The only way to take control of your life, raise your standard of living and move beyond merely surviving is to create your own unique product or service that you offer to increasing numbers of people in exchange for the things of value that you desire. This simple formula applies to countries as well as people. A self-sufficient economy has its own products or services of value to export to the world. Similarly, a self-sufficient individual has something of value to exchange in the global marketplace. That thing of value is based on your natural talent, skill, or interest—in other words, your passion!
Of Curmudgeons and Cutthroats
Welcome back to Tales from the Walt Vault, stories of the funny-humorous and funny-strange things that customers and clients do. (#1 in the series appeared in Saipan Tribune April 14, 2010)
"Wrong," said Fred
First, a little background for this tale. As mentioned in a previous column , I have a website called FreeSummerConcerts.com, which, for the past 6 years, has listed and emailed to tens of thousands of subscribers an ongoing calendar of the free summer concerts happening in New York City. Last week, after sending out the email blast, I received the following email from “Fred” concerning a specific concert presented by the popular Central Park Summerstage Organization.
Fred: “John Butler and State Radio” [the name of the artists] is a benefit concert for Summerstage. Not free. You'll find a handful of these shows on the Summerstage calendar.
I wrote back:
Walt: yep, that is correct. If you read the full detailed listing for that event, you'll find the benefit concert info. Even though they [the benefit concerts] are not free, I list them for the same reason Summerstage presents them: to generate funds to help keep the rest of the events free! Thanks for the feedback!
I didn’t want Fred to think I was ungrateful for his feedback, so, to acknowledge that he was indeed justified in pointing out the inconsistency, I added:
Walt: p.s. I'll modify the opening statement [of the weekly email which reads] "The following FREE Concerts are taking place in the next few days in NY" in the next mailing. Thanks!
Fred wrote back:
Fred: I read the description. I was wondering if your [sic] had. It's misleading because your website is called Free Summer Concerts.
Now, was it just me, or do you detect a little “attitude” in Fred’s email voice? So, after thinking about it for a while, and to add a little levity to the exchange, I wrote back:
Walt: Now, don't take that tone of voice with me, young man! Or, I'll refund your money and...., oh, waitaminit---
Get it? It’s a free service. That was a little sarcastic joke on my part. At this point, Fred was supposed to chuckle at himself, and we both would agree that his level of seriousness and complaining was way out of line given that he’d signed up to a free service, created as a free labor of love, to promote free concerts. And, my decision to include a not-so-free concert here and there shouldn’t cause him to get so bent out of shape.
Fred wrote back:
Fred: Please unsubscribe me
Ooops. Guess I lost one. Seems Fred wasn’t amused.
So, anyway, what have we learned today, boys and girls?
1. People will do what people will do
2. Sarcasm, or perhaps simply my brand of it, may not translate well in emails.
3. For someone who joined a free event service (presumably) to have fun, Fred's got absolutely no sense of humor!
[Definition: curmudgeon. noun. a bad-tempered, difficult, cantankerous person.] [sic = the Latin word for “thus,” or “such;” in other words, the misspelling appeared thus in the original email.]
Charlie the Chiseler
A few years ago, I agreed to help a coaching client convert an existing business manual he had found into an ebook in order to make sales online. I reserved the domain name, designed the site, enabled the e-commerce account, hosted the site free of charge on my server, fulfilled the orders manually as necessary, and dealt with customer service issues (refunds, download difficulties, etc.)
I promoted the site on the search engines, and after several months, our Google rank was steadily improving, our sales were increasing, and we were earning about $900/month. We had agreed to split the proceeds three ways—between the original author, Charlie, and myself.) Things were going well.
Hand me a chisel
Then suddenly, two years into the arrangement, without notice, reason, or explanation, Charlie decided to cut me out of the partnership. It started with a request (prompted, he said, by his lawyer’s advice) to transfer ownership of the domain name to his name. Then came his unannounced changing of the passwords to the ecommerce and email accounts.
I was able to observe and save copies of the emails chronicling the entire goings on—with back room deals, money exchanging hands with new partners, and attempted character assassination—as Charlie plotted behind my back, because he was using the shared access email account to communicate with his cohorts!
Charlie continued to (and still does) use the site I created, along with the graphics I designed, the ebook I proofed and edited, as well as the Google ranking I was able to achieve, and continues to sell the book without any compensation to me, or, at the very least of courtesies, any explanation as to why he decided to end the partnership.
In response, I’ve simply walked away, for it profits me not to work with individuals who don't share the same level of trust, respect and courtesy with which I conduct my affairs.
One advisor suggested I take legal action. However, there was no written contract in our gentleman’s agreement. As a general rule, I don't do contracts. I figure if I have to force a person to act ethically (especially in such a simple low-stakes agreement) with a piece of paper, then this is not someone I really want to do business with.
My personal philosophy is that I don’t chase money. Money chases me. The amount of mental, physical and emotional energy required to force people to pay something they don’t want to pay is simply not worth it to me. That energy could be better used to create something more lasting and that generates money that is free of negative energy, and given grudgingly, with resentment and ill-will. (I give that same advice to my friends seeking child support or alimony from former spouses. What if he/she simply wasn’t around for you to chase for cash? You’d have create your own income, anyway, wouldn’t you? So just skip the battle, and go straight for the glory.)
In a future edition of this series, I’ll share the story of the $7,000 small claims court victory I won over a video producer who tried to blackmail me for more money than we had agreed upon, and the “glory” of national media exposure I achieved by creating my own rather than giving in to his extortion.
The soul proprietor
But what about justice, Walt, you ask? Well, in reality, our “justice” system dispenses punishment and money, not justice. Money is not justice, it is merely compensation. However, for those who need a little karmic footnote to this story, I’ll share this with you. In one revealing email between Charlie and his new partner-in-the-chisel shortly after the split, Charlie mentioned that sales were down 50% since cutting me out of the partnership.
You see, I believe that products sell and businesses thrive because of the sustained focused creative energy of the people behind it. Withdrawing that creative force from a business or project is like removing its soul.
So, what have we learned from this tale from the Walt Vault, boys and girls?
1. People will do what people will do.
2. Justice is a natural process of balance that doesn’t need to be enforced with a piece of paper, and works well if you have the patience.
3. Fred in New York still has no sense of humor.
[Definitions: cutthroat noun. An unprincipled, ruthless person.
chisel. verb. to cheat or swindle (someone): He chiseled me out of fifty dollars.
Stay tuned for more exciting gems from the Walt Vault, and, in the meantime, go for the glory!
Note: Ever wanted to direct your friends and family to a set of websites that revealed the best things about Saipan? Do what I do: send them to www.bestofsaipan.com!
Note: Fans and followers of the books, Chicken Feathers and Garlic Skin: Diary of a Chinese Garment Factory Girl on Saipan (saipanfactorygirl.com) or Jamaican on Saipan (jamaicanonsaipan.com), or Doing Business on Saipan (saipanliving.com) may place orders on those sites, or…..yes, AMAZON.COM!