Monday, 29 October 2018

My experience of We Heart Mondays and things to be mindful of with blogger events

I'll be honest, this is something I never expected to write about. Well, not in this way at least. But due to the lack of transparency and also the lack of information available, I felt compelled to spread awareness. As a blogger, you know the deal. Some days your inbox is fairly quiet (*cue the tumbleweed*), but on other days you may get an exciting opportunity or three. And this is how this story begins.

THE CONCEPT

We Heart Mondays had been on my radar for a little while. The concept of We Heart Monday? Celebrating women. Specifically providing work spaces and networking events for meeting entrepreneurial women with workshops designed to empower women. We Heart Mondays founder Layla Rivelino was quoted saying this in an interview*

* article no longer available for reference but was originally found via Lady Like You 
"Our aim is to create work spaces and services that equip female entrepreneurs with everything they need to approach Mondays with confidence. I listen to a lot of podcasts by female entrepreneurs which inspired me to create an environment where like-minded business women could come together, be themselves, be productive, network, and make new friends"
Sounds good, right?

I was some how signed up to their mailing list (a mystery still to this day) and would get emails about events at their venue in Hackney Wick (supposedly a really, really beautiful venue)

THE EVENT

Then early April this year they announced their next event. The email came through with the subject line "Midsummers Night Dream Dinner Party Invitation" and I was initially excited because I thought it may have been with a brand (I have been invited to blogger breakfasts with brands before). When I clicked into the email and saw it was with We Heart Mondays, it was that initial uncertainty of a company I hadn't had dealings with before, nor did I know anyone who had attended one of their events before. But clicking into that email with pictures like the below...  it grabbed your attention instantly.

I would photo credit all the images used in this post, but honestly have no idea where We Heart Mondays found these...
Please contact me if you are the owner of these images and I'll be more than happy to co-operate and credit your work!

No word of a lie, but being a massive foodie, it felt like the event was made for me. An evening of unlimited drinks, massages, manicures, a three course meal and to top it all off, a goody bag at the end of it (on reflection, it now all sounds too good to be true..). The email detailed the food as being from The Meringue Girls' savory menu, followed by a picture perfect dessert and these are the types of pictures they used in their email.


Good so far, right? This is when things start to get gnarly.

We Heart Mondays was asking for £50 for this event. I did initially question this as I have been blogging for over 8 years now and usually events are complimentary in exchange for coverage in the form of a written review. There is sadly this generalisation that bloggers and influencers are freeloaders and want everything handed on a plate to them for free (not true for all of us!). I went in with good intentions. Always wanting to see the good in people, I figured that renting an office space in London must be expensive, and that maybe the cost was to go towards the decor for the event, as well as the food and wages for those working that night. I saw it as a supper club type event (and supper clubs are never free!) and for everything it included, I didn't think that £50 was a horrendously outrageous ask.

But before I parted with my money I did do a bit of research first. Their email worked (I had actual human contact and spoke to a lady called Erica from We Heart Mondays via email), their website was professional looking enough, and I found blog posts about people who had gone to their events before. I established that trust, so I clicked through and paid via PayPal, knowing PayPal has a degree of buyer protection through my dealings with eBay.

RED FLAG

The first red flag was that I never received a confirmation email, receipt, or proof of purchase. Fortunately because I paid through PayPal, I had something I could refer to. On the lead up to the event, I didn't receive any emails from We Heart Mondays confirming the time, place or date. On the morning of the event I emailed the team. And the email bounced. As in, the email account could not be found. I went onto the We Heart Mondays website... also gone. And likewise both their Instagram and Twitter accounts had been deleted. On Google they were listed as "permanently closed", and I went onto PayPal and noticed that my payment to "We Heart Mondays" was now a payment to "CLOSED".  I contacted the supplier who was meant to be supplying the food at said event that day, but they had no knowledge of this and in fact believed to be working with them on an entirely different date later that month.

After some digging on Twitter and Instagram, I managed to track down other individuals and small businesses who had also been affected (because don't forget, when it comes to events, suppliers also feel the impact!). Many of these complaining about having tickets to an event the previous weekend, paying for the privilege, and turning up to find NOTHING in said venue and then upon emailing We Heart Mondays, having emails bounce back like mine was. Some of the small businesses had lost out on £600 which is horrible for any brand or business, but especially despicable for smaller businesses and new businesses where every penny counts. As annoyed as I am to have lost money, I can't help but feel even more angry on behalf of all the small businesses that were targeted and taken advantage of.

STRIVING FOR BALANCE

Whilst really frustrated, I don't know the whole story - it's merely speculation at this stage -  and I always try and write in a balanced way and present both sides.

Maybe they have re-branded with a new website, new email, new social media account and new premises. But how are people paid up to their events to know that? The most frustrating part of this all has been the lack of communication. I can't say for sure that We Heart Mondays are a scam business. Maybe they were a legit business and went bust. Or maybe they played the long game, built up a reputation for themselves, starting charging for events and that's when it all begun. I honestly don't know. But if I have paid for a product or service, I expect an order confirmation or receipt, and if there is anything potentially in the way of getting said product or service I have paid for e.g  bankruptcy I expect to be kept informed.

So with their mission statement of entrepreneurial women and trying to empower women, I guess they have both failed and succeeded here. If this was all indeed one big con, designed by one women (there is talk of "Layla Rivelino" being a fake name) to get people's money, it's entrepreneurial of sorts, I'll give them that. However if a woman taking advantage of lots of young women and women in business... it's not at all empowering and embracing of the sisterhood. It's easy to be angry at someone and play the blame game, but ultimately I'm angry at myself. For falling for it. For not questioning things more. The real shame is that this whole experience has shaken my confidence in blogger events. There is an event in November which is asking for tickets to be purchased in advance, and now I'm shaken to get involved with any events that involve payment. Can you blame me? The whole experience has been a lesson learnt and I will be more careful in the future.

NEXT STEPS

What's next? In an ideal world, I hope that the people behind We Heart Mondays do the right thing and come forward and try at the very least to explain their side of their story rather than leaving us left to fill in the gaps and naturally thinking the worst. I am hoping I have a degree of buyer protection through paying through PayPal, and fingers crossed I do get my money back. I am signed up to a wonderful support group with everyone that was affected and together we are fighting to find out more, get the answers we deserve, and get everyone's money back. If you have experienced something similar, do reach out to me and I''ll pass on the details for the support group.

In summary, it has been a learning curve. Not only did it fool me and small businesses, but imagine new bloggers to the industry who don't know any better. I want to ensure that something like this never happens again, and here's how we can achieve this:

RESEARCH THE COMPANY

Yes, I did my fair share of research on the company but looking up social media accounts and previous blog posts are not enough. We live in an age where things can be glossed over and dressed up on social media. It's so easy to deceive others.

Do the social media accounts have a good amount of followers that inspire confidence? Even if it did, the followers on the account could be bought or mostly bots. If any money is involved, Google the company and try and find out about their financial history etc etc.

Some of the blog posts may have been written by We Heart Mondays' people, or even commissioned by them. A lot of these blog posts are still live and if they are genuine blog posts and if the person in question really did attend and have no complaints about the company or how they were treated, that's only fair. However what baffles me is that knowing what I know now, and with the widespread knowledge that the company may have screwed lots of people over, if I had written one of these blog posts, I wouldn't want to associate myself and my blog's branding against a potentially corrupt organisation and would delete the post instantly. But that's just me.

CONTACT THE SUPPLIERS

The email I received told me who'd be supplying the food that evening so in future, I'd contact some of the suppliers and double check that a) they have indeed been booked and b) that the dates line up. Because if not, that's a red flag. I learnt this far too late.

CONTACT OTHER BLOGGERS

I shouldn't have been complacent with seeing the blog posts and taking these as proof as trustworthiness. In future I know to reach out to the bloggers and get their take on it. In this case, it wouldn't have necessarily helped because all the bloggers I contacted about their We Heart Mondays blog posts say they had genuinely good experiences and weren't compensated to write the reviews. But you never know. It's always worth a shot. Alternatively reach out to the blogging community on Twitter and ask around. Through talking to people, I learnt about issues dating back as early as June. Which had I known earlier, I wouldn't hit "book" in April.

USE PAYPAL OR A CREDIT CARD

If you choose to part with your money, try and use PayPal or a credit card as both offer you some coverage / buyer protection. I luckily used PayPal and have submitted a claim already. Because like with an eBay purchase, if a company doesn't provide you with a product or service you paid for, you are entitled to claim and get your money back. Apparently the company has 20 days to dispute or get in touch, and after that, PayPal will escalate the case. We Heart Mondays is now down as "Closed" on my PayPal account so I'm not expecting to get any sort of response or dispute in the next 20 days. So watch this space.

REPORT FOR FRAUD

If you experience any problems, research your options. I'm still figuring out what to do (I'll update this section once I have learnt more about my rights), but there have been talks of getting fraud departments involved and the police and the press.

LET'S TALK

Let's talk to each other. The big problem here was the lack of communication and information available. Both from We Heart Mondays and also the individuals and suppliers who trusted them. Before I started asking around on Twitter, I didn't see anything on Twitter about this, nor any blog posts expressing concerns. Let's get chats going on Twitter and hopefully my blog post is the first of many where we can spread the word, get the answers we deserve, and ensure something like this never happens again.

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