Has anyone ever talked up your talent and potential only to let you down?
Have you invested good money into a business venture, program, contest, or any number of schemes only to wind up holding an empty bag?
If you answered yes to any of these questions, don’t feel bad.
Even the shrewdest among us get scammed, lied to, and taken advantage of at times.
Sometimes the perpetrator had perfectly good intentions, but unfortunately there are a whole lot of people out there who don’t.
These con artists see a chance to make a fast buck at someone else’s expense and they take it.
Even if you answered “no” to these questions, consider yourself lucky so far – and read on to find out how to protect yourself in the future.
Chances are, you will run into bad situations at some point.
Why Creative Types Are Easy Prey
You might think that you’re not well-known enough as a writer, musician, artist, or freelancer to attract attention from anyone, let alone scammers.
But beginners are often prime targets because they don’t know any better (yet).
The sad fact is that if you’re a creator with any kind of dream or talent, there are hundreds (if not thousands) of unscrupulous characters just dying to sink their teeth in and take a bite out of you and your wallet.
Why? Because you want something – sometimes very badly.
Whether it’s fame, money, recognition, or simply respect as an artist – the more you want your dream, the more vulnerable you could be to predators and shady characters.
The bad guys are smart enough to see your hopes and desires (or even your desperation, although hopefully that doesn’t apply to you) and charming enough to convince you that they can help you have it all.
So you believe them, because you want to.
You take them at their word.
You buy into their promises.
You shell out money and time and invest your talent.
And then you wait.
You wait to be paid, you wait for the dream connection to the big influencer, you wait for the prime opportunity.
But the promised result never comes.
The slimeball’s lies hurt not only you but your fellow creatives as well.
How One Bad Apple Can Spoil Entire Artistic Communities
It’s disheartening and discouraging when you’re taken advantage of – so much so that a bad experience or two can make you want to give up on your dream.
In a worst case scenario, you might be financially or emotionally devastated to the point of having no choice but to quit.
I’ve seen it happen. It’s not just bad for individuals, but for the whole scene.
You see, con artists love to pit creatives against each other.
After a while, you’re not sure who you can believe or who you can trust.
You might begin to wonder whether everyone’s crooked in some way.
You might become soured on your craft altogether.
I hope this never happens to you.
It’s not pleasant to think about being lied to, cheated, or taken advantage of, but you should be aware it can happen and prepare for it.
If I can help even a few readers avoid the losses and pain that come with being “taken” then this post will be worth it.
Just so we’re clear: the scammers, con artists, and outright criminals I’m referring to in this post are (or pose as) agents, brokers, representatives, promoters, venue or gallery owners, event organizers, or even some teachers and coaches – basically any small- to mid-level industry person who positions themselves as someone who can significantly help your career.
Someone who claims to be an influential gatekeeper – but who (in reality) has few results to show for all their talk.
Fortunately, you can learn to be smart and cautious. You can train yourself see the red flags long before you ever get burned.
How To Sniff Out the Sharks and Protect Yourself
We all learn the hard way. It’s unavoidable.
And sooner or later you’ll probably run into a flimflammer.
Fortunately, you can learn from others’ experiences. And if you know that you’re the type of person who is easily swayed by charm or taken in by a good story, you can use these tactics to protect yourself.
If you start with these tips, you’ll be well on your way.
1. Beware outrageous promises
If what they’re promising seems too good to be true, it probably is.
That includes pay rates or advances that are 3-4 times higher than usual for yourself or your market, promises of amazing opportunities, exposure, or introductions (with implied results), or heaps of flattery to make you believe that you’re better than your peers and you belong in a more exclusive group.
Do your research. Know your market. Ask questions and cultivate healthy skepticism.
2. Make them prove themselves to you (and not the other way around)
Scammers work hard to appear more important than they really are. They’ll often say anything to convince you that they have the power and influence to get you what you want. It’s not true.
You hold the power because you’re the one with the skills and talent. Without you, they have no business.
Make them prove to you – over a period of months or years – that they can deliver the results they promise you. Make them jump through hoops to prove their trustworthiness. Agree to small projects (many of them) and increase your cooperation slowly. Never base all your hopes for success in another person.
3. Raise your relationship quotient
Networking still gets a lot of focus and attention. You probably hear that you have to be everywhere and know everybody – both in person and on social media.
But the truth is that your true power is in long-term relationships.
Focus on building fewer high quality relationships instead of amassing large numbers of acquaintances. Assume that you don’t really know anyone until you’ve worked with them for at least a year. Don’t jump in to any partnership with immediate and complete trust (unless you already know the person well). Finally, be patient and don’t be afraid to walk away if your experiment doesn’t work out.
4. Be downright nosy
Talk to your friends, peers, and colleagues. Ask if they know the person, if they’ve worked with them, and what their experience was like. Make an effort to get out of your usual circle of acquaintances.
Most of all, be willing to listen if you hear something bad — even if it’s not what you want to hear. And always consider the source: if your peers aren’t exactly concerned with integrity, they might have a lot more tolerance for shady dealings than you do.
5. Research claims and stories
Do your best to verify that stories you hear are true. If someone claims to have represented or worked with a certain writer, artist, performer, or musician, use Google and your personal network to verify that they really did what they say they did.
Scam artists love to drop the names of famous people they’ve worked with. But they may not have been as involved in a celebrity’s success as they claim. It’s up to you to find out for sure. Protect what you’ve built and do your due diligence.
6. Beware “experts” who come suddenly from nowhere
Look for a track record in your artistic community. Any businessperson should have a good reputation even if they’re just starting a new venture. People will usually know something of them.
If someone’s new to your area, find out what they did in their previous town. It doesn’t have to be difficult. You could do a few Google searches or join a Facebook group or two. You’ll probably find all the information you need.
7. Be wary of promises of membership in an elite club
Shady characters know human nature and they take full advantage of that knowledge. They know we all want to stand out.
So they lay on the flattery. They try to convince you that you’re better than everyone else, that you’re more talented than everyone else, that you’re destined for greatness, and that you don’t have to settle for being one of the crowd anymore.
The truth is that there are a whole lot of ways to define success, and thousands of factors that go into it – like hard work over the long haul and persistence. Don’t be suckered in by over-the-top praise and adulation. Keep your head on straight.
8. Be skeptical of sweet talkers
Have you ever been played in a romantic sense? It’s not much fun, but you can use the experience to your benefit.
Con artists will try to “sweep you off your feet” with their sexy business propositions, enticing flattery, and alluring visions of your future career. They know exactly the right things to say to make you throw your common sense out the window and agree to their seductive propositions.
Take it slow. Recognize the sweet talkers and proceed with your relationship just like you would if you were dating.
And if you’re the type to fall head over heels in love overnight, at least keep a lock on your bank account and credit cards.
9. Get it in writing
There’s no excuse for not confirming a conversation or agreement – either informally over email or formally with a contract.
Be suspicious of anyone who refuses to put anything in writing. They probably don’t have your best interests at heart. At the very least, they’re unprofessional. Do you really want the misunderstandings and confusion that arise from dealing with someone like that?
10. Listen and observe
Watch how your potential business partner talks about, treats, and deals with other people.
Their behavior will give you a pretty accurate clue as to how they’ll treat you.
11. Cut zero slack
The first time your scammer breaks a promise and makes a litany of excuses, it’s a red flag.
Whether you like the person or not, whether you feel sorry for him or her – none of that matters. They’ve proven that they’re untrustworthy.
You can be kind but firm. Hold them accountable. Don’t do any more work for them until you’re squared away with the first transaction and then proceed with caution.
12. Be strong and find other opportunities
No matter how small your town, community, or scene is you always have other options. You don’t have to work with anyone – especially someone disreputable and unreliable.
You can start your own scene. You can build an online following. You can drive to the next town.
Don’t ever feel trapped. You’ll find good people and good opportunities if you stick to your guns.
The good news is that most people are honest and mean well. The bad guys or girls aren’t usually the rule – but there are enough of them around to make life interesting.
Don’t Wear Dogbone Underwear
You’ve probably heard it’s a dog-eat-dog world.
That doesn’t mean you have to make it easy for crooks to take a bite out of you.
In my experience, most people are honest and most mistakes aren’t malicious.
But as long as there are people on this planet, there will be thieves, liars, scam artists, and criminals.
Just because you’re creative doesn’t mean you have to be an easy target for unscrupulous characters.
With the internet, you have more tools than ever to check up on questionable stories and outlandish claims. You can connect with your colleagues both online and in person and compare notes. You can post in groups and ask questions.
I’m not telling you to become paranoid or afraid to work with anyone, ever – that’s counterproductive. We all need our scenes and our teams.
Just protect yourself.
Protect yourself from being taken advantage of and you can protect your work, your reputation, and your future from being smeared by thugs.
Start today. Get into a habit of questioning. Listen and observe peoples’ responses.
Go into new business relationships with your eyes open. Test every new partner on small levels before you go “all in” with big investments of time or money.
Once you learn to be discerning, you’ll start finding great people to work with and watch your creative ventures thrive.
You work hard.
You deserve the fruits of all your efforts.
Photo credit: come with us! by l@mie on FlickrCC. No changes made.