Learning the Ropes

A new year demands new projects, wouldn’t you say?

Well, I’ve got one I think you’re gonna like.

A reader contacted me recently with a really good question: how do you figure out if a business is legitimate?

Illustration by Dylan Meconis

Illustration by Dylan Meconis

The reader was going through a bit of a dry spell work wise, and she’d turned to Craigslist to find  tide-me-over jobs. She’d been contacted by a seemingly reputable company that was willing to pay a reasonable rate. They wanted her to submit a W-9 before work got started and she didn’t want to hand over her social security number to just anyone.

So what should she do?

I loved her question because it was honest.

Yes, Craigslist wasn’t the best place in the world to find jobs; yes, it’s nicer to have savings tucked away for times of little work; and yes, it’s great to network with people you know to find job leads.

Those are all great ways of taking care of yourself as a freelancer.

But sometimes you don’t get to do things the “right” way; you have to do the best with what you have.

This reader’s question, and my answer, is the first post in my new project for 2013: Freelance “How To” Videos.

Quick, informative videos that help you figure out how best to take care of yourself whether or not you can do everything the “right” way.

By daemonsquire via Flickr.com

By daemonsquire via Flickr.com

So how do you figure out if a business is on the up and up before you agree to work with them?

First thing to do: look for clues as to whether or not they’re legitimate.

Are they emailing you from a “company.com” email address or a generic gmail or yahoo account?

Can you find anything about the business with a simple internet search? Does the street view for their address show an office building or an empty lot?

If they used a “company.com” email address, is there a website at “company.com”? A real live usable website?

Second: search.

Start with the Secretary of State’s website in your state and look for their business name (usually in the “corporations division” or “business” section). If they’re a business incorporated in your state, they should be listed.

Some businesses incorporate in other states for tax purposes, so if they don’t show up on your state’s Secretary of State’s site it’s not a guarantee they’re not legit. A company formed in one state but doing business in another state is called “foreign.” If your state requires foreign companies to register before they can do business in your state, however, you should be able to find that filing on your Secretary of State’s website.

Also, go to the Better Business Bureau for your state or region and run a search for the company. The Better Business Bureau is a private, not government, agency.  The BBB serves as a way of self-policing the business community and they’re most well known for their services mediating customer complaints.

By EvanHahn via Flickr.com

By EvanHahn via Flickr.com

If a business is legit, they’re likely listed in the BBB’s database. Additionally, you can find information about how customers view the company and the types of complaints they’ve faced.

Third: ask.

Just let the company know that you like to be extra cautious in responding to job listings on Craigslist and before providing your social security number you’d like them to provide you with more info about their business.

You can ask for references of other freelancers that they’ve worked with, their Better Business Bureau membership if they have one, or a link to or copy of their registration with the Secretary of State.

Anything that you can review to ensure they’re a legitimate business.

Any company that gets upset about that simple a request isn’t a company you want to work for.

None of these are sure fire ways to avoid fraud, but they’re good starts.

Here’s how to search a Secretary of State’s website and the Better Business Bureau’s database:

How To Research a Company on the Interwebs from Katie Lane on Vimeo.

Got ideas or a request for future “How To” videos? Drop me a line!

And if you want access to the videos before they’re posted on the blog and other tidbits of freelancing advice, join the mailing list. You can expect an email about once a month and I promise not to share your info with anyone else.

Happy New Freelance Year!

Categories: How To


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3 responses to “Learning the Ropes”

  1. […] to small businesses and freelancers, has an excellent video on her Work Made for Hire blog, “How to Research a Company on the Interwebs,” that takes you step-by-step through basic due diligence, including searching the Secretary […]

  2. […] my recent piece about properly signing contracts, I gave a plug for a video called “How to Research a Company on the Interwebs” on Katie Lane’s Work Made for Hire blog. The video takes you step-by-step through […]

  3. […] to small businesses and freelancers, has an excellent video on her Work Made for Hire blog, “How to Research a Company on the Interwebs,” that takes you step-by-step through basic due diligence, including searching the Secretary […]

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