Preserving and Protecting Your Reputation From People Who Want to Destroy You

by , under Marketing

Your reputation is one of your most cherished and prized possessions. It represents who you are, what you stand for, and how you will likely treat others who come to know you. In business, your reputation (how you’ve treated people in the past) is indicative of how you’re likely to treat your customers or clients in the future, and can make you a fortune or cost you your business, your lifestyle, and your life savings.

Unfortunately, there are people who may for one reason or another seek to destroy what you’ve taken years… sometimes decades… to create, even though you’ve done nothing wrong or have even bent way over backwards to satisfy them. And once again, unfortunately, once something is published on the Internet, it’s “out there” and very difficult to recall, eliminate or delete.

So how do you counter negative posts, comments that may not be true, and a vindictive person who has nothing better to do than try and destroy your good name, your reputation, and prevent you from obtaining additional business?

Such a thing happened to me recently, and I had a decision to make. Should I lay down and take it and just let it go? Or should I fight back? If I let it go, the negative opinions of one person would be out there for everyone to see, and potential clients would only have that person’s word. If I fought back, I would have to determine the best way to do so, and then calculate the cost in time and lost opportunity that I might otherwise have had if I were to invest that time and effort in getting more clients.

Gordon Bell

Here, briefly, is a recap of what happened to me and what I decided to do: Several years ago, a man named Gordon Bell responded to one of our ads, and contacted our office to get more information on becoming a TopLine Business Solutions Business Development Consultant. We spent considerable time with Gordon, and asked him to submit our standard Expression of Interest form so we could learn a little about him, what his qualifications were, and if he would be a good fit for our team.

In Gordon’s Expression of Interest, he indicated that he had good qualifications, that he had business consulting experience, and that he had contacts he could work with and get off to a good start. And in our conversations, he said that he didn’t have the entire amount of money it would take to go through our training. So I gifted Gordon a ticket to Joel Bauer’s $3,000 seminar so he could get some good ideas and raise the necessary funds. Plus, I gave him a gift of only paying 25 percent of the TopLine training down, and the balance to be paid at just 10 percent of his earnings… something we had never done before, but because of what Gordon represented to us, we thought it would be an investment worth taking.

Gordon came through the training… spent the entire four days, and even gave us a glowing video testimonial at the end. Following training, our TopLine staff worked very diligently with Gordon to help him with some projects he was working on. Then several months later, Gordon complained that he wasn’t getting the support he was promised. We checked our Infusionsoft CRM, and found that we had sent him 28 emails that were sent out via autoresponder, and that the “status” on everyone of them registered “Unopened.” After bringing that to Gordon’s attention, he admitted that he had moved, and that Comquest (his Internet provider) didn’t provide service in his area and that he had changed his email to a .me account. Well, as you might imagine, it’s difficult to get an email to someone who has changed their address.

We continued to work with Gordon on a project he was working on for his own business. But then he complained again that we weren’t helping him with his consulting business and filed a report with RipoffReport.com. It was scathing. So I responded to each paragraph and every one of his allegations. Gordon then countered with more half-truths and accusations. I once again answered every point in detail.

I even offered to retrain him with a full day of one-on-one coaching if he would get himself to Phoenix. He didn’t take me up on the offer and again wrote some derogatory remarks. So I offered two full days and I would even pay for a night’s stay in a hotel for him, and I gave him five different dates that would work for me. No response from him for 32 days. Then he complained that he couldn’t travel and spend two days because it would be too taxing on him. So I offered one full day of one-on-one coaching so it would be less taxing. He complained that he couldn’t get from Medford, Oregon to Phoenix, Arizona and back in one day, and that it was unrealistic.

In my mind, if someone who has had so much success with so many other people (more than 1,100 consultants in 36 countries), were to offer me a full day on one-on-one coaching to bring me up to speed, it would be worth my while to go a day ahead of time and pay for a night in a hotel myself. But that was out of the question for Gordon.

So then one excuse after another came, like (and these are Gordon’s own words as recorded in his RipoffReport posts and other documented correspondence)”

  • “I am 71 and live on Social Security [and] can’t afford to pay rent.”
  • “I’m making payments on the $5,000 I borrowed on a credit card. And we all know that credit card interest rates skyrocketed.”
  • “I am financially desperate.”
  • “The banking system has me over a financial barrel and I’m paying 26.24% interest on the credit card I made the purchase with.”
  • “I’m afraid that too much time has passed for me to get value from your program.”
  • “Our finances are such that our backs are firmly against the wall and liquidation of whatever can be liquidated must be liquidated immediately.”
  • “I have met good people who have waived their tuition just to see us again become successful,and that makes me happy no end.”
  • “I can’t drive without glasses and do not at this moment have the funds to buy glasses and other vital things.”
  • “You may have done a more thorough job of filtering and found me unqualified because I have NEVER been able to accomplish a new venture on my own.”
  • “Having once been a business consultant… had the traditional steps of business consulting been a part of your course, I would have gone out there with or without your follow-up support. Because I knew how to act in that role from past experience.”
  • “If Mr. Howey is sincere and even honest, he would honor the fact that I am not only financially desperate now, I was then. Any honorable businessman would have made the refund just to get rid of the annoyance much less this now public forum.”
  • “I am not young, I do not remember the basic course, I need to start over.”
  • “When the student doesn’t apply what he is taught, it has always been the teacher who is needed to change. That is how successful schools work. They know they failed and need to make changes.”
  • “I don’t travel well and the flights in and out of this airport makes it infeasible for me to even attempt. It would take too long to recover from what would be about 20 hours.”

Did you read those “excuses” carefully? Did you notice that in none of them did Gordon take any personal responsibility? It’s always something or someone elses fault. The second to last excuse is one that really got me. “If the student doesn’t apply what he is taught it is the teacher who is needed to change.” So in Gordon’s mind, if I graduate from Harvard Law School, and don’t apply what I learn… I become a stock broker, for instance… it’s Harvard’s fault that I’m not a successful attorney. (I’m still trying to get my mind around that one.)

A side-note here: Gordon says he’s so “financially desperate.” Yet he claims to have “authored one of the very best books ever written on the topic of sanity and honesty, related to retirement funding.” Really? Then why doesn’t he apply what he claims to be an expert on to his own life?

And this copied directly from his http://www.prudentsolutioninc.com/ website. “Gordon Bell Accredited Investment Fiduciary Auditor, Certified Asset Protection Planner Certified Wealth Preservation Planner. Author of ‘Tell ‘Em ‘That’s MY Money You’re Messing With!”,” actually teaches you how to…

    • NEVER lose money.
    • Never run out of money during retirement.
    • Actually increase income and lower taxes at the same time.
    • Re-design your portfolio so you’re never negatively affected by a collapse of the stock market.
    • No longer be reliant on a rate of return to reach your goals.
    • Employ a new mathematical understanding that will place you far above the investment rat race.

And again from another of Gordon’s own websites, http://instantsale.org. He claims his “21st Century System (for short-selling your home) Works.” If that’s the case, then with the real estate market in the condition that it’s in, Gordon must be raking in the cash. The fact is, Gordon speaks out of one side of his mouth about how successful he is, then cries poverty out of the other side.

Now tell me… does this sound like a guy who should be “financially desperate,” “can’t afford glasses and other vital things,” who “can’t afford to pay rent”, and who actually told the judge in court that he has paid over $3,000 in interest on the $5,000 he borrowed over four years ago?

The fact is, Gordon Bell is a fraud!

But even with all that, evidently, the Ripoff Report wasn’t enough. So just as Gordon wrote in one of his lengthy emails, he filed a complaint with the Attorney General’s office. They sent me a copy and asked for my response. I answered all of Gordon’s points, and the Attorney General summarily dismissed Gordon’s complaint as baseless.

That didn’t work, so Gordon sued me in court. One of the rules of the court was that each party had to submit their evidence to the other party as “discovery.” I sent Gordon a packet of nearly 100 pages of what I was to present in court. In response, Gordon sent me the following email:

    • “I am in receipt of your documents.
    • At a quick first glance, I see misstatements or bold faced lies that certainly require deeper research.
    • Thus, it may take up to July 26 to be able to present my response.
    • The court indicates that all I need do is provide you a copy of my statements at the time of trial.
    • All I can say now, is this: If you had spent the time and effort you obviously spent on this enddeavor in keeping your agreements, you would have saved a lot of money.
    • You are a character of dichotomous factors.”

A quick analysys… July 26 was the court date. The actual court rules regarding disclosure state that each party must submit their evidence to the other party within 40 days of filing. I complied with that, and sent Gordon my packet on April 25th.

When we went to court, Gordon attempted to present his packet to me and I refused to accept it. Then he tried to present it to the judge, who also rejected it, and told Gordon that Justice Court isn’t like what you see on TV… you can’t spring a surprise witness or documents at the last minute in an attempt to “ambush” the other party.

So Gordon presented a very flimsy case about how we didn’t provide the support we promised. Then I had my turn. I countered every point Gordon made, and Chad, the president of TopLine told about how he worked with Gordon and gave him more time than any three of the attendees of his class combined. I even told the judge that I was still willing to give Gordon two days of personal one-on-one coaching and would pay a night’s lodging form him if he would get himself to Phoenix.

Gordon had made statements of being “financially desperate” and unable to travel. Yet he was able to come up with the funds and the strength and energy to get to Phoenix for the trial. He was claiming $5,000 (amount he paid down for the training), and an additional $5,000 for expenses. Of course, he had no documentation for that amount. If Gordon would have invested that time and money into a trip to Phoenix for his one-on-one coaching with me, he’d be WAY farther ahead. Now he’s out the money he paid for his airfare, rental car and two nights lodging… plus time away from his business and the income he could have generated if he stayed home. As for me, the suit cost nothing but 2 hours of my time… and that included travel to and from the court.

Needless to say, the judge ruled in our favor and dismissed Gordon’s complaint.

Okay, still not enough for Gordon. He actually registered a domain using my own personal name and set up a website (martinhowey.org) to tell his story to the world. (Can you see how desperate and vindictive this guy is and the ends that he’ll go to to try and destroy and discredit me?)

So let’s get back to my original question: What would you do? Would you let this character get away with it by using your own name and posting derogatory and misleading comments on that website? Or would you fight back? Really, what would you do?

I know, some would have refunded the money at the outset. After all, Gordon said others have done it just to “avoid the annoyance.” But that’s not me. It’s not right for someone to steal your information and your time, not do anything, and then make public complaints that you didn’t deliver, when you actually over-delivered, and even won the opinions of the Attorney General and a judge in justice court. The fact is, this man needs to be stopped.

So after careful consideration and pondering, I decided to look at this entire process in the context of “marketing.” Gordon claims to have several people who agree with his point that Martin Howey, Chad Howey, and TopLine Business Solutions are frauds. He says that all of those who agree with him choose to remain anonymous, and refuses to tell who they are or how many there are. That’s okay. I do know for a fact that several people who were considering become TopLine Business Solutions Business Development Consultants came to us because of what Gordon wrote. They checked out RipoffReport and saw his postings and my responses. Some of the comments they made are hilarious. Things like:

    • “The guy is a idiot!”
    • “What a loser. He needs to get a life.”
    • “I can’t believe that anyone (especially at his age) would borrow $5,000 at 26% interest not knowing if he could realistically pay it back!”
    • “There are enough ‘kooks’ in the world who will go out of their way to try and destroy someone’s reputation, but this guy is the ‘King of Kooks’. You should counter sue him and stop him from taking advantage of others.”
    • “Doesn’t he have anything more productive to do with his time?”
    • “He’s REALLY strange. One excuse after another, after another, after another. I guess if one thing doesn’t work, why not try something else? It’s the old story: Throw enough crap at the wall and something is bound to stick.”

Those aren’t my words… they came from emails we’ve gotten from people who were drawn to Gordon’s RipoffReport post and checked us out. I know for a fact that several people have come into our program that we would never have had if it weren’t for Gordon’s posts. So thank you, Gordon. You’re helping us get the word out!

I know I could be spending more of my time doing marketing in a positive way to attract more consultants. But for me, this IS marketing. The more Gordon does in a negative way, the more eyes he will attract. And the more eyes that he attracts that are serious, the more people will read what we’ve done to try and help Gordon be successful in this business, and the more they will see Gordon for who he is… a desperate man who refuses to take adult responsibility and accountability for his own actions… or better yet, his own inactions, and continually looks for other things or other people to blame for his lack of success.

In my 45+ years of business, Gordon Bell is the ONLY one who has complained and has taken things this far. In contrast, the number of success stories from more than 1,100 consultants now operating in 36 countries worldwide, is overwhelming.

I truly feel sorry for Gordon and wish him the very best. And my offer of spending two full days of one-on-one consulting time with him AND pay for one night’s stay in a hotel stands. All he needs to do is get himself to Phoenix.

So what about you? This has been a very long story. But I wanted you to see the entire picture and then ask yourself what would you would do if you got a vicious, vindictive person on your tail, and even though you went overboard trying to please him, and even though he complained to the Attorney General and sued you in court… and you won in both instances, then he stole your name and put up a derogatory website to try and destroy your name, reputation, credibility, business, and personal and family life.

What would you do? Lie down and take it? Refund his money? Fight it? Or use it as a marketing strategy? That’s what I chose to do… and it’s working out very well for me.

I’m very interested in what you have to say and what you would do in a similar circumstance. Anonymos comments are always welcome. At TopLine have an “open book” policy and nothing to hide, so what you have to say carries a LOT more weight and credibility if you identify yourself.


17 Comments for this entry

  • Charles Greer says:

    I think you did exactly the right thing. Except fot maybe offering him too much. I’ve seen too many people like Gorgon in my business life that wanted something for nothing & tries to bluff everyone into giving them something for nothing. I wish I was 10 years younger & I would be one of your team.
    Keep up the Good work!!

    • toplineb says:

      Hey, Chuck! Yeah, maybe I did offer him too much. But I figured I’d make it brain-dead simple for him and WAY over-deliver so he wouldn’t have any excuses. Both the attorney general and the judge agreed with me. His little antic of sueing me cost him considerable dollars, which he said he didn’t have to attend my one-on-one training offer, but cost me just 2 hours of my time. Not a very smart move on his part.

      Give Barbara my love… we miss you guys!

  • First sorry, the website is in french and dutch.
    I think it is a great way of looking at black PR. Turn it into marketing.
    What it is that is strange is that people who are antagonistic (say white when you say black), people who are overt or covert hostile, in fear or in other low emotional states are not trustworthy. These people create the problems you talk about. An enthusiastic or even a conservative are emotionally to good to go and play these silly games. It is therefor good to avoid these people even if they bring you a good marketing opportunity. It is still better to progress your company in a calm environment than trying to sail against the wind.

    Ludo Cardinaels

    • toplineb says:

      Thanks for the great comment, Ludo. I agree with you, and have answered the complaint, and am now back to running our company the way we always have… with integrity, honesty, and a policy of over-delivering. I hope all is well with you, and again… so nice to hear from you!

  • Although I have never met Martin Howey in person, I have gotten to know him through numerous phone conversations and I believe him to be a person of the highest character and truly a class act. Now he has proven beyond a shadow of a doubt what a smart business marketing professional he really is. Brilliant move Martin.

    • toplineb says:

      Well, hello Dan! Been awhile since we’ve chatted. Nice to hear from you, and thank you for your support and very nice comments. I appreciate them very much. I hope all is well with you and your family, and that you’re having all the success you want and deserve!

  • Rick Bierut says:

    Hello Martin,
    I read the account with great interest, and agree with you in your approach to handling the situation.As you may recall,I spent many years in the automotive industry, and have encountered my share of individuals who have displayed similiar traits and tactics.You are not going to change this persons viewpoint,certainly not at his age.It must have served him before,in other circumstances.How one responds is more important.I think it is in the Seven Habits book that Stephen Covey states that it isn’t the snakebite that does the damage, but the response in chasing after the snake.I wish you the best in moving forward from this, and in your health and recovery.
    Best regards to you and your family

    • toplineb says:

      Hey Rick… So nice to hear from you. Great comment. I learned about chasing the snake to “get him” for biting me a long time ago. Not much future in that. As far as this guy goes, I’m finished with him. He has nothing to do but try and damage me, and in the process, he’s damaging himself. When you read about what he wanted and how we tried to appease him by offering additional one-on-one training, hotel expenses, meals, and all the rest, it’s pretty clear that our intentions were honorable. Unfortunately, he has nothing to do with his time but try to bring someone down. How much farther he could be if he were to just apply what he spend the time and money learning.

  • I once helped a woman in a similar but less desperate situation – She made a partial payment. when she wanted her money back I showed her how I had fulfilled my end, and she needed to follow through on hers. I offered further assistance at no charge, but she wanted a refund That was a big quandary for me, to give her back her money or not. She threatened to take me to small claims court. I sent her a letter documenting what I’d done and what she needed to do to follow through, and said there would be no refund. I recommended that she put her time into building her business. I never heard back from her. Although I have not used this for marketing purposes, I have restructured my offer, raised the minimum that must be paid up front, become more careful about the solvency of potential clients, and to make clear their roles and the results they can expect and when. Certainly learned from the experience. Extending a hand to someone in need won’t nec. make their situation better.

    • toplineb says:

      Hi Debra-Sue… Thanks for responding. You were smart in documenting how you fulfilled your end of your agreement, and generous in offering further assistance at no charge. Some people just don’t want to do the work, and insist on taking and taking, and then insisting on a refund. I’m sure like you, we will gladly give a refund if we somehow let someone down by not doing our part. It’s when they take everything from you, don’t do anything with it, cost you mone time and effort trying to please them, and then several months or even years later request – or more pointedly – demand a refund.

      Good for you in restructuring your offer and increasing the minimum up-front amount. It’s too bad that one or two people can ruin it for so many others who perhaps could take advantage of a program if more attractive terms were offered. Our situations are somewhat similar, and I appreciate your sharing your experiences… at least I’m not in the boat all alone!

  • Dean Thomson says:

    Awesome Martin – I never had any doubt that you would win this case!

    I can personally vouch for the fact that the support I’ve received from Martin and Topline has been unbelievable – he is only a phone call away and has always responded to me and answered any question/s I’ve had.

    The support you receive is unsurpassed. I have never received this type of one on one support in any program I’ve been involved in, including my University education.

    All the best Martin, keep up the good work!

    • Martin Howey says:

      Kinda crazy, huh, Dean? The effort some people will go to to avoid having to do any work is amazing. Like you said, my private phone number is available to all our clients and consultants. I make myself more available than anyone I know in similar businesses. Try getting Jay Abraham, Dan Kennedy, Brian Tracy, or any number of other “big names” on the phone. Ain’t gunna happen. Case in point: I want to send two of my staff to take a tour of the CRM company we’re using to see how we can improve our operations and perhaps refer them to our consultants. So over the past 30 days I sent 3 emails and made 3 phone calls (and left messages) for the Director of Marketing to arrange a tour. No response… until today. FINALLY!

      These guys preach customer service, but they don’t practice it very well. This was a simple tour request that had the potential to give them more business, and I couldn’t reach them by phone or email (even a LinkedIn request) for 30 days. For me, this is totally unacceptable, and certainly not the way we run our business. As I mentioned, my phone lines are open all day for anyone who needs help. Just this morning, I worked with a consultant in Raleigh, North Carolina, and another one in Kentucky. They both had questions, picked up the phone and called… and I answered, stopped what I was doing, and helped them solve their problems. One was nearly an hour long, and the other about 20 minutes. That’s how to do business. And that’s what we do.

  • Jorge Marquez says:

    I am sure you can talk to an attorney and see how much it will cost you to sue for defamation and also force him to shut down the site. You can try to also recover your legal costs, but if he has no assets to speak of, might not be worthwhile. I would probably have done everything as you did, until they used your name, which he has no legal right to do.
    Good luck and patience..

    • toplineb says:

      Thanks for the info, Jorge… I really appreciate your response. As you mentioned, I could get an attorney and sue him, but he has no money, but like you said, he has no assets, and it’s not worth my time to pursue a dead horse. Eventually, he’ll go away. In the meantime, we’re getting calls and emails from people (not our clients) who are supportive, and even some who are interested in our program because they saw how much I offered to help him and the hollow reasons for his complaint. As far as using my name without my permission, I’m looking into that. Thanks again for taking the time to respond!

  • Martin Howey says:

    Here is an email I received from one of our clients.
    =============

    Martin:

    I saw your old post about Gordon Bell last night. What a negative individual he is! And what a losing attitude. He should never have committed to anything that would have taken an ounce of initiative.

    What would I have done? I don’t know. Probably met him face-to-face.

    The thing is, some situations just cannot be dealt with using logic. He is what he is. He changeth not and will be thus forever after.

    I tend to use the normal, bell-shaped curve as a frame of reference. We all conform to the normal curve, in whatever observable and measureable area, be it height, honesty, intelligence or whatever. The Paretto Principle, which you discussed in Phoenix, derives directly from that.

    In terms of your student satisfaction, you will always have a tiny percent at either end of the scale. Absolutely over-the moon delighted on one end, but the reverse at the other. It’s simply inevitable. And Gordon Bell examplifies this reality.

    From my perspective, upon encountering something like this afresh, I would:
    • Take the philosophical perspective that this is a normal, predictable outcome of the large number of people you have trained and worked with. Jay Abraham, Dan Kennedy and others have had this to deal with. Why not you?
    • Not get into a lengthy dialogue with this other person, while offering to meet him in Phoenix. Logic just doesn’t come into it and does not work with him. He’s not logical.
    • As you said, recognize this as a positive opportunity to showcase TopLine results, including testimonials.
    Bell obviously has energy and initiative. It’s unfortunate that it is misdirected. Had he applied himself to getting just one single, solitary client and working with them, he would not be behaving this way. It’s sad. It’s hurtful. But accept it as a reflection upon him, not you.

    Ken

  • Martin Howey says:

    Here is an email I received from one of our clients.
    =============

    More and more people in our society seem to cry victim. They don’t take any responsibility for their own actions and therefore the fruit of they labor usually exposes them. There is no fruit, just rotted shells and no growth. Sounds a lot like our economy.

    I think most of these people think if they cause if not stink that we we roll over and give in to their demands. I applaud you for taking the time to expose this farce. Unfortuanately our court systems and rulings seem to be leaning more toward the so called victim, glad you had a good outcome here.

    Ron Drummonds

  • Martin Howey says:

    Here is an email I received from one of our clients.
    =============

    Hi Martin,

    Well, as it has been said many times, “you can’t please everybody” no matter how hard you try. You were given no choice but to defend your reputation and you responded to this situation in an appropriate manner. To still be prepared to spend 2 days one-on-one with this guy and also pay for a night’s hotel after all that has transpired with him, clearly shows who the better person is here.

    Regards,

    Stephen Grant

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