I have a friend (hereinafter referred to as “Friend”) who is a brilliant and creative guy, one of the smartest and nicest people I know. Each and all of those qualities made it very difficult for me to hear the story he was telling me. Friend had a creative project (not a book). He needed some technical assistance to bring it to fruition; to that end he procured the services of a company (hereinafter referred to as “Company”) which is based outside of the state where he resides. Company, without Friend’s knowledge, outsourced the work he hired them to do to one of Company’s subsidiaries in another country. That subsidiary company has now hijacked the project. Friend now cannot access his project. Further, after tendering his payment to Company, he is not getting his telephone calls returned. After commiserating with Friend about this matter I did a bit of research and within sixty seconds found all sorts of reasons why Friend shouldn’t have come within five hundred miles of Company. Specifically, I found a number of instances where Company had outsourced work, violated working agreements, suddenly became non-responsive to client queries, and in at least two cases was sued for breach of agreement. Friend was shocked. He wondered how was I able to find out what I did, and so quickly. He asked me if I have access to some sort of super-secret website that only attorneys and private investigators can visit. My answer to that question was and is…
…no. There is a wealth of information available online, for free, to anyone, at anytime, which will aid a prospective buyer of services or seeker of soulmates in making a decision regarding same. Given that writers and authors (particularly independent ones) frequently outsource tasks such as (final) manuscript typing and/or editing, cover artwork, and the like, the availability of such information becomes particularly important before you entrust Your Precious, which you spent hundreds of hours bringing to fruition, to a stranger. You should be doing due diligence before you retain the services of a company or a professional, before you go out on that first or second date (or before your offspring does), or before you make a reservation at that hotel. There are a few ways that you can do it so and you don’t need to a Captain Midnight decoder ring or the keys to the kingdom to do so. I do these things before I deal with anyone. I am not a genius by any means, so if I can do it I am sure that you can as well. Or better.
My first step, in the case of services, is to look at online reviews. You can get these by searching, for one example, “(hotel name here) reviews.” While it is rare that there won’t be at least a couple of negative reviews for any business that you search, if you find several that list the same complaints (“roaches on the floor,” drug deals transacted openly in the lobby,” “sex industry workers trolling in the parking lot”), then you’ll want to go elsewhere, unless, of course, you’re looking for that type of thing. The same applies to a plumber, garage door repairman, or landscape professional. If most or all of the comments are negative, there is probably a problem with the service. There are paid sites that keep track of this sort of thing, such as Angie’s List, but the Better Business Bureau website is free and is a good place for further checking as well.
If you want to see whether the service, business, or prospective soulmate has real problems, however, the gold standard of information for the average citizen is the website maintained by your local clerk of courts. Note well: not every court in every jurisdiction has case information online. Many do, however, and if the court having jurisdiction of your area (or the area of the business or individual you are curious about) does it is worth doing a case search of your local municipal court and court of common pleas, for civil and criminal cases. Keep in mind that there are any number of reasons why someone may be the subject of a court action, or the filer of same. If, however, you find several breach of agreement actions in the case of a business, or a number of felony/misdemeanor charges filed against your prospective Romeo or Juliet, you may want to seek services or love elsewhere, or at least bring up what you’ve found to the object of your research and give them a chance to explain themselves. Doing so over the phone or in a public place is recommended.
Last of all…there is always social media, particularly Facebook. If that prospective date feels the urge to post every random thought that races through their head, including how nervous they are about whether the Wassermann test they are having tomorrow will be positive… well, their impulse to share everything with the world tells you something right there, does it not? And if they can’t resist posting selfies of their latest, self-administered tattoo, do you really want to get a look at that in real time? If they haven’t updated anything in six months, however, there is an excellent chance that they won’t be telling the world about the great time they had with you, when and if you and your prospective sweetheart reach the point where you’re, uh, having a great time.
The lesson here? Before you commit your time, your manuscript (or anything else), your money, or your heart to something or someone…take a few minutes and do some research. It may save you from problems down the road.
Does anyone have any stories they would like to share about how researching a company or person helped to save them from a bad experience? Or where the failure to research caused them problems later? We’re not looking for complaints about specific companies or individuals here, so please…no names. Situations, however, are welcome. Thank you.