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January 17, 2011
Hangin' With the Wrong Crowd
Imagine yourself mingling with other industry professionals in an upscale ballroom at some five-star resort complete with hosted bar and a string trio. You are in full networking mode, exchanging business cards, flashing your best smile, and trying your best to remember everyone’s name. During one particularly productive discussion, someone you just met blurts out, “By the way, have I mentioned I’m a convicted felon?”

The band stops, the crowd goes quiet, and your face goes red. How would you react to this new bit of information? Would the conversation continue, or would you find any excuse to make a quick getaway?

As ludicrous as my little scenario sounds, it’s not as crazy as it seems. You see, there are criminals among us…all kinds. Some have been caught and served time in the Big House. Others have managed to avoid capture to this point. You shouldn’t let your guard down around either kind. Unfortunately, they won’t announce their criminal tendencies the moment you shake hands. Therefore, it’s up to you to protect yourself with a little due diligence.

Now, this isn’t some morality play or mindless rant: This is a very commonsense approach I ask every person reading this to take. Networking and relationship-building are two necessary components of business. In fact, people in business likely won't survive long-term without this skill-set. However, whom you choose to associate with is as important as what you do for a living.

The impetus behind this article came from a phone call I received a couple weeks ago. Someone I had never met (or even heard of) found our website and came to us with grandiose plans to build an ongoing partnership, supplying us with all the product we could ever hope to buy.
I won’t get into the details, but my caller set off my “B.S. Detector”, so immediately upon hanging up I did a Google search. Bingo! Turns out my prospective “partner” spent much of the middle part of the last decade behind bars for bank fraud. Now, from my perspective, this is where we pull out the ol’ Monopoly reference: “Do not pass go, do not collect $200.” In other words, that is where my contact with this person ended. I didn’t want an explanation, I didn’t want to give the benefit of the doubt, I didn’t even bother with a return phone call.

Harsh? Maybe. Do I feel bad about it? Not a bit. You’ve all heard the expression a leopard can’t change its spots. That’s how I feel about criminals, whether they’ve already gotten caught and convicted or if their date with judge and jury is still TBD (in other words, they just haven’t gotten caught yet). Even through no wrongdoing of your own, associating with the “bad guys” in any industry can be the kiss of death to your reputation and your future.

The phone call described above is by no means my first experience with a sheister. In fact, they are everywhere. Since some of them have a lot of money (through their sheisting of others, of course) and would love to sue me for libel (despite me conveying the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth), I’m not going to name names. Then again, I don’t have to…my friend Mr. Google can do that for me. Now, I’m not saying everything you read online is 100% gospel truth, but if enough people are mad enough to complain about a person and/or company to share it with the free world…well, you know what they say about smoke and fire and the walking, swimming, and quacking tendencies of a duck.

I can think of at least a dozen occasions where a quick internet search kept me from entering into a business relationship or a note transaction with the wrong kind of “partner”. Take it from me – find out as much as you can about the people you do business with. Ask for business references and personal references: Be prepared to provide the same to them. After all, your business relationships, to a large extent, will determine how successful you will be. If you choose to do business with those with criminal backgrounds, those who are ethically bankrupt, and those who prey and profit from the ignorant, let me throw this philosophical gem out there: When a dove begins to associate with crows, its feathers remain white but its heart grows black.

And I’ve yet to see a leopard with stripes. It’s a jungle out there – be careful!

Make it a great week,


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