Spooky Business Stories
If this year has taught us anything, it’s that in the real world, business decisions don’t always end up exactly how we would like. In fact, I’m sure we all have some horror stories in day-to-day business. That’s why to celebrate Halloween, we wanted to share with you some of the scariest business stories, from our advisors here at Raffingers.
A long time ago, during my first stint at Raffingers, I was asked to attend the offices of a client of Gary’s. The client apparently had issues with the old Sage 100 DOS system, which was a nightmare in itself. At that time, I had a 10-year-old Beema. It was British Racing Green if you’re interested. I had, for a few months previously, been experiencing some problems with it, specifically with the engine, which kept overheating. Anyway, I decided to drive to North London. There’s a point on the A406, where it bottlenecks, and the traffic really slows down. That’s when I started to get a little anxious because this is when the needle (I said it was an old car), on the temperature gauge started to move. Not too concerned, because I had a little strategy, which included opening all the windows, and turning the heaters on full blast. Unfortunately, this didn’t work!
The car went BANG and loads of smoke bellowed out of the bonnet. Obviously, I panicked a bit, and then quickly half banked the car up on a narrow payment, blocking a part of the busy A406. Now I’m an East End boy, but I even blushed at what I was being called that day! It gets better. So, I’m sitting there, and I called the AA. A very nice lady answers, went through some details, and then asked me what the car reg was. Oh, no idea! So, I said, “hang on, I will just get out and have a look”. As I opened the door, onto the road, a great big juggernaut drove past, and took my door off! Next thing I know, I’ve got the AA lady in one ear, and a Trucker shouting at me in the other ear. The AA lady asked was I ok, and I said “yeh, but I better go, my car door is hanging off”. Pretty bad day. The worst was to come when I then had to ring Gary and explain why I wasn’t getting to his client that day. now this isn’t a business scare story, but it is a nightmare if you had to go through it!
When I worked in South Africa my boss was quite an aberrant individual who didn’t really worry about what others thought as long as he was happy and enjoying himself. We shared our offices, which were previously a family bungalow, with two other accounting firms. My boss pitched up to work one Monday morning with two large Afghan hounds that he purchased over the weekend and, as we had a rear garden attached to the bungalow, had decided to bring them into work each day. Not having grown up with dogs I thought this was great and spent many lunch breaks playing with them in the garden. One particular Friday we had a meeting with one of our biggest clients who were going through a Revenue (called SAR) enquiry. Our meeting was booked straight after lunch and, needing to kill time as I couldn’t join my colleagues for our usual visit to one of the local restaurants for pizza and a beer, I hit the garden to spend my time outside with the dogs. I’m sure you can see where this story is going and yes, about 10 minutes before our meeting one of the dogs decided to relieve himself on my trousers and, no matter how much rinsing in the bathroom or deodorant I used I could not get rid of the smell. It was one long, uncomfortable meeting with fleeting glances at me but luckily everyone was too polite to actually say anything.
My very first job in 1981 was working for the Inland Revenue (the forerunner to HMRC). I was a clerical officer based in Stratford East London and after a year of normal desk duties I was promoted to the outdoor calls section.
The job of the outdoor calls officer was to make around 20-30 calls a day asking for money or occasionally serving writs. We had a bright yellow mini which had seen better days and I used to drive to all parts of East London with my collectors warrant in pursuit of money. I can recount many stories of being chased by dogs and even having stones thrown at me while driving away from a tower block in the Isle of Dogs (it wasn’t quite as trendy and upmarket as it is now back in the early 1980’s) but by far the scariest moment was serving a High Court writ.
As outdoor call officers we had received basic training on what to do and what not to do for our own safety. We also had additional instructions when it came to serving writs and the biggest thing to avoid was engaging the taxpayer in any form of conversation. On this particular day I knocked on the door of a very run-down house in Forest Gate preparing to serve a bankruptcy writ on a taxpayer. The file notes from the Inland Revenue Enforcement Office made it clear that the taxpayer had convictions for assault and that it was acceptable to drop the writ at his feet to effect service. The man who answered the door was nothing what I expected. He was big for sure but extremely polite and quite welcoming. I confirmed his name but something in me couldn’t throw the writ at his feet, it just seemed too disrespectful. I told him that I needed to serve him with a writ and passed it to him. At that point he crumpled and started to cry.
I have to say I felt for the guy. This big huge bear of a man was broken and part of me wanted to try and say something. “Come in” he said while dabbing away a tear from his eye “tell me who I can ring to sort this out”. I knew I shouldn’t go in; it went against all the training and was just a daft thing to do, but I went in anyway. Boy was that a mistake. I ended up in a tiny front room with the taxpayer blocking the way out. He then started to read the writ and changed from being upset to highly agitated. He was kicking the chair, throwing things around, and telling me I wasn’t leaving until this was all sorted. When someone the size of a small caravan points their finger at you and says “You’re going nowhere son” you start to realise that your day isn’t going to be the best.
Three hours I sat in that room trying to talk him down. We tried ringing the Enforcement office but there was no answer. I suggested we ring my office as someone might be able to help but he was wise to that. “You’re going to get the police to come round – I’m not going back inside for no-one!!” Eventually he decided we should both have a cup of tea and disappeared into the depths of the house. I seized the moment and flew out of the front door as if possessed by the furies. I dove away from Forest Gate at an alarming rate and thankfully never saw him again.
After university I landed my first job as Marketing Coordinator and Graphic Designer at the UK’s fastest growing smoothie brand. One of the first projects I was given to work on was to design a new trade exhibition stand and all collateral needed. After a few weeks I absolutely nailed the stand design, and part of the design meant that I needed to design little recipe cards which revealed the ingredients in our smoothies, and the nutritional benefits of those in your body. As the exhibition was going to run over 5 days, we needed to print enough recipe cards to cover the event plus to have in the office to use in other marketing activity. Once designed, I ordered 20,000 recipe cards which wasn’t cheap, and only once they arrived did, I realise that I’d spelt spinach as ‘spincah’. Once I realised, my heart didn’t stop racing as I knew I needed to tell the management team. Much to my surprise, they weren’t as horrified as I was however it was rather embarrassing having to tell the print company, I needed 20,000 new recipe cards as I’d spotted a typo.
This all happened early in my career. I was still young, green and laser focussed on whatever new clients I could bring into the firm. I wasn’t particularly fussy about the quality – I just needed to build my way up to try and feel like I was contributing and repaying the faith the firm had shown in me. With that context in mind, there I stood at the doorway of what can only be described as a derelict old house ready to meet what on paper had looked like a half-decent client referral – a petrol station and garage that had been running for over 50 years!
It may well be that my memory has inserted the creaking door hinge as I entered the hallway but there were definitely real cobwebs as the grey-haired, elderly housekeeper showed me through to the client who was sitting upright in his wheelchair, blanket, dirty vest, unshaven, more than a little unkempt on what I will generously call the veranda.
The house was freezing cold, dark as night and I remember thinking I had walked onto the set of the Rocky Horror Picture Show! I was half expecting Meatloaf to ride through on his motorcycle whilst the octogenarian housekeeper started doing the Time Warp!
But I was there for a meeting and I still wanted to win the business so earnest as ever I started asking questions – Why am I here? What is the problem you need my help with? Tell me a bit about the business – it has a long history? What are the plans for the future?
The client said nothing – he just stared straight through me. The housekeeper at this point brought me a cup of tea – though no way I was going to drink it. She looked at me and said that the client didn’t speak much these days. Undaunted I tried talking about the house – you must have lived here for years? Nothing. What’s your involvement in the business these days? Silence. Literally nothing. I had run out of things to say.
We sat there in awkward silence for what seemed like an age, I pretended to sip my team and then I thanked him for his time and promised to send him a proposal. I never did to be honest – I do hope he’s not still waiting for it! It turned out there was a low I wouldn’t sink to for new business after all!
The company designs and manufactures marketing widgets. Their clients include some of the well-known household brands.
As usual HMRC wrote to the company saying that they will be coming in for a VAT visit, inspecting books and records and stock if they have any. We assumed that this would be a normal routine VAT visit as the company hasn’t had VAT visit for a few years. The date was fixed and it was on a Monday and the Halloween was 2 days later on Wednesday. The company, together with our help, got all the requested information, books and records, details of last 8 VAT quarters and some sample stock items. The company does not hold stock, goods are delivered straight from manufacture to the customer.
On the day of the visit I went the client’s premises to help the client with the visit in case I may have to answer any questions relating to the VAT claims as we were helping the client with the preparation and submission of the VAT each quarter.
Normally for an HMRC VAT visit you would expect 1 or 2 for an SME. We settled in the boardroom, which had room for only 5, waiting for the HMRC officers to turn up. After a while we received the call from reception to say that “there are 6 gentlemen from the HMRC waiting you at the reception”. We were surprised to hear that 6 officers had turned up and hoping this was not HMRC’s version of trick or treat. The company director looked at me and without saying anything out loud, thought “what on earth are they going to do?”
Somehow, we all managed to squeeze into the board room, all 8 into a boardroom which was only supposed to accommodate 5. Meeting started as usual, making introductions and HMRC’s lead officer setting out the propose of the visit.
Once formalities were over the lead HMRC officer informed us that 3 of the officers are specialist in electronic inspection team and work closely with customs. Those three officers will be checking the stock in particular the LCD TV's the company has holds in stock. The boardroom went dead quiet for about 30-40 seconds. The director of the company said we have only one LCD TV and that’s in our reception and you would have seen that on your way in.
Next 10 minutes was spent explaining to the HMRC team what the company actually does. i.e. the LCD screens mention on the customs import documents are in fact tiny 2cm x 6cm screens on advertising widgets and they are not LCD 40inch TVs screens. Another 5 minutes was spent showing some of these items with LCD screens. The HMRC officers were so embarrassed they apologised for the confusion, packed up and went without looking at any of the documents we had collated for them
The above are just examples of the mistakes OUR incredible advisors have learnt from. Some of the world’s most successful business owners would never have got to where they are today by without learning from the mistakes they have made. Yes the world is in a dire state right now with the current recession and the uncertainty with our futures, but don’t let adverse times stop you from being fearless in the mission to achieving your business vision.