In the internet era, people can say anything about anyone — regardless of the truth. What if someone says something negative about the quality of your work as a contractor? How can you defend yourself, especially if it’s a half-truth or even an outright lie?
Sadly, the US legal system has very little in the way of concrete regulations when businesses are faced with false testimonies and internet libel. However, the situation is not completely hopeless. This guide will walk you through several options to consider to protect your online reputation, including:
- Protecting against online scams
- Going after invoices that never get paid
- Avoiding hiring unqualified workers or buying from unverified companies
- Handling negative online reviews
Be on the lookout for online scams
As a contractor, there are many resources out there designed to help you maximize your money and improve the quality of your work. But that also means there are just as many scams out there ready to take advantage of small, independent business owners. In fact, these online scams are so prevalent that the Federal Trade Commission (FTC) has videos, articles and resources just to help small business owners avoid scams.
What kinds of scams should you be on the lookout for?
One frequently used con tries to cheat independent contractors by getting them to pay for supplies they didn’t order. These scams often use harsh-sounding legal jargon to confuse and intimidate contractors into handing over hundreds or even thousands of dollars.
Overpayment scams have reportedly become more elaborate, specifically involving teletypewriter (TTY) callers or people who claim to have a hearing impairment. Whether they use that approach or not, the caller will want to pay upfront for service, like a roof replacement, and end up overpaying. They will ask for the difference in cash before the first transaction is cleared. Their original form of payment will be declined, denied or bounce, leaving you with negative funds.
Other contractor scams include:
- asking for donations to fake charities,
- obtaining access to networks or computers to steal customer and business financial information,
- winning an award that then requires a contractor to pay for it,
- false supplier fraud,
- and bounced overpayment checks.
With online scams, just remember that if something doesn’t feel right, it probably isn’t. Before you make any decisions, ask the person for references, suggest doing a credit check, or present a legally-binding contract for him or her to sign. If they immediately come up with excuses as to why these ideas won’t work, they are likely trying to deceive you.
Watch out for nonpayment
With the plethora of online payment options like PayPal, it’s common for contractors to get taken advantage of when the time comes to pay in full for services. All it takes is one situation like this for contractors to learn how to handle clients who avoid completing their payment through an online portal.
These situations can be incredibly stressful and lead to heated confrontations. For example, a British contractor picked up a sledgehammer and demolished his work after a client refused to pay. While going to that extreme is hardly the way professionals handle themselves, most contractors can appreciate or understand the frustration.
How can you make sure that clients pay for your services in full and on time?
- Establish a payment timeline up front. In your original contract, be sure to outline timelines and late fees associated with overdue payments. Be sure to convey in writing and verbally that you are firm on these requirements and they are nonnegotiable.
- Request partial or full upfront payments. Some contractors request full payment when the project is around 75 percent complete. That way, he or she can pause and work on the project until the client pays in full.
You want to try to keep all of your communications persistent, but friendly. You also want to use a variety of outreach strategies, such as emails, phone calls or mailed letters. When enough time has passed, and you are considering taking legal action, first send a letter and an email to the client letting them know the timeframe they must complete the payment and be transparent about the next steps you will take. Even if you are incredibly frustrated at this point, it’s still very important to keep the tone firm, but polite.
How to find qualified employees and quality materials
The internet is known as a place where one can find incredibly good deals. For many contractors, the internet holds the key to discounts for buying in bulk or at wholesale prices. However, this also means that there are again opportunities to be deceived by fraudulent claims.
When hiring additional help online, you have access to a large pool of candidates with a variety of skills and experience. On the other hand, that also means that job seekers have more opportunity to provide misleading information about their qualifications.
Be sure to do the following before you offer the job to a candidate:
- check references
- always carry out background checks
- and conduct an in-person interview
This way, you can be confident that the person you’re bringing on for your project is a high-quality representative of your company and your work.
Similar, misleading situations can also occur when purchasing building materials online. Spending money on materials that are of a lesser quality can damage your reputation with current clients and future customers. Avoid buying from companies that you have never heard of and that have no online reviews. If you come across a deal that seems too good to be true, investigate before you buy. If the deal is timed, don’t feel any pressure to buy before you are ready. You can always take the time to reach out to customer service, ask your questions, and get a feel for the company’s professionalism.
What you need to know about customer reviews
Consumers have become increasingly review-reliant. So, it’s important to know where your business rating stands among your competitors. This can help you set consumer review goals and perhaps learn from homeowner and competitor experience. Check out our LiveDirectory of Pros to see how your business’ reviews compare to local competition. Simply select your type of service and enter the zip code(s) you work in.
Many clients know that there are websites like HomeAdvisor and Angie’s List that showcase verified and legitimate businesses with customer reviews and experiences. However, a large portion of your potential clients will still go to unverified business review sites like Yelp or Google. These sites don’t take the time to verify if a review or testimonial is truthful and legitimate, so if someone makes a negative or false claim against you or your work, it often stays there like a stain that just won’t come out.
How do you manage negative online reviews?
- Add a call to action in your email signature and social media profiles that encourages your clients to leave feedback and reviews. Eighty-four percent of online consumers rely on reviews and recommendations, so even if you have a handful of negative comments, they won’t outshine the dozens of positive reviews.
- Respond to the review with a polite and positive comment. Avoid responding with name-calling or blaming, angry or denying remarks. Keep your responses simple, informative and respectful. Encourage people to contact your customer service team (even if it’s just you) to show that you empathize with the customer’s point of view. Most importantly, try to get the conversation to happen off the public website.
- Reach out to the website and ask them to remove that false or slanderous reviews. However, keep in mind that they are under no obligation to take down negative comments, and if they decide to do so, it will be at their discretion and may not be immediate.
- Consult a lawyer or mediator for a particularly damaging false review, and as a last resort, to address the situation.
Partnering with a site like HomeAdvisor can help you generate and showcase legitimate, positive customer reviews. One of the best ways to protect your online reputation is to manage it on as many sites as possible. The more positive messages out there, even when there are negative ones here and there, the more likely potential customers will choose you over your competition.