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Honey, Jerry Rubin's on the Phone!

There comes a time in the life of every IP when a client is going to ask you for your personal phone number -- "just in case of an emergency," or so he or she says. Of course, you may only have one phone number, and it may sound like a fairly benign request, in any event, but for many of us, it's anything but.

I found this out the hard way.

The project? A sales pitch for the wonderful world of multi-level marketing -- a world in which my client had found much success, earning more than $50,000 a month and paying for a sumptuous, $5,000-a-month penthouse apartment on Los Angeles' Wilshire Boulevard.

The client? Jerry Rubin.

Now those of you who weren't around when the shit hit the fan back in the '60s may think Rubin is some kind of sandwich -- but you'd be wrong. Jerry Rubin was the radical co-founder of the Youth International Party (Yippies) and a major producer of that infamous decade's counter-cultural mayhem. But after the Vietnam War ran out of gas -- and the market for radicals tanked -- Jerry reinvented himself. Three times. He was a founding member of the Me generation in the '70s, a Yuppie in the '80s (in fact, the term "Yuppie" was originally coined in an article about Jerry), and an extremely successful capitalist and multi-level marketer in the '90s.

I caught him in the third act.

Jerry was looking for someone to ghostwrite a book -- a book that would serve as his personal calling card and hopefully induce thousands of people to join his latest multi-level marketing scheme. He had already worked his way through seven other writers -- ultimately rejecting the work of each. Did I want to be lucky number eight?

You bet I did.

I hopped in a car with my agent and we made the two-hour drive up to L.A. Between sips out of a huge glass of some odd-looking, green liquid, Jerry gave me an in-depth tour of his life, and the secrets behind his current success. We spent hours talking about possible approaches to the book, and we passed around a lot of different ideas. He ended our session with a rousing pep talk and he gave me a huge box of multi-level marketing books to read. When I finally left late in the afternoon, I was certain I knew exactly what my client was looking for.

As I was leaving, I gave Jerry my card -- the standard one I give all my clients with my business phone and fax numbers on it. But before I could get out of the door, Jerry said, "Hey, Peter -- let me have your home number, too. You know, just in case something urgent comes up and you're not in your office. I'm sure I won't need to use it, but I want to have it handy in case I do."

Hmmm... I wasn't in the habit of giving out my home phone number to my clients... but what was I to do? I could turn him down and maybe piss him off (and I didn't feel like pissing off this hero of my impressionable teenage years), or I give him my home number, and hope that he never had to use it. I decided to take a chance and give it to him. I was sure he would never need to call. And even if he did, it would only be for an emergency -- right?

Not quite.

Jerry didn't just call my home phone number; he called three, four, five, even six or more times a day -- just to see how things were going. He called in the morning, he called in the afternoon, and he called at night. Eventually, I had to disconnect the phone in my bedroom. "Peter -- how's it going? Are you working on the sample chapters? When do you think you'll be done? Have you read the books I gave you yet? When are you going to get me something to look at?" Jerry was a bundle of energy, and his focus was as sharp as a laser; unfortunately, I was the subject of Jerry's focus, and he was starting to burn a hole though my ever-thinning patience.

He talked to my wife, he talked to my kid, he talked to my mother-in-law. He probably even talked to my dog. Every time the phone rang, we assumed it was Jerry checking up on me. He was always pleasant when he called, but he called, and called, and called. In short, for about a week -- the time it took me to pull together what he wanted -- I was caught in a manic Jerry Rubin Telethon.

It didn't take me long -- no more than a call or two -- to regret giving Jerry my home phone number, and I vowed that I would never do that again.

To make a long story short, I delivered the chapters and suddenly, miraculously, annoyingly... there was silence. A couple of days later I called Jerry to see what he thought about my work. He let me know that it wasn't what he was looking for, and that he was going to move on and start looking for writer number nine. Maybe the guy who wrote David Crosby's recent biography. Jerry thanked me for giving it a shot, and asked me to UPS his multiple multi-level marketing books back up as soon as possible.

That was the last I heard from or about Jerry Rubin until a few months later when I was shocked to see on the TV news that he had been hit by a car while walking across Wilshire Boulevard -- right in front of his apartment building -- and that he was in the hospital in critical condition. Sadly, despite 14 hours of full-body surgery, his heart finally gave out and he died.

And no, the moral isn't that giving clients your home phone number will get them killed. Or that you should never give out your personal number. The moral: you need to be careful about guarding your privacy. I've since realized that all IPs have to decide for themselves what kind of moat they'll dig between their personal lives and their work lives. Mine is about 50 feet thick, and it's fully stocked with some angry old alligators. Nonetheless -- and this is a very important "nonetheless" -- I occasionally let down a little drawbridge when my gut tells me that it's gonna be all right. This only happens in two kinds of situations.

  1. With long-term clients. Most of my long-term clients become partners in the truest sense of the word -- I take care of them, and they take care of me. I reserve for them my very highest level of customer service, which means that they can contact me on my unlisted home number when I'm not available via my regular business number. This is my reward to them for their continued patronage and loyalty.

  2. In high-dollar deals. If I have a big-money deal pending -- one that might require quick action or response from me -- then I give out every possible way to reach me, including business phone number, home phone number, fax, and email. As an IP, high-dollar deals are very important to me -- if the dollars are high enough, the client can call whenever he or she wants.

If you have a separate home number and decide to give it to a client, be prepared. Expect the client to use it -- and use it often.

We'd love to hear your feedback about this column, or put you in touch with Peter Economy if you like. You may also like to see his biography.

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