Question: Fake it Until You Break It?

There’s a saying commonly bandied about in relation to small businesses that you should “fake it until you make it” which is implying that you should act bigger or better than you might otherwise appear to be, until that becomes a reality.

However, this can rapidly backfire as you promise the world, and are left unable to deliver on those promises. In other words, you fall prey to the other saying, “don’t bite off more than you can chew”. How would you avoid falling into this trap?

Timely Payments

Last week’s question was one pertinent to anyone who relies on clients for their paycheck – how do you ensure timely payments from your clients? This post got many responses, most of which were variations on two themes. The first response was the stick, the second, the carrot.

Enforcement

The first response involved a baseball bat, some nasty people, and angry letters from lawyers. That is, bully the clients who pay late (after all, they deserve it for treating me badly) until they pay, using whatever means that won’t land you in jail.

This method is like a stick – train a dog to be afraid of getting hit, and it will behave. The problem is that some clients will only respond to the stick, some will pull into their shells and avoid you, and others will leave you for more friendly vendors, and may still not pay you.

Bribery

The second response involved bribing your customers to pay on time by offering a discount for timely payments. One common method is referred to as 2-10-Net 30, which roughly translates to a 2% discount if paid within 10 days, with the full amount due in 30 days. Precise numbers can vary, but this method is aimed to encourage penny-pinching clients to pay earlier rather than later.

There are two issues here. First, 2% is not likely to provide a sufficient incentive to many clients to even care. As a result, this system rewards clients who would anyhow pay early (not that that’s a bad thing) but not really encourage anyone to join their ranks. Second, experience has shown that this system is marginally effective in any case, indicating that this may only work for certain types of clients.

Summary

As with all things in life, it’s about moderation. You need to be nice to your customers, but if they hold out on you too long when it comes to paying, maybe you don’t want them as customers anyhow. Try to avoid the enforcement method, as it is more likely to generate bad-will than be truly effective, and can compromise your ability to get referrals from clients you had harrassed.

One method that is worth trying, at least, is to simply ask your customers to pay early. Explain to them why you need the money earlier rather than later, explain that you understand it’s their right to hold out for 30 days, or whatever your official terms are, and in many cases, you’ll find a check in the next day’s mail.