So there’s this company. A company I admired for a long time. I loved their work and got excited when I saw their designs sitting in supermarket shelves, or a website I landed on was made by them.

I’d even been in there before for an interview when I was fresh out of uni. Unfortunately I didn’t get the role as they needed someone with more experience at the time. Fast forward 5 years and I see an advert from their company, looking for freelance WordPress developers. This could finally be my chance to work there!

I arranged a meeting with them to discuss the role but something didn’t feel right. There were a few of red flags in this meeting but I really didn’t want to turn down the opportunity of working somewhere I always wanted to. So the warning signs went ignored.

We agreed on some paid days in office to see if we worked well together. These did not go so great, again red flags popping up everywhere. I stupidly considered going back. After fanning out over this company for such a long time, I really didn’t want to believe the bad experience I had. Maybe there were ways to work around the mess, I thought. But after a few more red flag emails, I knew it was time to get out.

They asked me to come back in. I politely declined, explaining how I felt I wasn’t right for them. They didn’t respond. Then my invoice was due they didn’t pay it. I chased them up. I finally got a reply. They had decided they no longer wanted to pay me in money, but in experience instead.

I replied with the facts: “You agreed to pay me X amount per day. I worked for X amount of days. You have 7 days to pay”. They weren’t happy about this, and so sent back a really irate email to say how dare I ask to be paid. I won’t go into grizzly details, but they were incredibly insulting, patronising and disrespectful.

At this point I got my solicitor on board, and after weeks of back and forth, I finally got my money without pursuing small claims. This was an incredibly stressful experience that I do not want to go through again!

But they we’re right about one thing. They wanted me to look at this as a ‘learning experience’ and I sure am! So what did I learn here?

Get EVERYTHING in writing

Even if it’s a quick job, a days work, a project or a full blown client on-boarding. Get an agreement together. It doesn’t have to just be a piece of paper, a PDF or email will do. Just have something that outlines the terms, what’s expected of both parties and an acknowledgement from both sides. Having something to refer back to later will avoid situations like this and prevent a ‘we said, they said’ scenario.

Luckily for me I had most of what was agreed through a chain of emails. But I wish I had put out a contract that specified XYZ so I could go back and say ‘Uh-uh-ah, you agreed to this, clear as day”.

Trust your gut

Something didn’t feel right from the get go. I wish I had paid attention to that. My gut was right – in fact it’s always been right. Sometimes your brain notices things before you do, so trust your intuition. Or in this case read the warning signs (which were clearly there) and don’t let your emotions for something get in the way. I was a huge fan of this company which made it easy to ignore the warnings and sting just a little bit more when things did go down the pan.

Inequality still exists

The emails I received were incredibly rude and patronising. The way I was spoken to really did make me feel discriminated against for being young and female. It was like they underestimated me, and thought I was just some inexperienced girl that they could scare away.

Not just this case though, I’ve experienced many of situations in my working career where I was treated differently, just because I didn’t have a penis. Weird isn’t it? And as an active member of female only networking groups, I can tell you, it’s not just me and it.does.still.happen.

Stand your ground

I could of admitted defeat after the company’s first email. And there were plenty of times I felt stress out, fearful and worried. But I stood my ground, kept fighting my case and got my result, and hopefully made them think twice about pulling this shit again!

I’m glad I got my money but more than anything I just wanted to stand up to a bully and say ‘no, this is not right’. If not for me but for someone else. Someone who is inexperienced. Someone who would of been scared away. Someone who would of thought themselves in the wrong and would of beaten themselves up real bad for it.

It’s good to have friends

Like I said, this was a scary and stressful situation. But I had great support to help me through. I’m an active member of the Business Hubs and various Facebook networking groups. I met my solicitors there and I certainly couldn’t have won this without them. But I also had people to rant with, people who’d been there and people who cheered me on.

Networking is more than just meeting your next client. It’s about learning, growing as a person and a business, taking part in a local community, and having friends. And in this case, having a place to turn to when things get tough.

Don’t meet your heroes

I guess it is true what they say! I feel like this sums up the situation perfectly.