Wasted Opportunities #3: No Written Contract and a Damaged Relationship

This one of many retrospective accounts of a money making idea blundered or not followed up because of procrastination.
It serves as my own reminder and as a lesson for future reference.

Dear diary…

In 2007 I set up a small illustration venture producing postcards and greetings cards depicting my town. Being keen and green I was naturally eager to get these illustrated products on sale in as many shops, libraries, museums and similar locations as possible.

My prospecting of potential outlets led to me striking up a good working relationship with the local borough council museum. While working a few part time jobs in addition to the business experiment, the free time was used in volunteering at the museum (good for the C.V. and an ideal way to network). This was the route I took in establishing a mutual agreement for the display and sale of my work. Critically, several important factors were left out of my decision making.

What happened

As a DIY handyman, my duties involved setting up exhibitions and acting as a general assistant to the museum manager. We set up a commission structure for which I rather stupidly offered 50% of sales to the museum. My thinking at the time was to try and strongly incentivise the management to push my products a little bit more. Also, a formal contract was never drawn up outlining names, dates, pricing and general stipulations. Instead of executing due diligence and discussing how to operate, I merely dropped in when I remembered to see how sales were progressing. Unbeknown to me during a lengthy period when I did not check in, the museum manager left the UK to take a job elsewhere and a new person was appointed in her place.

Getting my rightfully owed money became a nightmare. I could not prove who I was, there was no record of my agreement with the museum and even worse, I involved the local Citizen’s Advice Bureau who provided bad guidance and damaged my relationship with the museum permanently. The museum do not want to display my products for sale most likely due to the strongly worded letter I sent demanding payment. I got the money eventually, but have lost an excellent sales outlet.

What might have happened

If I’d kept in regular contact and got a signed contract, there would have been no misunderstanding. I would have ensured the new museum manager was informed by the previous manager of our business arrangement and things could have continued uninterrupted. I might have been able to sell other art in addition to my greetings cards.

Why I missed out and lessons learned

The lesson learned is never to rely on other people for anything. What annoyed me was the fact no communication existed between the former and current museum managers and therefore nobody knew who I was. On the other hand I failed to act on my own common sense because I believed such formalities were unnecessary. The truth is, it only takes 10 minutes to write and print an agreement and if I’d provided this to the museum I’m sure it would have been passed on.

My instincts for good business practice went ignored even to the point that I allowed Citizen’s Advice to put words in my mouth when I “confronted” the museum with what I regarded as a set of rude demands. Even though I was basically right in citing various copyright laws and small claims proceedings, it was a bad first impression to present to a group of staff who did not know me. In future I will use tact and diplomacy on my own terms instead of mild threats as suggested by someone else.

From the outset I should have
  • Given away a standard 20% on all sales
  • Drawn up a template contract requiring a signature
  • Phoned on a monthly basis to check sales
  • Collected any money owing on a monthly basis
  • Correctly counted how many of each cards were initially handed over
  • Continued the same excellent relationship I had with the former staff