We spend a lot of time talking about cyber security and encouraging you to have proper backups in case of disaster, but we haven’t taken a whole lot of time to talk about making deals with clients.
That said, let’s address security issues you might face when courting prospective clients. It’s easy to get wrapped up in the idea of a sale or getting involved in a large project that promises big bucks in the future, but just as in the cyber world, the real world has its threats.
Few likely consider meeting prospective clients to be a major security threat, and indeed, your first interaction probably appears to be a friendly meeting in which both parties hope to engage in mutually beneficial business practices. But that’s not always the case. There are those that wish to take advantage of you and your company by stealing your information or your insider know-how, or even try to trick you into doing work for free.
A recent article on TechRepublic will help us identify the risks of making first contact with potential clients so we can figure out how to avoid them.
The first issue is identity theft. If you’ve given someone enough information to send you a 1099 form, they now likely have enough information to steal your identity; especially if you use your social security number as your tax ID. In order to prevent this issue, it’s important to obtain a proof of identity from your prospect before you give out yours.
Next is theft of work. A prospective client can get you excited by discussing a big project they want you to work on, but they might be pulling your stings to get you to do work for free or gain some of your knowledge. If you give them advice or actually perform any work before a contract is signed, what will you do if you never see them again? Some people like to give away small services for free as an extension of friendship in order to establish a relationship, but it’s important not to give anything away that will harm you in the long run if things don’t pan out. Some companies will limit the amount of work they perform for a new client so they can be sure that a client actually pays the bills; sadly, during an economic downturn some clients simply won’t pay for services rendered, leaving you to decide what form of legal action you wish to take—an expensive endeavor in itself.
Spam is another issue. Most people can spot a spam scam a mile away, but it’s important to have spam filters in place that sift through most of them, and use a keen eye when looking through email since some spam messages are made to appear as though they were sent by someone interested in your work. It’s a good practice not to post your email address online. It might seem like a good idea to make yourself accessible to prospective clients, but you’re also making yourself accessible to spammers and cyber-criminals.
With a new James Bond film freshly released, it’s time to think about spying and competitive espionage. Corporate espionage has a long history in business and is a legitimate threat. Competitors might pose as prospects in order to gather information about how you do business. That’s your know-how and your intellectual property they’re trying to steal. The trick with this one is never to reveal anything to a first contact that you wouldn’t publish publicly. Keep your secrets safe, your wisdom and knowledge is crucial to the way your business functions and must be protected.
It’s difficult to be accessible, friendly, and cautious at the same time, but it’s very important to make sure you and your company are protected. By treating everything you say as though it will become public information, you can save yourself from many of these issues. Once you’ve established the identity of prospective clients, and confirmed their intent as friendly and legitimate, then it’s time to get down to some more serious business.