It’s not a new story. Gurus emerge over and over with shiny, fabulous “new” approaches to the same business problems that entrepreneurs have grappled with forever. They are wrapped in pretty new packages and have splashy new graphics and clever new titles. Good people – aspiring to find a way out of whatever box they find themselves in – grab on in hopes of following those fabulous footsteps all the way to their very own villa in France.

Making money off of the hopes and dreams of others is not all that new or hard. Doing it responsibly and ethically however, is [apparently]. Keeping track of what’s really important while basking in the warm glow of oncoming dollar signs seems to be next to impossible for some.

My list of how to not be an asshole when you’re in the business of selling your expertise:

1. Teach real skills, not pretend ones.

2. Never capitalize on fear and yearning.

3. Admit your motives. Tell people why you really do what you do. It’s ok to say, “I became really knowledgeable about X because I wanted to make a lot of money.” 

4. Your right to make a decent living is not a good reason to create fake scarcity or call something an opportunity when it’s not. It’s a digital product. We know that there is more then 3 left, and if you really wanted the maximum number of people to be able to participate, you wouldn’t close the shopping cart after two hours .

5. Do your homework. Don’t teach people [either by intention or behavior] anything that is illegal, unethical, or otherwise dishonest.

Which leads me to what got me all fired up today.

[SPOILER. In the next line, I’m going to criticize someone you might love. Breathe. It will be ok. Try not to dig your heels and get mad at me just yet. I am not doing it to make you mad. I’m doing it because I think that to not do so would play into the generally accepted thought process of ‘not naming names out of fear of pissing people off’ that I find counter-productive to overall growth.]

Yesterday morning, I woke up to an email from Marie Forleo. It was a job posting. It basically read like an overly-hyped list of mundane tasks [great opportunities!] that she didn’t want to do, which in and of itself violates rule #4. It is not an ‘opportunity’ if all you get to do is bitch work while making her look like Wonder Woman.

This in and of itself was not enough to make me rant. Annoying as it was, not rant-worthy.

The rant-worthy part came at the end: 

“You will need to be available between 9am and 6pm Pacific Standard Time and you’re required to own your own Mac computer and have a reliable phone and internet connection. This will be a full time contractor position at first with the intention of moving to full time employee status in 2013.”

When I read that, my first thought was, “Well, THAT’S illegal,” but I wasn’t certain, so I checked with a colleague of mine [Erica Cosminsky, former HR Consultant] who was kind enough to point out that Derek Halpern just sent out an almost identical post a few days ago. [Note: I am not linking out to Marie or Derek’s posts for pretty obvious reasons. If you want to find them, I’m sure you will.] We discussed it a bit and she gave me permission to share the following from our exchange:

“I cringed when I saw these emails in my inbox. The moment you set hours, the person you hired is instantly an employee. It doesn’t matter if you have them sign an Independent Contractor’s Agreement! It’s fraud in the eyes of the IRS. They will fine you and it will not be small fines. Plus if ICE finds out you’ll have thousands more in fines on top of the IRS fines.

If you are noting in your Independent Contractor Agreement that you are setting their hours and want them to suspend the right to Social Security payments, insurance and other benefits (maybe not in so many words), they have a legally signed document stating you knew you were breaking the law.

Many business owners see hiring contractors as a way to save money. You have to very carefully walk this line. Because the state sees it as cheating them out of payroll taxes, and cheating people out of their basic rights such as benefits, minimum wage, and overtime payments. The fines don’t stop with overtime and benefits payments, they will also force you to pay for lost lunch breaks, unemployment tax and workman’s comp insurance. The Department of Labor has quite a lot to say on the subject. On average each of those cases results in $1900 a year in back payments to the “employee”. (That figure does not include any legal fees or fines, IRS fines, ICE fines, etc.)

Working with others in your business is hugely rewarding and necessary, however, you have to educate yourself. More of my new clients are businesses who have just gotten notification of a legal case or investigation than any other kind. Educating yourself will save you thousands of dollars and pain, because trust me, you might not get caught but there are many government departments cracking down on this sort of behavior.”

Setting the legality aside for just a moment, I kept wondering, why – if your target market is entrepreneurs –  would you send out a job posting for a position that says it, “…is not for you if you have personal drama or you want a side job so you can ‘start your own thing.'” [quoted from Marie’s post]

Now, don’t get me wrong. I have no problem at all with putting out a job posting for doing stuff you don’t want, or have time, to do. My problem is with the way that both of them presented this to a pool of people that are presumably still working at making a good living, and the hypocrisy and lack of integrity implied in how they offered it. They had to think that someone on their existing list would jump at it. To me, that feels a lot like they are taking advantage of the stature they have in their circle to leverage the skills of someone who might otherwise be trying to make their business happen for themselves, but who would be willing to set that aside for regular income at the feet of their idol.

How does that align with Marie’s message of helping people to have a business and life that they’ll love?

They turned what could have been a great opportunity to give good work to a good small business into a demanding and unreasonable popularity contest – as if one fortunate soul would be chosen from the masses to do the transcendent tasks of updating WordPress and answering emails for the great ones. In addition, the language and tone presented […because of the volume of responses, we won’t be able to respond to everyone….] was designed to make applicants feel lucky if they so much as get an email back – an easy way to get out of common courtesy and respectful communication.

They could have so easily avoided all the legality and ethical issues that made their actions a lightning rod if they would have just chosen to tap their lists with a more thoughtful and strategic approach. Rather than attempting to wedge a contractor into an employee role, why not send a request to some qualified virtual assistants who are well-equipped, highly skilled, and hungry for this type of work?

Instead, their behavior says, “Your time means nothing to me. I need you to be at my beck and call for whatever comes up, and I have no intention of allowing you the time and space to have other priorities. If I get my act together to pay you benefits sometime in the next 18 months, then yay for you… but don’t hold your breath. You’ll love this job because you can say you worked for ME, and that should be enough of an incentive to jump at the chance.”

How is that any different or better than the starched suits in the corporate world that so many of us have run from?

Easy. It’s not.

But, it could be. WE could be.

After all, our economy is changing.

Employment is changing.

And yes, MANY people would LOVE to have these jobs.

I’m asking though, why not at least ATTEMPT to be better than the last generation of business owners?

Why ARE we doing this, if not to be a part of some significant shift towards more value[and values]-based business?

I don’t want to be rich, happy and hot. I want to be fulfilled, stable, and healthy.

I want my business to fuel and inspire the creative work of others. I don’t want to manipulate buyers. I don’t want to take advantage of striving spirit and desperation. And I will never, ever tell people that it is OK to take advantage of others or circumvent the system we all live in. Be smart, yes. Find loopholes, yes. Question, yes. Violate, no.

I hear people go on and on about how we all need to take more responsibility for ourselves. How about we take some responsibility for the way that we are in the world while we’re at it? For the fact the people listen to us. For the fact that our list is not just an ATM or a worker pool. For the fact that the people listening are paying attention, and that we all – as an industry – should be setting the bar a lot fucking higher than the one that’s set for the greater business world.

After all, we are supposed to be the smart ones, remember? We are the cool kids that figured out how to buck the system and work from a beach in Fiji.

Aren’t we?

We have a responsibility to not be assholes

Because if this big, beautiful, brand-new sub-economy we all currently occupy is full of a bunch of spoiled toddlers and corporate-trained vampires who just want to suck others dry and prey on their weaknesses, then what did we all work so hard to escape?

I’m here because I think humans, in general, deserve a higher standard and I want to be a part of that. I aspire to put quality out into the world. I want to make you laugh and cry and feel great relief and joy after working with me.

I move that we let hypocrisy, disregard, unreasonable requests, impersonal demands, and dehumanizing treatment be the domain of those that loom over the unfortunate cubicle-bound, and we set a higher standard for ourselves.

You in?

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