To try to obtain old clients for new business.

(46 Posts)
WhatKindofFool Mon 04-Feb-13 20:46:22

I was made redundant 6 months ago and have since set up my own business as an interior designer. I decided that I would contact my previous clients from my old firm to see if I could offer them my services. My old boss found out and is asking me to explain myself. I can understand that she is annoyed but am I being unreasonable to think that I am not answerable to her anymore?

In the 10 years that I worked for her she never paid me particularly well and she was extremely controlling. I see my redundancy as a blessing now as I can progress without her. She is retiring in 2 years and I want to capture the business that will float into the ether as she winds down.

She is rolling in money by the way, with several properties, whereas I am a single mum with 4 kids to feed.

I have put myself and my family before her but this is business and she did make me redundant.

hermioneweasley Mon 04-Feb-13 20:48:29

Did you have anything in your contract about poaching clients?

Hegsy Mon 04-Feb-13 20:49:20

Was there any confidentiality agreement or contract stating you couldn't set up on your own?

CloudsAndTrees Mon 04-Feb-13 20:52:37

If you haven't broken any contract, you don't need to explain yourself.

She has no right to ask you to explain yourself, and you have every right not to answer her question. But if you do want to, then teller the truth. Your explanation is that even if she no longer needs you, you still need to earn a living.

Keep the last two sentences of your OP well away from any communications you have with her. They are irrelevant.

FlouncingMintyy Mon 04-Feb-13 20:54:59

Yabu. They are her clients. You wouldn't even know them as contacts if it weren't for the work she gave you as her employee.

Being controlling and not paying you particularly well are separate issues.

You say in your 2nd paragraph that you see your redundancy as a blessing, yet are posting about it negatively again in paragraph 4 to suit your argument.

NatashaBee Mon 04-Feb-13 20:59:01

If there's nothing in your contract about soliciting clients, then there is no issue with you contacting them. However, your comment:

She is rolling in money by the way, with several properties, whereas I am a single mum with 4 kids to feed.

is irrelevant really, if your contract said you shouldn't contact her clients and you sound quite petty.

Uppermid Mon 04-Feb-13 20:59:05

Yanbu, I'd check your contract if I were you, unless there's no mention of not poaching clients she could sue you

IwishIwasmoreorganised Mon 04-Feb-13 20:59:09

AYBU or not depends on the contract that you had in your last job.

Only you (and you old boss) know the answer to that.

Alliwantisaroomsomewhere Mon 04-Feb-13 21:00:52

I agree with a pp that you are not answerable to her at all, but have you signed any contract limiting what work you can do or the poaching of clients etc?

Your last two paragraphs are completely irrelevant.

WilsonFrickett Mon 04-Feb-13 21:03:14

What did it say in your contract?
What is your relationship with the clients vs her relationship? It sounds like they've let her know that you've been trying to poach them so it's likely they have a good relationship with her. How are you going about trying to get their business?
If she really is winding down her business then there's an opportunity for you to have an adult conversation and see if there's a way of her passing on opportunities to you, obviously with some sort of financial recompense. That's obviously not going to happen if you keep moaning about how successful she is - I presume that's why you've gone into business, in order to become 'rolling in money'?

GogoGobo Mon 04-Feb-13 21:07:15

I personally think that most clients see this as a little grubby and are not likely to look favourably on it. You may have 1 or 2 that you did some amazing work for and they are inclined to pick back up with you but the wholesale targeting of her base when you worked for her for 10 years..........not nice. How has she got to hear about it? I imagine one of the clients has told her which speaks volumes.
I've been on the other side of this and had a "scorned ex-employee" target our client base. 3 years on she has taken diddly squat from us and many clients contacted us to say how low-grade they perceived it to be.

ewaczarlie Mon 04-Feb-13 21:10:45

Yanbu in many industries this is just par for the course hence contracts have no poaching clauses (but ex employer has to pay for this). If you're better you'll get the business, if not then you won't. Simple

WhatKindofFool Mon 04-Feb-13 21:24:40

There is no poaching clause in my old contract. There is nothing to legally prevent me from doing this.

Yes, the last 2 paragraphs sound petty. I suppose I am trying to morally justify it as I know she will never starve.

Some clients may think it is "low grade" but so what? I've not lost anything by not attracting them as new clients.

My philosophy is some you win, some you don't.

caroldecker Mon 04-Feb-13 21:54:31

Legally this is a grey area - your 'knowledge' of the clients (contact details, preferences etc) belong to your old employer and you shouldn't use them to get work. Unlikely for her to sue though.

holidaysarenice Mon 04-Feb-13 23:27:07

your and her personal circumstances have nothing to do with it. you cannot justify an action by saying you are a single mum and she is loaded.

the actual answer is whether there is anything in your contract about this?

themaltesecat Tue 05-Feb-13 07:00:08

Legally this is problematic. You are wrong to think that it depends on whether or not there is a non-competition clause in your contract; there may still be a breach of fidelity, a breach of confidence and implied terms of the employment agreement.

How do you know the details of the old clients? Are they in your head, or did you make lists / copies of her records before you left her business? How long after leaving her business did you contact her clients? She is already aware you've been doing this and she has every right to protect her business... I think you'd be mad not to start afresh - and wait to see if some of these clients might, in the fullness of time, come to you.

Proceed with caution. If she's "rolling in it," there is every chance you'll get sued, which will scupper your new business before it's off the ground.

Mosman Tue 05-Feb-13 07:03:43

Under European law the OP has the right to earn a living, after a reasonable period of time say 6 months you would be perfectly entitled to get on the phone and solicit these clients.
If there was something in the contract stating longer than 6 months that would be deemed unreasonable contract terms.

WhatKindofFool Tue 05-Feb-13 07:07:51

I had no clause in any contract because I never had a contract and technically was self employed. I was not made redundant in the legal sense of the word. The clients are all on my own personal computer as I used it to complete work for her. This person stopped giving me work 6 months ago.

WhatKindofFool Tue 05-Feb-13 07:09:24

Sorry, I should have explained that more clearly first. I didn't want to give out too many specifics for obvious reasons.

themaltesecat Tue 05-Feb-13 07:19:07

I'd say you were all right then, OP.

KatyTheCleaningLady Tue 05-Feb-13 07:21:12

If you were self employed, that does muddle things. You should probably seek legal advice.

atacareercrossroads Tue 05-Feb-13 07:29:18

I'd speak to a solicitor before you do anymore op. My prev employer successfully sued someone for £16k who took some old clients with her, that's without any specific no poaching clause in our contracts.

AmandaCooper Tue 05-Feb-13 07:29:25

I don't think you'll get sued. She should have taken steps to protect her interests. She didn't. Even if she had, her protections would likely be running out after six months. As long as you didn't steal physical client lists, I don't see the problem. Obviously not everyone is going to like it but its just business at the end of the day.

MrsKwazii Tue 05-Feb-13 07:29:27

I would just be careful of your professional reputation OP. Clients may not know your set-up with your former employer/contractor and think as many posters here do that what you're doing is unethical. Might be better to bide your time if she's retiring in a few years as you could get more clients then perhaps from her?

atacareercrossroads Tue 05-Feb-13 07:35:50

Also it doesn't matter if the info is on your own pc. It comes under 'intellectual property' owned by the business

kalidanger Tue 05-Feb-13 07:47:29

My bosses entire business hinged on clients following him from his old work to his new business. He emailed, explained he was moving on and invited them. And he's brilliant so they all came.

Many places have signed agreements against this when one leaves. Many don't. I understand youre bitter (not unreasonably) but keep this as businesslike as you can. Don't respond to this woman who you once did business with. You kee her nothing...unless there's an agreement.

kalidanger Tue 05-Feb-13 07:48:05

Kee? Owe

StickEmUp Tue 05-Feb-13 07:50:43

She should have had a clause saying you cant contact clients. Her bad. YANBU

I only know how this works in my area of business but when a colleague retires we purchase the goodwill from them.

nefertarii Tue 05-Feb-13 08:01:51

Hmmm a contract clause is not the only worry.

The fact that you helped yourself to their details could be potentially cause issues.

personally I think its bad business practice. If the clients really wanted you they would have found out where you were.

nefertarii Tue 05-Feb-13 08:03:17

Oh and the whole 'it should be morally ok because I am a single parent' isn't the attitude of successful business person.

MrsKeithRichards Tue 05-Feb-13 08:33:22

Is it not similar to when hairdressers move on and take out an ad in the local paper to let people know where they are now?

firesidechat Tue 05-Feb-13 08:44:44

There was I thinking that everybody knew this was a great, big, professional no no.


gordyslovesheep Tue 05-Feb-13 08:49:56

Using their contacts is dodgy and unethical careful how you come across as its not very professional behaviour

WhatKindofFool Tue 05-Feb-13 09:38:09

Thanks for all your comments. I thought that "taking clients with you" was normal practice in business.

My attitude is that she exploited me to suit herself (no contract, no NI contributions, no employment law etc) - which I agreed to of course, but if you work under those circumstances, then don't expect any loyalty when you stop giving work.

WilsonFrickett Tue 05-Feb-13 09:56:10

It sounds to me that you freelanced for her. Which is not exploitation. If you're talking to her clients about her like you're talking about her on here I would expect she'll take some action.

atacareercrossroads Tue 05-Feb-13 10:40:36

If you were self employed you should have arranged your own NI contributions surely? And am pretty sure that most areas of employment law dont apply to self employed (apart from discrimination laws).

I do think you should seek legal advice OP before you do anything else. As I say I saw am ex colleague get sued for £16k for this very thing, she had to sell her house sad

atacareercrossroads Tue 05-Feb-13 10:46:11

And no, taking clients with you is not normal business practice at all. It's highly unprofessional.

BobbiFleckmann Tue 05-Feb-13 10:48:05

taking clients after 6 months is one thing, taking confidential information belonging to your employer is another altogether - regardless of contract, there is a common law right / obligation for you to maintain confidentiality after your employment has expired and actively helping yourself to client contact details would fall under that heading.

Blistory Tue 05-Feb-13 11:14:28

For many business, the client base is a significant part of the goodwill. It gives value to the business. Generally significant time and costs are incurred in building up a client base between advertising, networking, customer service et etc. It's not really ethical for you to come in on the back of all of that and specifically poach clients only known to you by virtue of your former working relationship with her.

You could well be in breach of Data Protection and implied customer confidentiality policies by contacting them - they may not like that you as an individual have retained their personal details and are now trying to use them.

You may think it's fair payback but think of the damage she can do your reputation. The 'business is business' rule is somewhat old fashioned and can do significant harm, particularly if your client base is private individuals.

I would approach her and see if there is anyway you can accommodate each other. If she's looking to retire, she could pass business your way for a small introductory fee. She could sell you the clientbase. She could pass you work that she can't do in return for you doing likewise. You could buy her out.

In business, your reputation is everything and given that this is a new venture for you, why jeopardise it simply to take the easy and unethical route ?

But at least now you're aware of the risks of anyone you employ doing exactly the same thing and can steps to minimise those risks.

WhatKindofFool Tue 05-Feb-13 11:25:33

If you're talking to her clients about her like you're talking about her on here I would expect she'll take some action.
I have not suggested that I have done that.

WhatKindofFool Tue 05-Feb-13 11:28:03

atacareercrossroads Thanks for your advice and warning. She has not suffered any loss at this point. I will heed your warning though!

andubelievedthat Tue 05-Feb-13 11:40:36

find out the worse outcome for you if you go down that route ,is it acceptable? if morals/ethics aint your bag in this situation ,question answered ?

Crinkle77 Tue 05-Feb-13 11:42:24

I don't see why you would owe your old boss any explanation

atacareercrossroads Tue 05-Feb-13 13:54:30

Hope so op. My workmate thought she was bullet proof because she hadn't breached her contract. Boy was she wrong

sarahtigh Tue 05-Feb-13 14:38:52

I am self employed as a dentist and it is still illegal to use details of previous clients obtained through that business to contact them again, client details (goodwill) are the permanent property of the business owner even though you were self employed

however you have no penalty clause so she may not be able to do anything about you setting up next door but using clients details obtained while working for her she probably could sue for, technically you should have deleted all that from your PC when you stopped working for her

a penalty clause has to be reasonable generally 6-12 months but could be upto 3 years within a reasonable distance ( within a city like london this may only be 1 mile but in a rural area it could be 5 miles) generally using clients details is a permanent no-no

being self employed you were responsible for your own NI and pension contributions, you are not entitled to take action against being no longer used unless it is discrimination whether racial etc, employment law does not apply as you were not an employee so you are paid for working no paid holidays sick pay etc, you were unwise to work without a contract but being self employed she was not and is still not obliged to give you one

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