We’ve probably all been subjected to it at one time or another. You’re sitting at a red light and out of nowhere, someone appears and starts washing your windshield, unasked. The deal is that you then are somehow obligated to give them money for their work. If you don’t, they yell and swear at you and generally make you feel like a bad person.

Friday I was at a Municipal Law Seminar, put on by Reynolds, Mirth, Richards & Farmer LLP. In a session on contracts, they used a hypothetical example to pose the question: “Does this contractor have a contact with this city?”

Essentially the contractor had been asked to consult on a project by someone who did have a contract with the municipality. Then, having inside knowledge of the project, the contractor began to do some direct work, pre-ordering materials and tendering for subcontractors, etc. Things got far enough along that someone in the municipality spoke up and said, “Whoa Cowboy, we don’t have a contract with you.” The contractor insisted that they did; after all, he’d done so much work for them on this project already, had incurred significant expense, etc. It went to court.

To me, this sounded like the squeegee business model.

I got thinking about that kind of business practice, which is actually more common than you’d think. The scale of it apparently goes from very small incidents to large projects like the one mentioned above. My husband and I were recently in Mexico, and were treated to a lot of that kind of business practice from the service/hospitality industry. It goes like this: the business person comes up alongside and does something for you without being asked. Then the expectation is that you will pay them for their service. They have obligated you. Squeegee Business Model. In Canada, we’re usually too polite to object, right? It works; that’s why it’s practiced.

In the hypothetical example, the court agreed with the municipality but of course, as you can imagine, they paid for their stand in bad press and lost time.

I’d like to hear how you handle the SBM when it happens to you. I most often take the view that if I didn’t ask you to do something, then it’s a favour you’ve done me and for that I thank you. But I feel guilty about it. Sometimes, in places like Mexico, where poverty is such an issue, I might even set aside my “principles” and give them money.

What do you do? How do you feel about this practice? Have you ever actually given a contract or job to someone because they employed this method?

Tell me what you think.