My First WTF Moment as a Business Owner!
Photo: Collin Pierson Photography
In my last blog, I promised to share some of my challenges and joys as a business owner. Every business owner has a memory of their first real "WTF" moment. Mine was in 2014 and I remember mine very vividly. I tell you! Running a business isn't for the faint of heart. It’s for the overcomer. This is a good one so pour yourself a glass of wine! I am sharing this horrifying experience in hopes that another business owner out there will learn from my experience and take the necessary precautions to avoid this from happening to them someday.
Here we go....
When I started out in the events industry, I met this lovely lady or so she seemed at the time that had her own floral business. She always met me with a hug and a big smile. She seemed warm and trustworthy and would tell me how much she loved my style and would love to work with me on a freelance basis when I needed help. I was so excited to have someone that had some some floral experience help me out that I just went with it with no hesitation. We started to spend time together; lunches, dinners and sharing business goals. She would tell me how much she admired me and my ambition and she thought I was very talented and she hadn't met anyone like me. OMG! I was flattered. She expressed how thrilled she was to be working on large and lush centerpieces which was becoming my signature look as she had never designed a large centerpiece before. We discussed pay which was all verbal. (Lesson #1). I would call her when I had a project. She even travelled with me for a wedding I had out of state at the time. First wtf moment was when she introduced herself as the floral designer under her company name to the mother of the bride. (First warning sign). I had a chat with her right away and politely asked that we keep my events under my company not hers.
A few weeks later, I had a bridal showcase where I featured a tabletop design. She offered to help me. I was so grateful. I completed my sketches, shared with her, purchased all the flowers and supplies and we designed together. I was so grateful to have such a "great friend". She told me how happy she was for me and my growing business and she was happy to volunteer for this showcase. She even ran to the store to purchase a dress. After the showcase, I was so grateful and purchased a gift certificate for a spa day some champagne for her to express my gratitude.
It so happens that during that time, a local bridal magazine was going to do a feature on me. This would be my FIRST print feature. I was beyond thrilled. Coincidentally, another national magazine did a feature online about me and my work. and I was almost in tears from all the excitement. The magazine launched and I was like a kid on Christmas morning. She said she was so happy for me and I deserved the recognition. Life was good.. Or so i thought!
A week later, I get an email from the magazine editor. They wanted to discuss an email they had received. I quickly gave them a call back and she read an email to me that shocked me. Someone "she" had emailed the magazine telling them that the work they recently featured on me was not mine and I had stolen her designs and was taking credit for her company’s work. I was dumbfounded and furious. They assured me that I had nothing to worry about and they would back me but advised me to consult with my lawyer. I thanked them for their understanding and apologized for the embarrassing situation. I literally got off the phone saying WTF!! and then asking myself “what lawyer” ? I didn't have a lawyer (Lesson #2).
A few days later, still in shock and disbelief, I received another email. I was contacted about the same email but this time it was sent to another magazine that had featured me. What was going on? I couldn't believe it. I called this lady up asking for an explanation. I literally had breakfast with her earlier that week. She said she worked very hard to help me and deserved to have her company mentioned in the features. She knew I was new in the business and tried to take advantage. I was shocked! I couldn't understand the betrayal. Things went from bad to worse and fast.. She started sharing photos of my work under her business page taking credit. I had to do something so I retained a lawyer. They were shocked to find out I had not seeker legal help prior and I frankly had no excuse. I just didn't know any better. After lawyer fees were paid, letters went out to this lady but that did not stop her.
I started getting harassed on Facebook. I had to block her and her friends from writing on my business facebook pages. This was becoming a nightmare that refused to end. I remember going to industry events and while mingling with my colleagues, she would gather with her friends, point fingers at me and calling me a thief. WTF! She told everyone that would listen that that I was a planner that stole her designs and she did all my floral work but I never gave her company credit. Every time my lawyer sent out a cease and desist letter, it cost me money. I didn't have contracts drawn up laying out clear terms of our arrangement or even have a confidentiality agreement signed. I was advised to cease any form of communication and let the lawyers handle it. Eventually, after 2 years of name bashing, social media harassment and more, she finally ceased the madness.
I learned a huge lesson from this experience. I promised myself I would work very hard to prove I am not a theif and let my work speak for itself. I I have learned that there are some wounds only time can heal. Lesson Learned! Protect yourself! Protect your hard work! Protect your brand! Verbal agreements are not going to cut it. Keep track of payments. Most importantly, remember that the disappointment and pain you may feel when things feel so out of place will pass! Don't beat yourself up about it but learn from your mistakes.
Akeshi Akinseye was born in Lansing, Michigan, to Nigerian parents, grew up in Benin-City, Nigeria, and returned to the United States in 2000. Coming from a design background, she launched her event planning and design business. She is established as a premier event designer for clients all over the world. Her clientele includes celebrities and athletes. When she is not producing events, she teaches her floral masterclass "The Kesh Experience", a series of design masterclasses that offers education to design creatives. Akeshi's work has been featured in many local and national wedding publications.