Running your own business can sometimes turn from fun to thinking in numbers. I use this phrase and people think it’s funny, but it’s true. When you start out it’s all fun and games, your overheads are low – maybe you only have your salary to think about – but as you start to grow, and plan to grow, those numbers become very real.

In a society where people are uncomfortable to talk about money openly, it almost seems like a crime to insist on upfront payment or payment in full before you do work, for some people they even worry it makes you look desperate! But cashflow is the lifeline of a business (I know I blog about this a lot because it’s so critical to business yet continues to be a challenge in Zambia for most SMEs). And clients (and other people) can sometimes take the piss. I have one job as an example where the client didn’t want to pay anything upfront and insisted on paying on deliverable, and because they are a Fortune 500 company, it didn’t seem like a bad idea. What we didn’t bank on was their silence on delivery and their constant shifting goalposts. We signed and delivered the product in December 2013 and we’re still waiting for a final sign off to get paid (yes that would be 8 months later…).

And that’s one extreme example but there are similar examples I can give. The other condition that also boggles the mind is the 30 day payment after delivery. I understand it where you’re the middleman like we often are, because you’re relying on a client to pay you so you can honour your commitment and don’t want to over promise only to not be able to honour your word. But I don’t understand it when you are the direct client. You knew you wanted the product, you knew how much it cost, and you knew the time in which it was going to be delivered – why is the money not ready for payment? And where is your obligation to pay me when I have delivered the product?

So why should I assume all the risk for you? The client is not God and we need to stop acting like they are. Yes we depend on them for our survival but as an established business they also depend on you for their own deliverables, and in some cases, justification!

Last month we decided that due to these conditions and the environment we operate in, as well as the reality is that as a boutique agency we have to pick and choose which clients we can work with (we’re just not big enough to take on lots of clients at any given time, and we dedicate a lot of our energy, creativity, solutions etc to a client), so we decided that clients had to pay either a percentage or the whole amount (depending on the job) upfront in order for us to proceed with the work.

Of course this didn’t sit well with some of our clients, they felt it was a trust issue, or to some that it was a desperate move, but the reality was we just needed to spread the risk, and that way also ensure the client themselves were committed.

I feel like, as we are a small agency, doing a lot of administrative work ourselves, it was not the best use of our time to be chasing clients to get paid. And quite honestly, if it means we’ll lose some clients in the process, I doesn’t bother me as much as it will finally give us time to focus on our R&D for our internal projects! And will eventually lead to a bigger pay day! I truly believe that when one door closes, God opens another. So it might hurt at the time when you have to turn down the job, but use the time to focus on growing your own business by focusing on your strategy and strengthening your own internal skills and systems. That’s how I look at it – preparing yourself for the clients who respect your work and your business.

Money is such a sensitive issue. I have lost friends and even family over it! People do irrational things when they are stressed over money. I know, I’ve been there. But step away from the situation and take the emotions out of it. It’s not personal, and don’t treat it personal. I’m too grown to let money get in the way of relationships, but others aren’t always so. There is nothing you can do but wait it out, if the relationship was important enough they’re come back (clients, friends, family).

In Zambia, there are very few people and businesses, who are 100% financially stable all the time. Most of us are going through stuff and we need to understand that, so try and put yourself in the other person’s shoes and don’t make assumptions. But you have to protect yourself first, if you can’t afford something – financially, personal time etc – then don’t do it. It’s better to be honest that to expect something that doesn’t come to fruition. People may hate you at first, but when the emotions pass, and they’re mature enough, they’ll understand.

I’ll try and stop talking about money matters on my blog, but it really does impact a lot that goes on in my professional and personal life in Zambia. Hmmm I’m pretty sure I’ve written this exact blog before – that’s how bad it is.

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