A Hard Real-World Lesson About Getting It in Writing

I just read American Express’s Small Business Saturday Event Spurs Backlash on WSJ.com. It’s sad but not surprising to see what seemed like a wildly successful small business promotion turn sour like this. Putting big companies together with small business and development organizations is tough. Compatible goals are a frequent problem. wsj.com

Here’s a quick summary:

Now, some small-shop owners including California’s Ms. Blanchard are boycotting the Saturday event. “The reason I’m not participating is because it’s not affiliated with the 3/50 Project,” Ms. Blanchard says. For American Express, “it’s a monetary boon if they can get more people to use the card,” she adds. “But there’s been no reciprocal kindness back to the merchants. The 3/50 Project looks out for the interests of the merchants.”

I think it’s a built-in problem. Is Amex’ marketing program compatible with the development organization’s socioeconomic goals? Does a big company spend money altruistically without getting marketing benefits from it?

The WSJ article refers to a blog post by Cinda Baxter, organizer of the 3/50 movement that was designed to boost sales for small businesses, explaining why she cut ties with Amex.

I think there’s a lesson for all in one of the 44 comments, by Ramon Ray, of SmallbizTechnology. In his comment he says:

From what I can read in Cinda’s blog post. Cinda was promised something by AMEX, during phone discussions and meetings. But as I’ve learned through many great relationships with big companies talking on the phone is GREAT. But until a contract is signed or something is in writing – talk means nothing. I think Cinda’s mistake was not presenting a formal proposal to AMEX and getting their written approval. That’s what I would have done. Small businesses (as I and Cinda are) might get very excited hearing from a ‘big company’ that they’ll do x, y, z. But keep in mind a ‘big company’ is made up of many teams of people and bosses. Hence once the ‘talking’ is over, it’s time to put ink on paper or words in an email. That’s the ONLY way to really know that the talk (intention) is action.

I get that completely. I’ve been exactly there, where Ramon suggests. I’ve made that mistake too. Sad, but it happens. Actually, I’d go simpler than a contract, just a letter would be enough. But something in writing.

And it’s a good lesson.




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