Owning a Small Business

I Will Never Make This Business Mistake Again

I made a HUGE mistake this summer. I let a friend of 20 plus years talk me into having an estate sale together. And I did so without drawing up a contract. This was the worst business mistake I have ever made, and it is not one that I will ever make again. What was suppose to happen in several weeks time, no more than a month turned into a horrible nightmare of 3 months that ended badly. This is a cautionary tale of why you should never have any kind of business with family or friends without a contract on paper. And I honestly knew better, even thought about making a contract, but quickly dismissed the idea because I didn’t want her to think I didn’t trust her and our friendship. So here is the story:

Back in the beginning of March my friend called me with a business proposition. She wanted to have an Estate Sale, and said she wanted my business expertise because she had no idea how to do any of the things an estate sale would entail. In all honesty when she asked me to do this, my gut was screaming, “NO!” But she made a good sales pitch and because we had been close friends for most of our lives I ignored that gut feeling. It sounded like a good opportunity, and because my husband lost his job of 17 plus years end of last year, I felt like I couldn’t say no. (Just as a side note, my husband found work within a short time frame, but it is not what we are used to.) So here are the first two mistakes I made with this situation. One, my gut feeling was to say no thank you. Because I’ve known this person for so long and she was a close friend, I knew exactly why my gut was screaming no. I won’t go into the reasons here because it is unnecessary to make my point. My second mistake was being persuaded by a feeling of, “I have to because of money.” I will point out that she used this point about my husband’s job as a good reason for me to agree to do it. That should have been another BIG RED FLAG, but I brushed it aside. This was another mistake. My other reasons for not doing this is that it would take away time from my business and from our homestead that we have been working extremely hard on since March of last year, and that it would be too much with my current health issues. I was right on both accounts. I discussed my concerns with my friend and we came to a verbal agreement. We agreed on me making commission off of each item that sold for my services. This is where the major problem came in with nothing being on paper. What turned into spending a few days at her house pricing and organizing, bringing in some of my own handpicked vintage items to sell, setting up, then advertising, and holding the estate sale turned into me having to do a whole bunch of things I never agreed to do over a period of three months. On top of all that, I ended up having to bring in contract labor, at my own expense, to get things finished last minute because my friend didn’t do things on her end. I also had to buy supplies that she never picked up that I had waited on for several weeks. My husband even stepped in and worked several days. It was that bad. I would have never allowed this to happen with a simple business partner. See how emotions get in the way of making smart business decisions? I didn’t want our friendship damaged so I allowed her to manipulate and use me. And looking back, I honestly believe that is why she did what she did. I also had my business reputation to consider. This is another point to make. I was taking all the risk and she had all the control with nothing on paper because it was at her house. I was stupid. I ignored what I knew because it was for a friend. I cannot emphasize enough, NEVER EVER do business with family or friends without it on paper and both parties have signed!

Here were some of the other issues: We agreed on a 2-3 day estate sale. When setting a date, she would only agree to a one day sale after all the work I put in. I felt like I had no choice but to follow through because of my expenses. When it became clear there was no way to have the sale and be ready by a certain arbitrary date, she refused to cancel after saying we could reschedule if needed. I will point out that things not being ready in time was due to her unpacking a storage shed full of boxes of stuff last minute before the sale. This was another violation of our agreement. She then threatened to just have it herself with her boyfriend when I said we needed to reschedule the sale. (This would have meant I didn’t get paid.) This is the point that I brought in my husband and contract labor at my own expense. Did I address these issues with her at the time. Yes, I did. But you can’t force someone to be reasonable. We had the one day sale. It didn’t do as well as she wanted. It actually did better than I expected with no more traffic than we had. I contributed this to it being thrown together last minute and not well advertised as it should have been. Then the decision was made to have a two day sale. Reluctantly on my part, because I knew the weekend she demanded was a very bad weekend to have it. It was tax free weekend, and I knew everyone would be at the mall and all the stores buying things for school. When I say demand, I mean demand. There was absolutely no willingness to compromise or be reasonable. So you can see how this starts really snowballing downhill. Then two – three days before the sale, she calls me and tells me her work schedule changed and she was working the first day of the sale. She told me to work it with her boyfriend. At this point I stood my ground and said no. I told her we needed to cancel for that day if she wasn’t going to work it. From there I received a series of texts and phone calls trying to force me to agree to work with her boyfriend. I had my reasons for not agreeing to this. By this point, I was exhausted, stressed, and hurt. However, I stood my ground on canceling. Out of respect for our friendship, I pushed through even though my gut feeling was to walk away. That is what I should have done and here is why. We had a business agreement even if it was “just” a verbal agreement. Legally and morally, I had every right to end it right there. She violated our agreement multiple times, and I hung in because it was a friend. This was my last mistake with this situation. Hanging in there in an impossibly bad situation, knowing I should have nipped it in the bud before things got even worse. I will admit, I sort of felt the worse part coming, but my eyes were opened. I truly had no idea just how bad it was because I was looking at it through a lens of professional conduct and respect for our friendship.

How it ended: The last day of the estate sale went as bad as I expected. Very little traffic through, mostly old retired people being nosy about the house with no intent to buy anything. After expenses and consideration of time spent, I had made very little. Some of her neighbors had suggested we work the World’s Longest Yard Sale which was just four days away. After agreeing on it, not surprisingly, she backed out. It became clear she had simply wanted rid of her stuff and someone to do it for her. And by this point I was angry. Mostly because of the disrespect I had been shown throughout the entire process, especially that day, and it didn’t help matters that she brought her boyfriend in who decided he would weigh in on everything. At closing, I promptly got up and started gathering all of my items that had not sold. While doing this, my “friend” followed me around the house harassing me, demanding that I see things her way. Her way was that I had wronged her in some way. She insisted I agree with her. Multiple times she got in my face and stepped in my walking path. Her eyes looked like they were going to pop out of her head. This is no exaggeration. She was completely enraged, and I completely sick over the entire situation trying to handle it with all the grace and professionalism I could muster. I believe I accomplished that, and can honestly say I did nothing to shame myself. She approached my husband this way twice in much the same manner. She wanted a fight and I refused to give her one.

Things were left with me politely telling her that we would never be doing anything like this together again for the sake of our friendship. And we agreed to let things be settled. Even though I was deeply hurt, I was willing to let it all go. After all, I’d seen behavior like this before, just not ever against me or so over the top. Those are the kinds of things you know and learn about someone you’ve known for 20 plus years. The good, the bad, and the ugly. And you forgive and you overlook shortcomings because none of us are perfect. It’s also why my gut feeling was to say no from the get go. The next day I texted her assuming everything was OK because we agreed it was the day before. She sent back an ugly text accusing me of more wrong doing with new allegations.

And that was the hardest lesson of all. Realizing someone that you thought was a friend, is not really a friend and that they have no respect for you. Sometimes that’s the problem with bending over backwards for people. You get used and discarded. Don’t let yourself be used. Don’t do business even with family or friends without a contract on paper. Go with your gut in business, it won’t steer you wrong.

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