Many of us as entrepreneurs or solopreneurs are raring to go – we look for every possible opportunity to make connections, get our name out there and ultimately – get some business from it.

It’s not entirely our fault, after all, listen to a few motivational speakers and you suddenly forget that common sense should override every hunch, fad or hasty agreement.

I’ll share my own painful, embarrassing, in fact shameful, cautionary tale.  Several years ago, I was a suddenly unemployed.  What seemed to be a secure and cushy contract job ended suddenly with the stroke of the pen, hundreds of miles away in Washington, D.C.

internet scam, business mistakes, women entrepreneurs, solopreneurs, avoid a scam

While I had some freelance side work, I suddenly needed to have enough work to keep me afloat; I attended workshops, I listened to all the success gurus (Les Brown, bless his heart “You gotta be Hungry!”) and began putting my name out everywhere I could. It just so happened that I also had an internet dating profile out there, since I was newly divorced and all.

Through that site I was contacted by a dashingly handsome…profile photo, and soon after, an actual man on the telephone. We began to talk, and although we were less than an hour’s drive away from each other, he was too busy to meet since he was just about to leave on a business trip. As I talked more about my writing services, he turned the conversation to how helpful it would be if I could work as his assistant. He would need help with letters, keeping his calendar and such. I didn’t skip a beat – “Of course I could do that.”

He tested me…sending a document on oil drilling to proofread and edit, (I never did check to see if it was actually his). I passed with flying colors, thanks to my quick turnaround and accurate work.

He jetted off and said he would be in touch as soon as he returned, while I felt excited and a bit relieved that I just secured an ongoing client.

So, when does this get embarrassing? It started with a phone call the next day. His voice on the phone was shaky and panicked, nothing like I had heard in our earlier conversations. He said he was going through customs at Heathrow and dropped his Mac book on the floor. It was dead, it wouldn’t turn back on and he desperately needed it for the presentation. I quickly googled the location of an Apple store in London and sent it to him.

He called again…no time to get to the store. Could I…possibly…go purchase another one and FedEx it to him at his final destination? He would pay me extra since this deal was going to be big. (In hindsight, it’s pretty embarrassing already.)

At this point it was like something overtook my body – probably the “Entrepreneurs say yes and take risks!” Kool-aid I was drinking. I actually got in my car, drove to Best Buy, pointed to the $3,000 laptop in the cage and purchased it. Then I drove across the street to pay FedEx over $100 to carefully package, and ship the box to…get this. Nigeria.

You’re probably shouting at the screen right about now. What the heck was I thinking? Worse, what did I just do?

I’ll spare you the details of the aftermath. If anything, I have a unique internet dating site scam story. It was tremendously humiliating and for years, only the police knew. (He was never found.)

But, I’m putting it out in hopes of helping women just like me: focused on growing their business and perhaps a little uncertain about their future both romantically and financially, working hard to build a life and a future that they can rely on. I understand how blurred the line gets between being a brave, hard-charging entrepreneur and our underlying trust that people mean what they say.

In an internet world, it’s even more difficult. You may not be talking to the actual person who takes your money. You may be too far away from each other for a face to face meeting, or the testimonials from their “customers” are vague and generic – but still sound good. It may hit all the boxes on your checklist, so jump in, right? Slow down for just a minute.

As you find service providers or collaborative partners or affiliates – don’t rush. Don’t let them tell you it’s an emergency, that they are crazy-busy and will pay once things calm down, or that the incentive prices expire at midnight, or there are only two seats left for this once-in-a-lifetime webinar.

Question it all. Ask the hard questions, especially about how and when you’ll be paid – or if you are paying them – when and how it is collected and are there any guarantees? Exactly what are the services or products they are going to provide?

Don’t, don’t, don’t rely on a verbal agreement. Stick to your guns for verification: for some just an email with an acknowledgement may be enough, but if you feel safer with a full-blown contract – then hold out for it, the response on the other end may help you discern what is legit or not. Whatever you choose, make sure there is accountability between you and the other party.

It’s great to be motivated and enthusiastic about pursuing your vision. I’ve been right there beside you. If you are looking at some great sounding opportunity but need someone to talk to, I’ll be right here for you. Let’s look out for each other and be brave enough to share our stories of setback, embarrassment or downright stupid decisions – for the betterment of all of us.


Susan M Sparks offers copywriting and publishing services and coaching. She is the author of four books and ghostwriter for many entrepreneurial non-fiction titles. She can be reached at