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When you’re at the bottom of the chain and everything seems out of reach: The narrative of how self-confidence and speaking up becomes your personal savior

When you’re at the bottom of the chain and everything seems out of reach: The narrative of how self-confidence and speaking up becomes your personal savior

This article was based upon Episode #7: Stephanie Schwab’s lesson on how not all that glitters is gold, a conclusion to which she came during a super deep and meaningful conversation with Our Beloved Host, Morgan Friedman. Please watch the complete episode here!


I got to tell you, I see that you’re having problems with this other agency and I hate them too.” – Stephanie Schwab’s client

A way to become successful in business is believing in your capabilities and having the confidence to accomplish it the best way you can.

Why is confidence necessary, you ask? By self-assessing your limitations, you will know when to take an opportunity and when to decline. This awareness will build your confidence in accomplishing seemingly difficult tasks. However, being overly confident to the point of blurring the lines of your limitations would lead you to extreme pressure and failure.

So, if you want to be a great businessman, strive to understand your talents to gain confidence and know when to accept changes. Make sure to follow this tip to avoid what Stephanie Schwab experienced. Her lack of self-confidence and trust led to her client-horror story, in which she might have been able to work for a large corporation and earned a lot of money if she had only trusted her capabilities in completing the job. 

Before we get started, let’s do a little background check on Stephanie Schwab.

She has been running a small marketing business for over 11 years, and she specializes in digital marketing. So the narrative begins eight years ago when Stephanie’s firm was still growing, and she was still doing a lot of face-to-face networking. While she was networking locally, she met an agency owner who also does networking stuff like social media and content marketing, influence marketing, web design, and strategizing content. 

Basically, the agency owner and Stephanie have similar jobs, so they got along right away. The only difference is that the agency doesn’t have any writers or content creators, so the owner approached Stephanie. When Stephanie knew this, she became comfortable, and they started talking with the agency owner. They both kept in touch and exchanged calling cards, but they did not really spend a lot of time trying to get to know each other. The longest time they had to talk about personal things and business-related matters was only a 15-minute phone call.

The bottom line is, they are not that close at all. This is where it started to get suspicious. Three weeks after Stephanie met this agency owner, out of nowhere, he offered Stephanie a project and added that he wanted to pitch to a huge company that has a globally known brand. 

1.Get to know well the person you are about to work with

If ever you encounter this situation, you must refuse the offer no matter how tempting it is. Never work for someone you barely even know. Many things might happen, and you cannot defend yourself because you don’t have any background about that person. 

It’s already a bit suspicious that the agency owner invited Steph for this huge project instead of others that he personally knows. I mean, why would you ask someone you just met and who happens to be someone who only owns a small company? Well, by connecting the dots, you can clearly tell the ending of this story. 

Stephanie only owns a small marketing business, and they were making only about 500k a year at that time, so this project was huge for them. The agency owner added, “Yeah we’re gonna bring you in as a partner. We can do the web stuff and you can do the social stuff, it’s a match made in heaven.” 

What they said made Stephanie even more excited because the job was in line with her expertise. Stephanie was used to having big clients, and she also has a lot of proposals coming from her friends, and it all went well. But for this project, she became pressured and lost her confidence because she only knew her partner for three weeks. 

Now, this is where the actual red flag occurred. The agency owner told Stephanie that he wanted to be the lead agency. It means that Stephanie’s billings and concerns will go through the agency owner and then be relayed to the huge company. 

The owner was very persuasive, and he said that Stephanie wouldn’t have to go through a lot of processes and interviews and won’t worry about the super complicated global procurement system. The agency owner added that she wouldn’t have to go through a month worth of paperwork just for authorization. Stephanie will simply ask for a bill from the agency owner, and they will forward it to the client, as simple as that. After all the talking, Stephanie agreed to the proposal of the agency owner. 

2.Self-confidence is vital

If only Stephanie were confident during that time, she might have noticed what this agency owner was trying to do. If she were not pressured and believed in her eight years of experience, she would have questioned the agency owner and trusted that she perfectly fits the job description. 

3.Evaluate your capabilities

You can also see in her situation the importance of evaluating the level of your capabilities. Maybe Stephanie was clouded by extreme pressure at that time, but she has eight years of experience working on the said job. 

If she assessed herself carefully, she might have questioned why she would go through a third party when she can apply for the job directly to the company. Stephanie, regrettably, accepted the agency owner’s proposition, and she is now under their umbrella. 

After they agreed to the terms, they were both hired by the large corporation and ready to begin the project. Stephanie was surprised again a few days later when she learned about yet again, shocking news. 

It turns out that the agency owner is not an employee of the company. Instead, they were working for a contractor who is the actual employee of the big company. The agency owners were working with the auxiliary part of the company handled by that contractor. In simpler terms, Stephanie’s client is the agency owner, their client is the contractor, and the contractor is an employee of the big company. 

So it’s Stephanie, the agency owner, the client, and the contractor. Steph is at the lowest hierarchy.

4.Sharpen your business instincts

By this time, if Stephanie had sharpened her business instincts, she should’ve foreseen the disaster upfront. 

For me, it feels like her talent is just being used, and all the appreciation will go to the agency owner. That right there was another sign for Stephanie to stand up, know her worth, and confront the agency owner. She was really far away from the real deal and, although she is getting paid, the big company will never recognize her works. Just like playing a telephone game, Stephanie reports to the agency owner, the agency owner reports to the contractor, and the contractor reports to the big company. 

The line will get thinner and thinner with every single person that gets added to the calls. If the line gets thinner, somewhere in the middle, a line will eventually break, and the ones at the bottom will be the aggravated party. 

This analogy is somehow accurate because Stephanie said that the agency owner had a conversation with the big company, yet the agency didn’t tell her about it. Stephanie feels like she is not part of the team, like only a low-level pawn who does what she’s told. 

On the other hand, Stephanie is unconcerned about this. As long as she gets paid, she is content to work and carry out her responsibilities. 

She began working on her duties and her performance was excellent. The team was preparing for a launch, and the agency owner requested Stephanie to get the website they built off the ground ready for the big event. Stephanie’s team was in charge of social media, marketing, and blog content creation. Basically, Stephanie was becoming extremely involved with the website, and it appears that Stephanie did all of the hard work to change the website and get it ready for the launch. 

She continued to work on her responsibilities, but she was growing more uneasy since the agency owner will not even inform her or share some insights with her whenever they have a meeting with their actual client, the big company. 

Stephanie’s team was nearly through with the website and established the company’s social media brand voice. They were in charge of how the big company appeared to the public and gave it a good reputation and other social media marketing tasks. Stephanie put in so much work to get the website ready for the launch. She even interviewed many bloggers and asked them to engage with the brand by getting them set up to start blogging on the day of the launch. At last, Stephanie and her team finished the website, and it was all set for the big event. 

The day of the launch happened, and there were a lot of big companies present. Everybody was excited and happy about the result. Everything was fine until Stephanie noticed that the big company did not even acknowledge her and her team, and everyone applauded the agency owner. 

Again, Stephanie simply let it go, and they were relieved since the launch had gone well. It was OK with her because the website could still be used as a case study. Furthermore, the website belonged to the agency’s owner. They were only adding content marketing and additional blogging work to make it ideal, so it wasn’t really a big deal for her. 

But that launch wasn’t actually their project. After that day, the real work began. Stephanie will take up the project this time because the agency owner’s goal was just to construct a website. They have nothing else to do now that the website is complete, and the rest is for Stephanie to work on. 

Now here’s another issue: the agency owner has no work left to do, right? But they still need to act like they’re working on the project because they presented themselves as the agency that prepared everything and made the website beautiful. 

To escape suspicion, they sat down at Stephanie’s desk and seemed to be working. They pretended to be a part of the team, if not the leader itself and attempted to take control, even though they had no understanding of what Stephanie was doing. The agency owner was actually using Stephanie because they were still earning while not doing anything. 

However, Stephanie was still receiving a fair amount of money, so it is not that big of a deal. It just seems unfair because they’re actually asking for a bigger payment from the client to pay Stephanie the exact amount she wanted and have money for themselves. 

This indicates that if Stephanie had turned down the agency owner’s offer and worked for the big company directly, she would almost certainly have made more money. For example, if Stephanie wanted $20,000 as payment, the agency business would seek $30,000 from the big company. Even if Stephanie’s labor is worth $30,000, they will give her $20,000 and keep $10,000 for themselves.

This situation continued for months, and they still acted like they were working because they had to justify their hours by doing something and making themselves valuable. The agency owner was desperate to stay engaged with the client and wanted more work from the big company. It’s totally a red flag for me and another lesson for you readers.

5.If disrespect comes in, take your leave immediately.

Stephanie was plainly used as a pawn by the agency owner, who was unconcerned about her limits. They will appear out of nowhere while Stephanie is at work and begin doing things they don’t know. Stephanie’s job and command of her station were both interrupted. If this happens to you, leave as soon as possible. These kinds of individuals know you are powerless to stop them from disrespecting you, and they will continue to mistreat you.

Despite that, Stephanie continued working because she could still manage the situation as long as she got paid the exact amount that she requested. The agency owners were not that much of a disturbance and were not causing too much stress, so she let it slide again. 

The project was still running smoothly, and after one year and six months of work, their payments got farther and farther behind schedule. Stephanie said it started with a 5-10 days delay until it got longer and longer. 

Now this time, Stephanie didn’t let it slip anymore and confronted the agency owner. Finally, Stephanie stood up and stopped this disrespect towards her. She went to the agency owner and asked why there are delays in her payments. She said that she needed the money on the exact timeline she established to pay her staff and cover other expenses. 

The agency owner was not pressured at all and informed her that their client, the big company, was also paying them late. They reasoned out that if the client pays late, it’s the same for Stephanie’s as well.

Stephanie had no way of knowing whether the agency owners told her the truth since she was legally working for the agency owner, not the huge corporation. Stephanie also couldn’t investigate because she doesn’t even know the accounting office of that huge company. 

At first, Stephanie believed what the agency owner told her, knowing that their client is a global company and maybe there are more important things they need to handle. Also, Stephanie still lacked the confidence to ask the validity of what the agency owner said.

But things started to change when delays went from days to months. Steph’s most prolonged delay for her payment was two whole months, so she began to think that this agency owner is having a cash problem on his own, and he was holding on to her payments to solve his cash flow problems. This time, she had enough and did what she had to do to earn respect and get her money.

6.Act immediately and look for ways to solve the problem

Even though Stephanie took long before she noticed that something was off, she still gathered some guts and confronted the agency owner. Stephanie went to the contractor, the person higher than the agency owner, and told him about the issue. 

Stephanie said that the agency owner is now 45-60 days late on her payments, and she also added her terms. She said that she would be giving a deadline for her payments or stop working for them after receiving the money. Stephanie said, “We are going to give them 15 days to get our money, if it passes that deadline, we will take the money and leave immediately.” The contractor agreed to her terms and went to the agency owner to discuss the matter.

Stephanie’s terms reached the agency owner, and they beg Stephanie not to go. They said, “Please don’t leave us, 6 more months and we are done,” and many more begging. After that, they immediately paid Stephanie for the delay, but the problem is that they only paid Stephanie one out of the two months delay.

It was like the agency owner was giving Stephanie a bit of hope and bribing her with the 1-month delayed payment. Stephanie calmed down and was a little bit relieved because she now has money. But the agency owner still has to pay Stephanie 1 month’s worth of payment. There are times where Stephanie will demand money for her expenses. She would somewhat threaten them by saying, “We’re going to stop working now,” and then suddenly, the agency owner will send money to her. It was just a way to keep them at bay. 

Now this time, it gets interesting. Out of nowhere, Stephanie received a call from the contractor saying that he wants to have a frank conversation with Stephanie. 

Stephanie became nervous about what the contractor would say to her because she complained about things and was afraid that the contractor might say something terrible. But, what the contractor told her was the exact opposite of what she feared. 

These were the exact words of what the contractor said, “I got to tell you, I see that you’re having problems with this other agency and I hate them too.” 

Stephanie was shocked and couldn’t believe what she heard. She didn’t know what to say and carefully thought about what to reply. She was trying not to throw the agency owner under the bus, but at the same time, she was very angry with them because of how they treated her. 

The conversation Stephanie had with the contractor was tough for her, she thought it might be a test of values, and she didn’t want to sound like a disgruntled partner to the agency owner. 

But in her mind, knowing that the contractor somehow hates the agency owner, Stephanie somehow took this opportunity to tell them what was going on. She informed the big company about the situation, the payment delays, how the agency owner was just pretending to work, the actual workers behind the website’s success, and so on. 

Several weeks after Stephanie talked with the big company, Stephanie met the contractor again to see his reaction. The contractor still told her that he hated the agency owner for his own reasons. Stephanie still doubts that it was just a test, so she continued to act as if they were working together with the agency owner. She pretended for six weeks just to make sure that it wasn’t just a test of values. 

After six weeks, Stephanie became closer to the contractor, and finally, she was somehow involved with the big company. The big company knows her work and appreciates Stephanie’s effort, but they don’t know that there was an issue of hatred between the three of them. Even if the contractor and Stephanie wanted the agency owner to be out of the picture, they couldn’t decide independently. 

What happened next made Stephanie angrier. Even though the project was supposed to end within six months, the agency owner wants to keep Stephanie and her team so the agency would continue earning money for free. The agency owner sticks with Stephanie’s team and pitches another job from the big company. 

This time, Stephanie didn’t hold back anymore and told the contractor that she also hates the agency owner so much. They shared sentiments, and the reason why the contractor hated them was because of how they treated Stephanie. 

If Stephanie resigns, no one will finish the task, and she might harm the contractor’s name. The big company will never trust the contractor again if that happens. The contractor and Steph planned what they would do, and Stephanie convinced the contractor to go directly to the big company and tell them they wanted the agency owner out. 

They both were really honest about their sentiments, and that was great, but they were powerless. So Stephanie had no other choice but to go with the flow for another two months. They were still behind payments, and now the agency owner owes two months’ worth of pay. The situation was still the same, and nothing had changed. 

But, unlike before, it wasn’t clear to Stephanie that the agency owner couldn’t afford to pay them and really was having a cash flow problem on their end. Stephanie got tired of the never-ending debts and started to rethink her decisions. She already accepted that she will never get fully paid and will lose more money if she continues to work with the big company. Stephanie’s decision lies on whether they will continue to work and receive delayed payment or get out as soon as possible.

7.Make the right decision.

Stephanie made her choice, and it was the wisest decision she made since the beginning of her story. 

She cut ties with the client and ended their project. They lost $30,000 – $40,000 and never recovered that amount. For a small company, that money was already huge, and it took hundreds of opportunities away from them due to the lack of budget. 

Stephanie tried to recover the funds by getting her lawyer to sue the agency owner. But before even suing them, the agency owner tells her that they don’t have the money or don’t know where the money is. Stephanie knew that the agency owner also has his own lawyer and thought that when they get into court, the expenses she will pay are the same amount of money that she is trying to recover. She did not pursue the case and just lived with what she lost. 

When you are in the business industry, you have to watch out for these kinds of people. If people disrespect you in even the slightest way, you have to confront that person right away. If you allow this disrespect for the first time, they will continue to mistreat you until you back down. 

But the most important lesson of this story is to have confidence in yourself and evaluate what you can and cannot do to determine what projects you should accept. If only Stephanie believed in her and her team’s capabilities, she wouldn’t be hesitant to go through the whole process of application and interview to work for the big company. It should’ve been the biggest project and a huge step forward for her and her team. 

With that, everyone in the business industry should build and trust their confidence. Strengthen that confidence so no one, even you, could shake it up. Believe in yourself and what you can do. There will come a day that you will thank yourself for that.

This article was based upon episode #7, please watch the complete episode here.