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If you run a business or know anyone that does - READ THIS!
Member Name: magenta23
Disadvantages: Where do I start?
Setting up on my own
Last year I opened my own business, a clothes and gifts shop. It was an exciting but nail biting time. I had put a lot of time, money and effort into it and was desperately hoping it would be a success. Of course, with the set up costs etc, I was keeping an eye on every penny so's not to go too over budget, but at the same time getting people to know I was here and ready to sell! Advertising is an expensive business and someone offering cheap advertising that will reach a lot of people will seem all too tempting.
Getting your name out there
I first set to work finding all the free advertising I could, making flyers, setting up a facebook page and putting myself on all the free directories on the web. Great I thought, my business name is at the fingertips of millions of potential customers. What I didn't think about was it was also out there for other businesses to see. Energy companies, courier companies, fire alarm engineers.. you name it, I got the calls. Yes these were annoying, but a polite but firm 'Can't talk now' usually got rid of them. Of course, it wasn't only legitimate companies that could now see my business details but every scammer in the country too, and this lot do not leave you alone.
A call from the police...
Less than a week after I opened I received a call from a very friendly police officer at Cornwall Police, welcoming my buisness to the area and saying that they like to make local businesses part of the community. They were currently working on a brochure that was being sent out to thousands of homes about a campaign to tackle knife crime (at the time a very topical issue after a number of high profile stories in the news.) He said it was a free publication that was being funded by local advertising. If I wanted to advertise my business in the brochure I would not only be reaching a huge number of potential customers but would be helping the police in a very good cause and they'd give me priority in other publications they put out in the future. Great I thought, this is going to cost a fortune. But of course my luck was in, because as a new advertiser I would get a 'special rate' - just £90 for a quarter page. Not bad I thought after the other advertising I'd researched. I'll do it. He said he'd send it onto the art department who would contact me shortly to confirm the details I wanted on the ad and then a proof would be sent for my approval. Sounded all very professional.
In hindsight, I should have been sceptical because it was less than 10 mintues before the 'art department' phoned me. They thanked me a over and over for my help in the campaign, laying it on thick about what a help I was and took details such as the phone number, website and address that I wanted on the ad. I asked if I could provide my own artwork as I already had a logo and images and he said no problem and gave me an email address to send it through to, which I did that afternoon.
A few days later an invoice for the advertising arrived, made payable to the publishers and not the police, but this had been explained to me on the phone. I sent the cheque and awaited my copies of the brochure with aniticipation. They never arrived.
Not long after this I received a phone call confirming details of the advert in the Police Safety Manual I'd placed. The conversation got very confused as they said I'd ordered a half page spread at £270! I informed them I only agreed to £90, it was already paid and it was in the Knife Crime publication. The man on the other end said he'd check it out and get someone to phone me back. A few minutes later a woman called demanding this payment, that they were right, I was wrong and the debt was outstanding. It was during these two phone calls that I got a very sick feeling in my stomach. The first thing I did was to do a 1471, which of course said 'the caller witheld their number.'
I wasn't the only mug...
After this I decided to do a bit of research of my own and pages and pages of people with similar experiences came up on google, not only in my region but all over the country. I received, in total, invoices from 4 different companies for various advertising I'd supposedly agreed to, some of them sending many increasingly aggressive 'final demands.' I got no end of phone calls from people claiming to be from charities to police to all sorts, all with similar scripts..by now I could tell them a mile off. I got increasingly more rude to these people, letting them know I was on to them and eventually they gave up and the phone calls and letters fizzled out. The last one who phoned I completely lost it with and I have to say afterwards, felt quite guilty. She sounded very young and inexperienced. She was probably just employed by them and didn't really know what she was getting into, needless to say, I filled her in. I did try contacting the company that took my money, by phone, email and letter. Unsurprisngly I had no reply, they managed to cash my cheque though and no, I never got it back. I'll just have to put it down to an expensive lesson learned.
They need locking up
From the endless reading I've been doing online it seems these scams are big business and thousands of new business owners are being scammed of money they can ill afford. It also seems that many bodies, and the police are well aware of them too, and whilst they have put out a number of warnings it seems they've stopped short of actually putting these sick people behind bars. Clearly the warnings are not enough because they didn't get to me before the scammers did.
The thing that's so sick about these scams and probably why they work so well, is because they pretend to be people you trust on instinct. The police, of course but also charities. I see why they do it, people are more likely to sign up if they think it's in a good cause, but what happens when a genuine charity wants your support? Is some one who's be caught out by these scammers really going to trust them? I'm afraid I wouldn't.
Trust no one
Looking back I feel stupid for being tricked so easily and sadly, but probably more sensibly, it's led to me trusting no one. If you are starting a new business, think twice before listing yourself in every directory going. These people look for new listings and strike just as your setting up, whilst you're looking to get your name out there, you're perhaps a little tired, stressed and not thinking straight and most importantly, that you haven't been tipped off about them yet. I've had very few genuine positive leads off the back of this type of free advertising and it's caused more rubbish calls than anything.
Yet another scam?
Since all this happened, myself and my partner recently started a new website. We were sent an email through the website about a festival guide that was given out at all the big music festivals as well as being sold in HMV and Waterstones to name but a few big outlets they impressively quoted. Usually adverts in this guide cost thousands but he was willing to let us have a small space for just a £170. Before committing this time, we decided to check it out, and sure enough there was no trace of it through Waterstones or HMV or any of the other outlets he quoted from previous years, nor we or anyone we'd known who'd been to the big festivals ever heard of it, let alone been given one. You'd have though a guide this big would have people clambering to advertise in it, however it seems the desperation was on the side of the publisher as he emailed a further 3 times asking if we were interested even dropping the price by 20 quid in a last ditch attempt to tempt us. Too eager to be legit we thought, and turned him down on his oh so generous offer.
How not to get caught out
I don't want this to put off any one wanting to advertise their new business, of course it's the best way to get people in the door, all I'd say it be wary and with all things, if it sounds to good to be true, it probably is. If you get approached by anyone offering you advertising space, ask to see a copy of a past publication - if it exists, they'll have one and if they're genuine they'll be happy to let you see a copy. However, even then do some more research. I've read stories where a bogus publication was actually sent to the advertiser but it still turned out to be a scam. Also, check out where they say it's distributed. See if anyone has ever received one before, or, if sold, if the outlets stock it. Most importantly, check out the company - a lot of them use fake addresses and phone numbers on their stationary and if they are a scam, typing their name into google should be enough to tell you so. If not, check out the Advertising Protection Agency Website (below) where they have a list of all the companies they know of that run these scams. A lot of them are part of or linked to each other, where I think is where the second people that called me got their tip off. The Advertising Protection Agency claims to, for a fee, stop these calls but after I saw this wasn't free I didn't try this out. Now being so sceptical about everything I worried this was also a scam! Do check out the website though as it contains some good advice. I think as long as you keep your wits about you, you shouldn't get caught out like I did.
If you're looking for advertising, go for a publication you know, do your research or try google or Facebook advertising, which I've found works quite well. These things may cost a little more but at least you're not giving it to a criminal. I've since advertised with a genuine local printer, I'd seen their posters in various places before they even contacted me. The guy visited in person and we had a few detailed conversations about the design and I was kept up to date on developments at all stages of production. I was provided with my allocation of the finished product before being asked for payment. Just as it should be. It goes to show there are legit people out there trying to make a living with their own small advertising businesses, and these crooks are affecting these honest business people as much as the ones they target for advertising.
Below are some links you may find useful, and there's endless more info and stories online, just type in 'advertising scams' into your search engine. I hope this has been of help and please tell anyone you know that runs, or is planning to run a small business of their own. With so many big companies and many other issues, making it difficult for small businesses to survive anyway, scams like this need to be stamped out. Oh and if you do get a call from one of these crooks, give them hell from all of us.
Summary: A warning to all those running a small business - don't get caught out