Nobody likes a poacher; that bad guy in the forest who swoops in and takes something that doesn’t really belong to him. Business people sometimes “poach” without meaning to. Here’s how to avoid being the poacher—the one who trespasses or steals from someone else.
Poaching Scenario Number One: The Hijacker
Imagine that you are standing in a group of people at a business gathering. Someone says to you, “I know someone who needs help with [exactly what you provide].” As they begin to elaborate (but before you can explain how you could help) the Conversation Hijacker swoops in to say, “Hey! I know someone who does that. I’ve never worked with them, but maybe I will soon, or someday, or never. Anyway, they’re supposed to be really good!” Or even worse, “Hey, I do that too. Give me your number and I’ll text you.”
BAM! The poacher has snagged an opportunity from you. You’re left standing there while she rambles about her own services or someone she’s heard of who provides similar services.
Let’s assume this is done out of thoughtlessness and not malice. The fact remains it hurts. Please refrain from hijacking the conversation and taking away someone’s opportunity to engage in a meaningful conversation that might be beneficial to both the requester and the responder.
Poaching Scenario Number Two: The Subversive Sub
Experienced professional organizers often react to this strongly, because many have experienced the “subversive subcontractor” first-hand.
Imagine that you are an independent contractor, hired by an established organizer who puts together teams to serve their clients. Imagine that a client approaches you to ask what you charge when you are working by yourself, suggests contacting you “offline,” and talks about the advantages of “cutting out the middle man.”
The question of what you charge should be a big red flag that they may be trying to hire you apart from your contractor. This is an ethical problem, and in some circumstances it could be a legal problem as well. (Independent contractors, be sure that you understand whatever documents you’ve signed with your hiring contractor. And don’t just stop at the legal document. Consider the intent of your relationship, too.)
It is so important to be prepared for this situation! It has been addressed it in the NAPO course that covers the professional organizers’ Code of Ethics, so you may have a few ideas about how to deal with this situation. If you need a refresher, here it is.
To organizers who hire independent contractors, be prepared! Speak clearly to your “indies” about your expectations. Prompt them in what to say to both serve the client and protect their integrity. They may want to say something like, “I work with you through XYZ Company, and I would be happy to work with you on more projects. Can I tell [the owner or XYZ] that you would like to speak to her about more projects?” This should be enough to tip off the prospective client that you are not interested in going behind the business owner’s back.
If you, as the business owner, are open to passing clients on to another organizer when it seems like a match made in heaven, consider what your terms might be. Determine your referral fees, percentages, and time limits that would allow you to give a client to another business for a relationship that works for everyone: the client, the business owner, and the independent contractor.
Of course, a client is free to hire whomever they wish, but if an independent contractor poaches a client, the business owner is acting reasonably to refuse to hire or refer to that contractor in the future. There can be a high cost to being the poacher.
Which leads us to organizers who work as independent contractors; also, be prepared! It is never good business to be the poacher. You are a skilled businessperson, so be prepared to show it! Ask the business owner (aka your contractor) what their policies are regarding independent contractors and clients. Your reputation will be enhanced by dealing with this situation in the most ethical manner: by not poaching a client from your contractor.
This is also true if a neighbor, for example, tries to hire you as a result of a job you do as an independent contractor. Whatever business comes of your work as an independent contractor typically belongs to the business owner or your contractor. To go around that business and try to build your own business at their expense is not fair or ethical.
There is plenty of work to go around; no need to swoop in and take work away from someone else. Be mindful.