Work smart and don’t let people take advantage of you.

A year since my last blog, time really does fly when you do nothing fun and work all the time. I think this blog is just me checking in every year and saying sorry for not posting, that should draw a crowd.

I started off with a “This is what I’ve been doing” post, but it’s turned into a moan fest/cautionary tail. I guess I’m feeling introspective on my 33rd birthday, which technically ended half an hour ago. I’m sitting here watching people on Youtube play games that I don’t have the time to play or the funds to buy, armed with a rum and coke, trying to breath life into my dead blog once again.

I guess I’m feeling introspective on my 33rd birthday, which technically ended half an hour ago. I’m sitting here watching people on Youtube play games that I don’t have the time to play or the funds to buy, armed with a rum and coke, trying to breath life into my dead blog once again.

Things have been interesting over the past 11 months. I quit the webdesign business I spent 3+ years building, that was a tough decision. Me and the family were forced to move house, which was unfortunate. At one time we thought we would buy that house and live there for a very long time. It stung when the landlady said she needed to sell the house and we just weren’t in a position to buy it. It was strange, the number of people who said, why don’t you just buy the house? As if we were giving away rent for shits and giggles. I don’t know why people thought we had a £10k deposit lying around, or what sort of mortgage we could get on my wage of £7000 a year.

It seems silly to say I was quite miserable in some ways, living in a run down house that we were struggling to fix up, keeping on top of, but never making a dent in student loans and credit cards. Truth be told I felt like a failure, a bad provider to my kids and wife. Luckily I had the girls who never failed to give me purpose with their unconditional love and support. I’d convinced myself that working at home and setting my own hours was a suitable trade off for the lower quality of life I was providing. I would tell myself that I could work around living, but the work never stopped. I’d be getting emails or messages at all hours and would constantly be on the phone or PC replying to emails, doing minor tweaks to websites or researching for the next idea my business partner had come up with. Fixing problem that inevitably arise with IT systems.

Despite the ability to set my own working hours, 50% of the time I was around the family, I wasn’t really with the family.

I keep calling it my business, but the friend I’d started the company with still owned the whole thing 100%, even after years of promises that I’d own my fair share. That felt bad to say the least. In the last 6 months I was still working with him, I only received a full wage 3 of the 6 months, each time there was some incident that would he would brush aside, that took part of my wages away for a week or two and would have snowballed further If I’d stuck around.

Truth be told I’m a complete pushover and I shouldn’t have stuck around for as long as I did, not quietly anyway. I let it go too far and can shoulder my own blame for not speaking up. I don’t think he took advantage of me knowingly or intentionally, but through my own lack of a back bone and his dominant personality traits and a little ignorance to the feelings of others around him, it just happened.

I was supposed to build the websites and he was going to sell them, that was the plan. I was in the middle of setting up my own webdesign company when we started and it seemed logical to partner with someone who was good at talking people into things. I can’t talk money, I’m completely incapable. What I’d sell for £300 he could sell for £1200. A few months in we were talking about our progress. I realised he was talking about me like an employee and this rang alarm bells. I hadn’t given up my own fledgling business just to be another employee for someone else. I still had my full time job at this point and was workings in the evenings and days off to build our business. In an uncharacteristic show of spine I demanded to be a partner in this or I’d walk away. He was taken a back, which was surprising. In his mind I was happily risking my job and burning my wick at both ends to build him a business, regardless that we needed each others skills equally. That’s why he’d brought me a Playstation around Christmas, he’d said it was to say thank you. That was nice, but I’d spent dozens if not hundreds of hours building him personal websites, separate from what I saw as our joint ventures. I’d built community sites that he was selling fitness programmes through and a business coaching services website where he was charging upwards of £1000 a month for some services, despite his business experience being what we’d done together. This was all going to him personally and I’d not asked for anything, the Playstation seemed like a nice thank you, not one I’d asked for, and certainly not worth giving up my ambitions over. He grudgingly agreed when I wouldn’t budge, I was a partner or nothing and he didn’t really have an option, I was willing to walk away.

When we had enough clients under our belt I quit my day job and made the leap to working full time. For the first year I was taking home about £600 a month, which rose to £800 shortly. It went quite well for the first year. My business partner recruited most of his personal trainer friends and we were supplying them services for a monthly fee and were reasonably secure. Not flush, but secure. He ran into health problems which took him out of the business for somewhere around a year and I carried on with the day to day bits and we didn’t lose many clients so things carried on as normal with both of us taking home £800 a month. When he came back, it was up and down for a while, I wanted help with chasing outstanding debtors, bookkeeping and general client relations. I never did get the help with chasing unpaid invoices or doing the bookkeeping over the next two year, I don’t know if he spoke to the clients much. I know they always emailed me so I’m thinking it was minimal. I felt like I was doing everything and getting no help. There always seemed to be something new and more interesting than our core business that took his attention.

I think the point when I decided to leave was around November/December 2017. I wimped out on any immediate action, but the seed was sown after an extended weekend of hell. I’d been asking him for bank statements for about 9 months. I’d used our project management system to send weekly reminders for about 3 months, then gave up. He’s told me our book weren’t due till January so I though I had time to get things in order. One day I got a call from him, a Friday morning, saying the accountant needed the books done by Monday.

He was going out drinking over the weekend because it was his birthday and could I sort it. To say I was angry would be like saying a tropical storm is a bit windy. I still didn’t have any bank statements to reconcile, no receipts from him for the year and I wasn’t very familiar with our new accounting program. At some point the next day, the bank statements did arrive, but half of them were missing and they were pdf’s that I couldn’t import into the accounts software. We had multiple revenue streams, from multiple Paypal accounts, to multiple websites with individual card processing accounts, to direct debits, all which needed entering and reconciling with the bank records. Our money was coming from everywhere and it was an utter nightmare to make everything tally. From the Friday to the Tuesday I think I got 9 hours sleep and worked constantly the rest of the time. I slept at my desk and I’m pretty sure I remember sobbing at points. I’ve never felt so betrayed in my life. Knowing I was putting myself through one of the worst episodes of my life for his good. I reminded myself I didn’t officially own any part of the company, I wasn’t even officially employed by it. Technically I was a freelancer. I could have raised a middle finger, dropped everything and walked away, facing no repercussions.

I’d spoken to him half way through, he was drunk or hung over and going out again that day or was already away on a long weekend. I don’t remember, I wasn’t invited, but I needed the missing bank statements and he had access to the online banking. On Tuesday I spoke to the accountant and later that week our books were submitted on time. I slept for a day after that and told myself, never again. I’d never felt abandoned like it.

I’ve always been a problem solver, the person that people come to to get things working. It never really bothered me that I’d get asked to do thing that a 30 second google would tell you how to do. Quite often I’d google the answer and then do whatever people couldn’t be bothered to figure out themselves. Sometime it took minutes other times hours. This time it was different though, it was such a betrayal of empathy that it felt like a personal attack. It wasn’t even the money, things had been taken out of the bank to buy clothes, or a new passport for his holiday. The business had bought his camera and printer for some reason. I’d agreed he could buy a new laptop at £30 a month and yet  £1000 had been taken out of the bank in one go. Money that we were very close to needing for wages.

That wasn’t what bothered me most. It was the thought that if the roles were reversed, would he do that for me? I had to say no. He’d brush it off and say we’d hire someone to do it at minimum wage, show me someone capable of book keeping that would sort our mess out for minimum wage. That month wages were late and incomplete. I would last another 5 months because I was afraid to leave, but eventually I would apply for other jobs. During that time a chunk of cash disappeared for hemp oil? Funny that a web design firm would need that. It was for a new business idea, one of the half dozen personal projects, that I’d built sites for, that had been taking up more and more of his focus over the last year or two. He was spending more time looking for people/affiliate schemes to sell websites for him than he did actually selling sites. I don’t think we even had 10 new paying customers that year. I was doing more free websites than paid ones. I spent about 20 hours on a site for a local tattoo artist, then had to wheedle the information from him that it was a freebie because he’d probably want more services in the future. Then I noticed on Facebook he now had a full back tattoo from the same studio, funny that.

As for the business that had looked after us for 3 years, I was finally promised to be made a director and owner. I was made a director but never owner. I had the legal responsibility but not the reward. Luckily about this time I had a job interview and was successful, because a couple of weeks later we lost our house. If I had to pass a credit check on my self employed 7k a year, my family would have been homeless. I walked away on good terms with a 3 loyal clients, I don’t hold grudges, they don’t help. Writing this probably proves that a little wrong. Three ears of my life spent for three clients.

I thought I started off good humoured but I’ve gone all ranty.

Anyway I should have some sort of positive message to finish on. The whole thing was a calculated risk, and I probably would do something similar again because the experience was invaluable. I’m now experienced in project management, have been a company director, can do company book keeping, can set up an online store ready to take card payments and sell stuff in a matter of hours (call me) am a Photoshop wizard, can do 3D graphics and video editing and have come to realise my own self worth, and the worth of my skills. I’ve had no training in any of the area I now use regularly, everything I know is self taught (with the exception of my degree in animation, though that’s a rant for another day), through long hours of research and trial and error. I have a day job and a small side income from the little webdesign I still do. We moved into a nice new house in a much better area. I might have to cycle 20 miles a day to get to and from work (still can’t afford a car), but the wage is regular and bigger than before and all that exercise means I’m not getting desk belly anymore. We’ve restructured our debts and killed off all our credit cards, life is under control.

I think what I’m trying to take away from this is; don’t get stuck in a rut that you think is comfortable. Look at things objectively and take action that might be scary if you have to. I should never should have let myself get into such a position. I still can’t help feel like I let my family down a bit, I’m not stupid and should have done better for them, but I think that’s partly male ego talking. Now onto the future and more enjoyable things. I’m 60,000 word into my novel, about half way, and that is something I’ll be talking about soon.

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