Start-Up Diary: Show Me the Money

Paying your bills and getting paid. 

This is one topic that applies to us all; one aspect of business where we regularly find ourselves alternating between the roles of debtor and creditor.  When I started my business a year ago, I was lucky to have come up with a great new brand in the foods and beverages sector and quickly claimed my niche.

My products were hailed and welcomed by retailers and orders grew overnight. One of my greatest sources of joy and inspiration was the friendly connection I made with most of the retailers; fellow business owners running small but prosperous establishments. Or so I thought....

Until it was time to pay me and in some cases, no payments were forthcoming.  After sending a series of reminders through email and regular post I switched over to telephone calls. The ones that didn’t avoid my calls apologised profusely and promised to resolve the issue immediately. The oddball here and there claimed to have paid ages ago or claimed not to have received any bills/reminders and in rare cases, turned into the exorcist, yelling and screaming spine-tingling obscenities Grrrr...

Before I knew it, I found myself walking a precarious tightrope.

How does one successfully recover ones’ money without losing customers? How does one stay friendly and customer-oriented in the face of lies, excuses and bullsh*t?

Having been on the paying and on the receiving end of the stick I have compiled a list of Dos and Don’ts for the debtors and the creditors. These are guidelines and lessons gleaned from my own experiences on how to successfully navigate the sometimes tumultuous waters of entrepreneurship.

Debtors:

1. DO: Always communicate: The initiative to communicate your financial situation to your creditor is yours. Creditors appreciate knowing that you have not forgotten the bill and that you are doing all within your power to pay the bill. 

2. DON’T: Never, ever give a creditor the silent treatment by avoiding their telephone calls or ignoring their letters and emails. This only serves to p*ss-off and enrage an otherwise compassionate creditor, turning them from human beings to insensitive machines.

3. DON’T:  Don’t make promises you can’t keep. Don’t say you’ll pay by Monday if you know you can’t. Be impeccable with your word.

4. DON’T: By all means, cut the cr*p. Don’t tell lies or give excuses that are an insult to one’s intelligence. (I already paid a week ago, I swear! or The banks were on strike again etc) It only serves to harden the creditors’ resolve against you, diminish your creditability, damage your reputation and destroy a good customer-supplier relationship.

5. DO: Come up with SMART options on how and when to pay your bill; like paying in instalments and suggest a viable and realistic time-frame to do this. If for some reason you (again) fail to keep your part of the bargain, be the one to initiate contact and explain why you cannot keep your end of the bargain. Again, always have an alternative solution handy.

6. DON’T: Never, ever resort to (personal) insults, violence, accusations or challenging the validity of bill to be paid.

7. DON’T: Please don’t let this happen a second time!

Creditors:

1. DON’T: Don’t mix up business and friendship. Don’t make assumptions based on simple courtesy. A friendly business connection or rapport is not the same as a personal friendship. Business is one thing, friendship is another, You gotta keep ‘em separated!

2. DO:  Be clear and concise on your bills. Always send a legitimate bill with a payment time-frame included

3. DO: Be consequent at all times. Create a company policy on payments so that if necessary, you can include a copy of this policy in your bill. Following up your own protocol on the payment policy without exceptions is your prerogative.

4. DON’T: Never freak out and regress to insults and violence. Stay calm but assertive at all times.

5. DO: Be open to negotiations and alternatives when it comes to getting your money back. It is better to get your money back in steady trickles with a good interest rate than insisting on the whole payment at once, knowing that the debtor when pushed against the wall may very well abscond and disappear from the face of the earth leaving you with nada

Also, there may be other more interesting payments than money: My Father-in-law often opted for parcels of land and at some point 2 Arabian purebred horses as payment. He started a successful breeding farm of Arabian purebreds and made even more money than he could ever imagine.

6. DO:  If all written attempts to recover your money fail, try going in person to your debtor. This might help when the amount in question is not really a huge amount or does not warrant extra costs like going to court or engaging a professional debt collector. If you do go, take someone along with you, stay calm, business-like and assertive. 

7. DON’T:  Don’t be afraid of losing a bad customer. One good customer is better that five bad ones who cost you precious time, energy and provide you with loads of negative karma. 

8. DO: Finally, if you still wish to retain a customer with a lousy payment habit, your final alternative could be an “immediate-cash-payment-on-delivery” policy for that customer. If not, you run the risk of embarking again on the whole Tom & Jerry charade of running after your money... You should be sick of that by now.

Any one with more/better ideas please let me know.

And let’s be honest; at the end of the business day, it always boils down to these two crucial questions: “Can you deliver” and “Show me the money”. 

Startup Diaries is a new section of our website where founders can post their startup stories in blog form, describing their entrepreneurial journey; the challenges and highlights, eureka moments, lessons learned and laughs had along the way. The idea is to build a collection of first person anecdotes from women building businesses, as a resource for other female founders. Our favourite Startup Diary blogs will be posted on our home page. If you would like to write a Startup Diary, email our Editor beth@thenextwomen.com for details.

Chinello Ifebigh is an Nigerian born, dutch entrepreneur, food whisperer and avid blogger, based in the Amsterdam area of the Netherlands. Her company is Mama Djambo’s; a luxury organic brand of A-quality fine foods, confitures and chutneys which caters to a growing number of exclusive hotels, top grade bakeries and delicatessen throughout the Netherlands. True to her company slogan: “Outrageously wacky, Intensely scrumptious”, her products are always an exciting and curious blend of fresh fruit,vegetables, spices and even flowers.

Besides the creation fine foods, Chinello, a product of a mother from the second feminist movement, is dedicated to the empowerment and improvement of Women’s lives especially in her home country where, together with her mother, she has successfully set up a reliable micro banking system for rural women groups; aystem which empowers and enables illiterate women to start up and hold their own small local businesses.

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