Here’s a little bit of helpful information for anyone planning on engaging the services of small businesses in Sweden. Although this information is plainly applicable anywhere in the world, I and other non-Swedish people with whom I have discussed this have discovered it to be especially applicable in Sweden. I’ve done quite a bit of business in my life (not as a business person but as a creative artist purchasing services for my work) and — being an idealist — I have often made the mistake of doing it like a hippie, thinking that I can trust people in the world of the arts and in those lines of work connected with the arts. I’m telling you these things so you don’t make the same mistakes as I have.
Firstly and foremost, always insist on a formal quotation for work in writing — preferably, get it as detailed as possible in a signed and dated contract. If they won’t give you the information you want in the way that you want it, then they’re bullshitting you. Just walk away.
If you’re dealing with greedy unprofessional people or scammers (they often behave in similar ways), the first “quote” you’ll receive for work will be a very bare one without any tax added or other extras. Do NOT settle for that. Always ask the question: “Is this the final figure that I will have to pay? If not, what are the extras?” You see, such people will always quote you a figure without tax. I can guarantee this. They know exactly what they’re doing. They’re trying to make their quote seem as small as possible so you will accept it. They’re hoping you won’t even bring it up at all, until you get the bill, by which time it’s too late for you to get out. This means that what they’re quoting you is up to 25% less than the real figure that you will pay. That is one quarter of the bill! They will not give you the figure and then immediately say “plus tax” and then tell you how much that would be too (which would be the honest and professional thing to do). That will be concealed from you. You will actually have to ask them: “Does that figure include tax?” and only then will they be forced to admit that it doesn’t.
In any case, the whole tax thing is a bit of a joke as far as greedy unprofessional people or scammers are concerned for I can guarantee almost with certainty that they won’t be paying any tax themselves on your payment! Therefore, adding tax to their quoted figure is just a way of bumping up the price even more and making an extra 20-25% out of you which will never be paid as tax by them.
Make sure that you also ask what extra expenses are involved. Get it all formally in writing. Leave nothing to a mere verbal agreement or something in some casual email exchange or spoken about in an internet chat. Ask for a written statement or contract formally signed and dated with all fees, taxes and extras mentioned, otherwise you will get a terrible shock when their bill finally arrives. That I can guarantee.
If you are given a quote involving an hourly rate rather than a single figure for the whole job, then make sure they also tell you how many hours the work is going to take and get that in writing. This is crucial, for otherwise they can make the job take as long as they like (which is tantamount to giving them permission to print money for themselves at your expense), drain all your resources and you will have no comeback at them whatsoever. For a short job, lasting a day or two, an hourly rate is acceptable. But if the job is going to take much longer than that then they should really give you a single-figure quote rather than an hourly one. This is the professional way to do business; so if they don’t or won’t do business like that then they are unprofessional, to say the least, or greedy or planning to scam you.
If, when you ask them how many hours the job will involve, they say they can’t possibly answer that, just walk away. Immediately. Any genuine professional can estimate how long a job will take. It may take a bit of work but they can do it. They should really be able to give you a complete figure for the whole job. This is how professional business is done. If they start waffling about how every job is different so they can’t tell you how long it will take, then it’s either because they don’t want to (so they can keep their options open and get as much money out of you as possible) or they simply don’t have enough experience in their line of work to know what is involved in the job. Either way, you’re going to be scammed, so just say goodbye and walk away. It’s that easy. Walking away from greedy unprofessional people or scammers at that stage of the game will save you a vast amount of money. It could make the difference between your solvency and your bankruptcy.
You should be aware that if you try to question anything later down the line (for example, when you receive a bill from them which makes your hair stand on end!) they will not try to reassure you or receive your queries with a good customer service attitude. Instead, they will be angry and belligerent and try to put the blame back on you. I can absolutely guarantee this. They will claim that there were all sorts of hidden extras which they had not foreseen. Then they will try to make you feel guilty for not trusting them — for daring to question them. They will accuse you of being awkward – of being a difficult client (no matter how friendly, tentative or conciliatory you try to be with your queries). The very fact that you are questioning their business methods will trigger a surprisingly unpleasant response. This is a classic sociopathic kind of reaction and it will shock you. In fact, it’s designed to shock you because they are determined to get their own way (i.e. to get as much money out of you as possible) and they will accept no obstructions. If you thought you had a good relationship with the business person up to that point, that illusion will instantly crumble. You will see another side of them which is ‘Jekyll and Hyde’ in its nature.
It reminds me of an incident I experienced as a child. A schoolfriend went around bragging that he had found gold of great value buried in the grounds of his apartment block. Smelling a rat, I doubted his story and went to check. Finding a patch of earth which had been recently disturbed, I dug it up and there was a hoard of ordinary stones painted gold. (My motto has always been “Leave no stone unturned!” ;-). When I told him (in a friendly and not a sneering way) that I knew the truth about his “gold” he went completely mental and physically attacked me with fists flying, accusing me of trespass and theft and lies.
This is a sociopathic pattern I have seen repeated many times when those who behave dishonestly are questioned by others about their dishonesty. This applies also to business people whose methods are greedy, unprofessional and not upstanding. Even though they refused to have any kind of detailed written contract with you, they will accuse you of not sticking to your (albeit verbal or casual) arrangement with them, of withholding money from them. They will try to make you feel like a criminal who is not honouring his or her obligations. They are very adept at this. It is a vital part of their Modus Operandi to intimidate you into the passive acceptance of their dissembling business practice. They will even turn round to you and say things like “I knew I should have made a contract with you in the first place but I mistakenly trusted you”. Yes! Even though it was them who didn’t give you a contract and who deliberately concealed the true cost of the work (which they knew would be enormous). They are so good at twisting things. This is crazy stuff! You would almost think that they’d had psychological training specialising in how to turn the tables on anyone who questions their business methods. Remember, they will never under any circumstances admit to being in the wrong or behaving unacceptably. It will all be a case of you trying to avoid your obligations and refusing to pay for services rendered. So all you can do at that stage is comply with what they want, which of course is their aim. If, at that point, you decide to challenge them and refuse to pay their extortionate fees unless they negotiate a reasonable figure, claiming that they are guilty of malpractice, they will go ballistic and threaten you will all kinds of legal redress and how they will spread it around that you are a debtor and absconder. This is a pattern I have both personally experienced and been told about by others in a similar position many times.
The bottom line is this: A true professional in business will insist on making a written, signed and dated quotation/contract with you. You have every right to be naive and unwitting and the onus is definitely on them, as business professionals, to ensure that you cannot be exploited or deceived in any way by going ahead and putting everything formally in writing in a contract. That is how they should want it to be. The very fact that they don’t is a sign at the outset of their dishonesty. They shouldn’t wait to see if you don’t ask for a written quotation/contract and then go on to accept that without a murmur. Such behaviour is a form or professional misconduct and puts the client potentially at risk. In fact, it reminds me of the people who say that a woman who wears revealing clothing in the street deserves to be raped. “She asked for it!” as they say. So if a business person, after scamming you, says “Well it’s your own fault for not asking for a contract at the beginning or for agreeing to an agreed hourly rate”, they are behaving like the people who say that a woman who wears revealing clothing and is raped gets what she deserves. Your naivete should never be a good enough reason for them to scam you or milk you of your resources. So I say again that the onus is on them to ensure that all is done correctly. However, because so many business people are not real professionals and are not wholly honest and are out to get as much out of you as they can, then it behoves the client to ask for what is not being provided: a detailed, written, signed and dated quotation/contract which is binding.
I’m sharing all this so you are forewarned and forearmed. It isn’t only me who has experienced this but many that I know. Please do not assume that everyone is essentially good and honest, especially in the world of the arts. They are not. If people in business won’t provide you with the information you want and if they won’t give you a detailed, formal, written inventory of the costs as representing the final figure which you will have to pay, then just walk away or you will be in a mess financially and regret that you ever did business with them. Being able to say no or walk away from potentially draining or harmful experiences in life before they happen is one of the most important and empowering lessons we can learn.
One final note. When people in business behave like that, they are “cutting off their noses to spite their faces”; because by treating you in this manner they will not only lose your business but also the potential business of all those to whom you would have recommended them if they had behaved themselves. They are so short-sighted that they cannot see that they would have made far more money from their business transaction with you if they had gained your trust through the time-honoured business practice of “goodwill”. Goodwill in business means good sales service, good work practice and good after-sales service coupled with total transparency. Goodwill and helpful customer service are at the heart of a successful business. Very many small businesses flounder and fail because of greed and/or malpractice, when they could have been flourishing if they had thought in the long-term instead of the short-term. Myopia is not a useful quality in the world of business.
I hope you have found the caveats in this article helpful. I wish I had taken them onboard myself a long time ago! Thanks for reading. Feel free to share this with whoever you want.
© Alan Morrison, 2012