, you are responsible for deducting taxes from anything you make above a certain amount, currently $400. Beyond taxes, clarity on this can prevent a lot of misunderstandings. If you’re an independent artist, you’re there to provide the service you agreed to provide. If you’re an employee, the person who hired you can change your work and ask you to do additional tasks.
Avoid people who seem to think the current public health crisis is a joke or a hoax and refuse to follow precautions.
Crowds should not be forming in person at this time. Audience members should ideally be at the event via Zoom, or if that’s not possible, kept at least six feet apart. Masks should be required. Items should not be passed around among strangers. We all want to pack in to a cozy local cafe or bar, hear our favorite local bands, and cheer and laugh and talk as much as we want, with nothing across our face. But doing that right now is dangerous. It’s better to move the concert or the exhibit or reading to Zoom for now so we can all do what we want later, when the virus is under control, than to go ahead and do what we want right now and create a super spreader event. Anyone who cannot see that does not deserve your work.
Be cautious with potential clients who resist putting things in writing.
Clients who insist they “call you so we can talk about it,” or want you to “come in and discuss this in person” are probably not trying to be your friend, or behave warmly toward you. They’re trying to avoid getting anything written down, so you can’t hold them to what they say. If they insist on talking on the phone, via video call, or in person instead of using the written word, insist they confirm things in writing anyway.
Even the most technically inept person can open an email or DM from you that says, “My band is to join your Zoom meeting at 7 p.m. on Friday night and perfrom three songs of our choosing for your virtual open house event,” or “You have asked me to write a 900 word article about internet safety for your company blog, using your safety director as an expert source,” hit reply, and type “Yes.” If the person refuses to do this, or ignores written confirmation of a project they described over the phone or in person, do not begin the project.
Collect professional opinions on the potential client.
Everyone has people who think they’re the greatest and people who do not care for them, for reasons that have nothing to do with the way they would behave as a client. Contacting the person they play golf with every weekend, or invite over for dinner once a month is of course going to result in a glowing testimonial. And if they just broke up with someone following a series of public fights over social media, that person is going to describe all their flaws for you. But if you keep hearing the same thing from people who have worked with them in the past, you can expect that same thing to happen to you. If their cousin just loves them, but every band who ever played in this person’s bar before the pandemic never got paid, you probably won’t get paid for participating in the online event they organized either. You don’t need to conduct a full background check. Just reach out to a few people who have worked with this person in the past.
Remember that online business reviews are not always genuine.
One way to collect opinions on a potential client is to read reviews of their business. This can be helpful, especially if you are seriously pressed for time, and need to go down this list in half an hour, not two or three days. They certainly can be a good place to start, and provide a glimpse into the business, but online reviews are not always real reviews.
Before I narrowed my independent/freelance writing focus to writing for and about Utica artists, I attempted to build a career as a general freelance writer. I was a freelance news reporter/feature writer, and I was a freelance busines writer, working with a content mill based in Texas to write marketing materials for businesses across the state. Most of the work was what you would expect to be offered; email marketing campaigns designed for people who had visited a company’s website, evergreen content on the dangers posed by electrical problems for an electrician. But one assignment stood out. I was given a first name, the number of stars they wanted, and the key words they wanted in a glowing review for their webage. So “Lauren” and “Annie” from Dallas and Houston, who loved the business and couldn’t believe how “efficient” and “friendly” the service was did not exist. Those words were written by “Jess” from the Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania area, living three hours from Reno, Nevada, at the time, and earning $30.00 for her efforts. This was many years ago. I would turn down dishonest work like this today. But it is still out there.
Trust your own judgment and instincts.
Every safety article seems to end with this guideline, but most talk about a “gut feeling” or “inner voice” that should never be ignored. If you have deep feelings of forboding about a client, of course you shouldn’t ignore that, but trusting your judgment and instincts means more than just heeding your bad feelings. Think the situation through. Is the person asking you to go someplace it might be dangerous for you to go? Are they asking you to meet strangers alone? Was there something about the project or gig, or about the way they behaved on the phone or during the Facetime chat that bothered you? Sit back and ask yourself what it was and what that might mean. If you’re afraid you might be overreacting or misreading the situation, talk it out with someone whose judgment you trust.