WAHM: Misrepresentation

When you truly decide to work from home, you’ll find that many opportunities abound online. However, working online can be scary at first, because you don’t really know who’s on the other side of that monitor. Are they a legit customer or someone trying to get just enough information from you to steal your identity — or worse? Well that mystery goes two ways.

Thankfully, most potential online employers are legitimate, so you can usually rest assured that the person hiring you is the person that they claim to be. We'll go into more detail about how to weed out the bad apples in a later post, but first we need to make sure you're not misrepresenting yourself online.

Proper Representation is More than Just Good Business

It can be easy to misrepresent yourself when you first start out. You want the potential client or customer to see you as legit, and you want them to have confidence in you as professional. It can be tempting to fudge a little about your business, especially when you think they would not hire you.

For example, what do you say if they are your first client? Do you tell them that you’re running your whole operation off of the vanity beside your bed? Maybe you’re just out of college and all you can afford (by the skin of your teeth) is a small studio apartment. Does the customer need to know that? Would they still hire you if they did?

These are all legitimate concerns. Unfortunately, how you address them has more to do with misrepresentation than with good business. We'll tackle that when we discuss fraud, but first, let's address the two most common ways you may misrepresent yourself: referring to yourself in the plural and pretending to be busy.

Referring to Yourself as Plural

You may be tempted to say: “Let us help;” “We can get that done for you by Friday:” “Contact our offices at 555.5555.” Now, if there is only one of you and you don’t have an office (let alone multiple ones), all of these are misrepresentations.

There’s nothing wrong with treating your business as professionally as you plan to be five years from now. However, you don’t want to mislead someone into thinking they are hiring a whole team of professionals when in reality it’s just little ol’ you.

Remember instead that a solo-owned business is actually one of your assets. If you’re starting a business by yourself, be proud of it; let them know they’re going to get the best in one-on-one attention.

Pretending to be Busy

It may seem harmless to fib a little and say, “Let me check my schedule. Let’s see… I have an opening around one o’clock on Monday. Will that work for you?” But if you’re looking at a day planner that has absolutely nothing in it other than “Dentist Appt. — Friday at nine,” you’re misrepresenting your business.

Your client may assume that since you are so busy and obviously have other clients that you must have experience. If you really don’t have the extensive experience that you are leading them to believe you do, it’s like you created a fake reference. Steer clear of this common type of misrepresentation.

The Consequences: Fraudulent Misrepresentation

Now that we've addressed how you can misrepresent yourself, let's look at what can happen if you do so. If your business sinks or your services stink, you might find the clients who paid in full become a little bit upset. If they find out they relied on a misrepresentation of you, things are likely to heat up quickly (and often in the court system as fraud).

Fraud is pretty serious, so let's take a closer look. In order for someone to prove fraud against you, four elements are required to be present:

  • False Representation of Fact: This would be as opposed to, say, opinions. For instance, if one of your clients gave you a stunning recommendation, that’s not a fact. They relied on an opinion. On the other hand, if they relied on a stunning recommendation that came from a fictitious client (like if you gave them your friend’s phone number), that’s a falsification of "fact" that they relied on.
  • Intent to Deceive: In other words, you intended to deceive them in order to acquire the fiduciary relationship. Maybe you thought they wouldn’t stay with you if they realized that you were a twenty-three year old working out of your college dorm, so you intentionally fibbed about the details.
  • Damage Occurred: The person who relied on this information must have actually been hurt in some way. If you lied about all of this but then turned around and went above and beyond all expectations; then misrepresentation or not, they did not incur any damage.
  • Damaged Party Relied on the Misrepresentation: This one kind of goes without saying. If you say you own the Taj Mahal, they may think you’re crazy, but they’re not going to rely on that obvious lie as being a fact. However, had you told them you had 20 years of experience and are actually only 18 years old, if the person relied the "experience" you cited, you have committed fraud.

Having your own business and working from home is amazing. When you first get started, it may be difficult to keep from misrepresenting yourself as an experienced professional. Always remember, though, that good business is based on trust and honesty. If you’re honest about your lack of experience, you'll get a lot farther than you would by living a lie and hoping not to get caught. Always be yourself in business, and enjoy the journey!

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Anonymous's picture

Miss T wrote:

Tue, 06/14/2011 - 22:11 Comment #: 1

Thanks for the great list of tips. I plan on doing some version of this once we start a family and knowing how to do it right will help immensly. Thanks again.

Jessica Schmeidler's picture

Jessica Schmeidler wrote:

Wed, 06/15/2011 - 23:59 Comment #: 2

Well, I'm not an attorney by any means, but I'm glad the tips will help you get started on the right foot. I've never regretted working from home. :)

Anonymous's picture

Vacations Changes | Money Reasons wrote:

Sun, 06/19/2011 - 16:05 Comment #: 3

[...] WAHM: Misrepresentation  [...]

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Ultimate Guide for How to Work at Home | MomVesting wrote:

Thu, 01/19/2012 - 21:48 Comment #: 4

[...] Do WAHMs misrepresent themselves? That's a great question, and we offer some interesting thoughts. [...]

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