Last week I had to deal with something that I hope I’ll never have to deal with again. I tell you the story in the hope that you may never fall into the same trap I did.
It all started earlier when I paid my business credit card account to my bank. I operate a credit card for our business which I pay off in full each month. I do this over the internet using BPAY.
I didn’t pick the error up until the statement for my personal credit card account arrived showing a $1400 credit balance. It didn’t take long to work out what had happened and I thought it would be a simple task to get the bank to reverse the payment and transfer it into the correct account.
Before I tell you what followed, understand this. I have a business account, a business credit card account and a private credit account all at the same bank. My personal bank account is held at another bank.
When I contacted the bank where both the credit cards were held and explained what had happened, I was on the phone for about 20-30 minutes while they tried to work out how to fix it. The girl I spoke to put me on hold and went to away to ask her colleagues what to do. When she returned she told me that I could transfer the money myself but it had to go via my personal account, that is the one at the other bank. I tried this but the system wouldn’t let me do it.
I made two further phone calls back to the bank and both times had to start again with a different person. On each occasion, the call took 20 -30 minutes.
In the end I was told the only way I could do it was to go to an ATM or the bank, make a cash withdrawal from personal credit card and then bank it into my personal bank account, at the other bank. Do this and then pay the business credit card account from there to put everything right again. By the way, while all this was happening, my business credit card had been “blocked” because they hadn’t received any payment.
That’s all bad enough but here’s the real clanger. The bank also told me that because I had to make a cash withdrawal from my credit card, I’d get hit with a sizeable fee but when I did, I could ring them back and they’d refund it. How much would that be I asked? Probably $200 -$300. You’re joking I said!
At the time of writing this, I have spent about 3 hours trying to resolve it and am yet to see what that fee actually is and to get it written off.
Ain’t technology great? My mistake… yes, but be assured I won’t be doing that again.
If it was within my power to change one thing that would genuinely help small business operators, it would have to be this.
I would find a way to have a board or advisory council of long term successful business owners to make decisions that relate to running a business. As it is we have politicians, public officials, academics and the like making policy and from where I sit, the decisions they make and the policies they implement rarely show any understanding or appreciation of how a small business operates in the real world.
In my view, policies made by such people are based on theories more than real world experience and business owners are the ones who suffer most from this.
Honestly, as a business owner, I’d feel far more comfortable and confident if people like Gerry Harvey or Lindsay Fox were deciding small business rules and regulations than I would to see people, no matter how many letters they have after their name, who have never run a small business from the front line telling us how it’s going to be.
I’m an honest hardworking small business owner with about 10 employees but despite that, I know that if an official from Work Cover, the Tax Office, Fair Work or any other government department walked into my business, they won’t care one iota about whether I’m honest or not, or even if the circumstances make me an innocent victim of some sort, if I’ve got a loose power point or I’ve got a wage payment wrong, I’m gone.
The reason I live in fear, like so many others, is because I’ve heard of so many cases where a small business owner has gone for a ride simply for not getting one of the million rules and regulations we have these days, right. In such cases, it would be nice if the authorities took into account the big picture of what that small business owner contributes to society and didn’t just focus on an innocent mistake or oversight. There’s an old saying I like that says “rules are for the guidance of wise men and the adherence of fools”. Shame more powerbrokers don’t act like wise men (or women).
Over the recent Christmas break my wife and I entertained a friend who used to work for us but now works in the real estate industry. This friend is one who can be best described as the type of person who puts his all into anything he undertakes. Although a successful media salesperson, real estate was a completely new game for him but as he does with most things, he attacked the task with gusto.
Part of the process for him has been to access a facility not unlike what I’m trying to do here with 8 out of 10, but geared at the real estate industry. There’s a very successful real estate man who produces material and podcasts to help people like my friend become successful in the real estate industry and my friend has found his material extremely helpful.
Of course this real estate man has been there and done that, very successfully I might add, he’s now worth tens and tens of millions of dollars and is sharing what he has learned with others who are serious about becoming successful, like my friend.
That background leads me to what I really want to say here.
In the podcasts, my friend mentioned a couple of things that resonated with me and that are worth mentioning here.
First, the real estate guy, whose name by the way is John McGrath, said he doesn’t listen to radio or watch television. This caused my ears to prick up because I rarely do either and for exactly the same reason as John McGrath. He has no problem with what others do but for himself, he reckons anything important in the news that he needs to know about, he’ll hear about. For the most part however, he claims that listening to or watching the news just leaves him feeling lousy, “it’s all so negative” he says and he prefers to fill his mind with more positive things.
I totally agree but I also know how hard it is to do that day in and day out. That said, being hard is just that, hard but not impossible. That brings me to the other point John made that I also concur with him on.
Many people who are trying to achieve something worthwhile, when they come to a hurdle or obstacle, tend to become overwhelmed by it. Those who experience real success in their life, like John McGrath, are those who see hurdles or challenges in there right light, as simply another problem to overcome. You would have heard the saying “faith can move mountains” and although I believe that, I prefer to be more realistic in practice. My attitude is more along the lines of “yes, it’s a problem, maybe a big one, but there’s usually a way to overcome it”. I love the lines in the Apollo 13 movie when the astronauts were running out of air and were still a long way from Earth. It appeared absolutely impossible that they would get them home given the situation with the air they faced. Despite this, the head of mission control famously said “Gentlemen, failure is not an option” and “work the problem” and incredibly they did and the result was the safe return to Earth of the Apollo 13 astronauts. Movie? Yes but based on the true story.
John McGrath and people like him, who succeed where most others fail, are people who do not let reasons “why not” get in the way of their go forward progress. They are people who consider “failure as not an option” and they “work the problems they face”. I can personally vouch for the fact that when “I’ve worked a problem”, more times than not, I’ve overcome it.
I’d go so far as to say that if you don’t develop an attitude where working problems is part of your norm, you’ll never reach your full potential or realise your dreams to the same extent you may have otherwise.
“Staying positive” is much more than a nice notion, it’s a life skill that successful people take very seriously and work very hard to develop. I hope, with John McGrath’s help, that I’ve encouraged you to think about ways that will help you stay positive as you go about your daily grind.
The days when most businesses opened for five and a half days a week are long gone, today many businesses open 7 days a week.
My purpose here is not to discuss the merits of opening 7 days a week but rather to ask those who feel it necessary to do so -“How convinced are you that you must open every day?”
Over the years I’ve seen many businesses extend their hours to include weekends, I’ve also seen others forced into it, mainly those in shopping centres where they are told what they have to do.
I can’t say with any certainty whether a business should or shouldn’t be open 7 days a week, but I do have a theory. I believe that if a business has to open 7 days a week to survive, it probably shouldn’t be there in the first place. My feeling is that a good business should be able to survive simply by being open 5 days a week. I do however, also acknowledge that with changing shopping patterns, late night trading on Thursdays and possibly Fridays, as well as Saturday and Sunday trading can, for some businesses, be the best trading times of the week.
For an owner-operated small business I also think that having sufficient rest and refresh time or just time off is crucial to the well-being of the owners. Rest time or time off not only is good for your health but it also refreshes, helps you clear your mind and gives you time to think clearly about your business without being over-tired. Rest time, in my view, also enables you to feel much better and fresher which, I believe means you’ll achieve more when you are at work. I contend that if you feel good, you’ll get more done in a shorter space of time than if you would if you always feel tired or over-worked having been at work day after day after day constantly.
Having made these points, I think you probably get the idea.
If any of this resonates with you, let me suggest that you give some serious thought to those days when your business does most of its trade. If Saturdays and Sunday are your big trading days, and obviously you don’t want to jeopardise them, give some thought to closing your doors each Monday or Tuesday or both, especially if either or both of these days are generally what you’d describe as ordinary trading days. You will probably be challenged in your thinking at the prospect of losing any business at all, but I believe that with the right marketing and given a little time, your customers and potential customers can be trained to know when you’re open and when you’re not. If you’re really smart and decide to close on a Monday and/or Tuesday, you’ll find ways to build your Saturday and Sunday trading to compensate.
I am absolutely convinced that done right, you’ll make all the hay you need to during fewer days and you’ll feel so much better in so many ways (health wise and family wise to name two) as a result.
Of course, this shouldn’t not be read as a one size fits all solution but I’m sure, for some of you at least, it’s worth thinking about.
If you’d like more thoughts on this topic or for me to elaborate a bit more on your particular situation, email me using the feedback facility.
During the course of running a business, we are frequently confronted with decisions or having ,to deal with situations that often see us in an uncomfortable position. It could be a decision about a new purchase for your business, maybe a new addition for the business or a new direction you’d like to take, or it could be having to deal with a customer complaint, or reprimanding an employee or even having to dismiss them. Such decisions often cause us to ponder how best to handle the situation or go about it.
One method that I’ve found very helpful in recent years has been to start my thinking process by coming at things from the other end. In other words, one of the first questions I ask myself is what outcome do I want to achieve from this? It may not sound that clever but I’ve found it works for me for a number of reasons. For a start it removes my inclination to do the first thing that comes into my head, which is often simply what I WANT to do.
For example, if I’m sacking an employee who simply hasn’t pulled their weight or done their job properly, my first feeling maybe to tell them just that. In this day and age that may be truthful but it could see me facing an unfair dismissal claim, or something else if the employee decides to take the matter to Fair Work or some other industry body. My experience and that of others who have found themself in this situation suggests it’s simply not worth the hassle and more often than not, the truth has little part to play in the outcome. I have found it better to consider where I want to land after the event and to only say and do the things that will get me there. When it comes to dismissing a staff member who’s not doing their job, the usual outcome I’m after is to see the tail of them as soon and at the least cost as I can. Telling them what I really think of them may make me feel better for a bit, but it may not lead to the best outcome.
Similarly when dealing with a customer complaint. Even if you’re right and your first instinct is to defend your position, consider first whether this will deliver the best outcome for you and your business. Some customers aren’t worth having but some complaints are just speed bumps and needn’t be the end of the road. If a complaining customer, even if they are dead wrong, is worth more to you if you keep them as a customer, than if you burn your bridges with them, my advice is to think of what you need to do to try and keep them. I’m not suggesting for one minute that you let people walk over you but what I am saying is that if you think about the outcome you want and work towards that, you might be surprised at how creative you can be without swallowing your pride, or compromising your standards or principles.
This same process can be applied to many day-to-day situations or decisions you face and I’d strongly encourage you to give this method a try when the next appropriate one comes along. It’s worked extremely well for me and I know it will work well for you too. When you do, you’ll more often than not do what’s best for you and your business.
Running a small business today is no easy task and if you’re like me, some days you probably wonder if it’s all worth it. I think that’s perfectly understandable, especially if you employ people.
My purpose here is not to focus so much on the problems or hurdles we face each day but rather to remind those who employ people that what you’re doing is a very noble thing to do.
Sadly, and in my view, not enough genuine recognition is given to those of us who employ people. Appropriate recognition from the leaders of our Nation and the general public is almost non-existent. Yes, you’ll hear words from time to time saying that small business is the backbone of the Nation and that small business is responsible for employing a huge slice of our workforce, but at the end of the day, such words rarely seem to generate the type of appreciation that can be measured. For me they just sound like empty words that simply fill space and most people let go through to the keeper.
Well today, I’m here to tell you that if you employ people you can and should take great pride in the fact. I do. About 16 people derive some or all of their income each week from working for me and that amounts to around $700,000 a year in my business alone. What needs to be said however, is that my wife and I earn only marginally more than several of my staff. We choose to do this and we’re not complaining but the point I want to make is that it takes a special kind of person who is willing to operate a small business, employ people, put up with all the compliance issues and other day to day hassles, have to deal with customers who are forever expecting more and more… and so on, and so on… and doing all this without getting much appreciation or recognition from government or the public at large! In some respects it’s plain crazy but it’s what we business owners do.
So, between when you get up in the morning and when you start work for the day, take a moment to remind yourself that by running a small business like you do – with all its ups and downs, you’re doing a very worthwhile and noble thing for our Nation and Bob Holland for one, knows that and acknowledges it. Good on you!
Be encouraged and get out there irrespective of the hurdles, knockers and anything else that would get in your way or spoil your day, and ‘do good anyway’!
Cash flow, or the lack of it, is an issue that impacts heavily on many small business owners and in a lot of cases, could well be the reason that so many of us get stressed or lose sleep at night.
At one time, I personally could have been accused and found guilty of being a bit soft on people who owed me money. I fell for that notion that said I shouldn’t chase money too hard in case I might lose a customer. I reasoned that a customer is everything and even if they paid horrendously slow, I couldn’t afford to lose any.
I followed that thinking for a long time but not any longer, I have since learned that some customers just aren’t worth having and it’s better to let them go. I have also developed a very different approach to collecting money that is owed to me and I’d have to say, doing something that I once thought could be detrimental to my business has proved to be the exact opposite, very beneficial.
Some years ago at a time when NSW was in severe drought, I was asked to participate in a number of Drought Seminars to be held in towns around the west of the State. My role was to present a talk on marketing while there was also an accountant there who was asked to speak on financial matters.
One of the things the accountant hammered home to those who attended was this “if you raise an invoice, collect the money”.
This lady explained in no uncertain terms that when you deliver a service or supply a product, you deserve to get paid, and in a timely manner. Put simply, she said “if you raise an invoice, collect the money”.
She went on to explain that “it’s your money” and you’re perfectly entitled to ask for it.
At this point I won’t go into all the different ways that business people reason that they should treat their debtors, I’m sure you can review your procedures for yourself. What I would like to do is tell you what I do and let you consider if anything I’m doing might help you get paid quicker.
I’ll try to keep things reasonably brief and let you fill in the blanks. If you need further information or would like to hear viewpoints from other members, please use the contact us facility and we’ll include it in our Brain’s Trust.
The best way I’ve found to get paid sooner rather than later is to be regular and consistent and to always do what you say.
Our procedure is this –
We offer 30 day accounts to appropriate customers. (Because we operate in a regional centre and have a reasonable knowledge of the local business community, we don’t generally do formal credit checks but tend to size people up on face value and then follow our gut feeling. As silly as this may sound, in our case we have an excellent track record.)
If we have any doubts or believe that to proceed with caution is the best way forward, we ask for payment with the order.
We send invoices and statements out at the end of the month. About 75% are emailed, the remainder posted.
If an account remains unpaid at the end of the 30 days, apart from noting the next statement as overdue, we ring the customer within 7 days asking for payment. My accounts lady makes these calls.
We repeat this each week until paid and have no qualms about making a nuisance of our self. Until an account has been paid by the customer, we have, in essence, made no sale and no profit.
This process also generally gives us an indication of any potential problems. Talking to people person to person also gives you a feel for not just what they are saying, but what they are meaning, if something else like simply telling porkies.
We consider each case on its merits and depending on the vibes my accounts lady is getting, I may then get involved. I may email the customer or ring them depending on what I consider appropriate. Sometimes just my saying the account has landed on my (the boss’s) desk and I’m concerned gets the job done but from this point on I do whatever I believe it will take to get paid. I too have become quite adept at making judgements about whether what people tell me can be believed and trusted or whether it’s just lies.
What I have learned in all this is –
1) Good people will generally not want to flag the fact that they are unreliable or can’t be trusted. They may stall and pussyfoot around a bit but we generally get to the point where, unless they pay, they run the risk of showing themself to be something other than honest and reliable.
2) Bad payers will string you out as long as they can so the more you “bother” them, the sooner you’ll get paid.
3) Nothing beats getting on the phone to the customer or right in their face. You’ll likely get to the point where they’ll pay your account because they simply don’t want to hear from you…again!
4) By doing this regularly and consistently, your customers will know what’s coming and pay you ahead of others just to keep you off their back.
5) A customer who does not acknowledge and appreciate your right to ask for your account to be paid in a timely manner is a customer you may not want. Sooner or later their true colours may show up and the cost to you may be far greater than you imagined.
6) I haven’t used a debt collector or gone down legal channels to get paid for years. My experience, when I have done that in the past (because that was what you did??), has been anything but satisfying. The cost, frustration and any outcome using that method, I just found it to be something I wasn’t comfortable with and beside, the methods I use today have proved to be far more fruitful and feel more noble.
On a broader note and with this experience added to may others, my policy now is to always try to deal with GOOD people, be they a customer of mine or me as a customer of theirs. My theory and experience is that you can always work things out, no matter how bad the situation is, with a good person.
Once upon a time if you rang or emailed someone and had to leave a message for them to call you back, you could reasonably expect them to get back to that same day, unless of course, they were away.
My more common experience now is that people can take anything up to several days to return calls or emails and I find that extremely frustrating. Quite often I have tasks that I want or need to do but can’t because I’m waiting for someone to get back to me with information or something else that I need before I progress.
I’m sure you can relate to what I’m saying and if you’re like me, you sometimes let such things get to you, especially if you’re a person who likes to deal with things pretty quickly or while you’re hot to trot, as they say.
Take a tip. This slow response culture appears here to stay with a lot of people, so best to accept that and plan your day accordingly. In other words, factor into your plans that you may be waiting a while for a response, accept that you just have to be patient and go about other tasks that you can do. If you let such things annoy you, as I have been guilty of, it really doesn’t achieve anything other than raise your stress or annoyance levels. Learn patience is the message here, that’s if you want your days to go better. Do this and you’ll be setting your expectations lower so that when your caller does happen to ring or email you back in a timely manner, you’ll feel like you’ve had a win, a much better feeling to enjoy.