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Terms of Business

Updated on September 27, 2012

Coming to Terms

When I founded the Empire, payment terms gave me more grief than my quest for clients.

It was only my mentors' patient advice that helped me resolve this angst and realise the world of business isn't always fair.

In these present interesting times, however, one client has pierced my cocoon of tranquillity.

Should I lower my standards, or should they lift theirs?

I'm a literal chap.

This makes me fabulous at proofreading but less so at parties.

When I sent my first invoices years ago, I firmly believed 7 Days meant 7 Days and that everyone felt the same.

When 14, 21, 30 and even 60 days passed with no result, I became agitated and launched a follow-up email campaign (which I blush to recall today). All it did was annoy my clients and disturb my sleep.

I couldn't understand it. I paid my bills the day I got them. Especially if they came from a loyal supplier who'd provided great service at short notice. Even if it meant using my line of credit. Was this street not two-way?

My mentors told me that:

1. Not everyone is literal.

2. Few people read terms.

3. Some who do, pretend they don't.

4. Not everyone has a line of credit.

5. 30 days is the norm; anything sooner is a bonus.

6. Accounts Payable is often ordered to delay payment as long as possible.

7. In a downturn, payment times blow out.

This wisdom took time to penetrate, because I invariably did flawless work, on time, for a reasonable fee.

Finally I realised I was neither the centre of the universe nor the model of mankind.

By lowering my expectations, I reduced disappointment. By bending, I didn't break. Life became easier and happier for all.

Until yesterday.

Some time ago, I did a super-urgent job for a client. I had to bring in another specialist, who pulled out all stops.

Late nights, weekends, favours, a car chase … the lot. We did the job in time. And it was beautiful.

The specialist and I sent our invoices (which reduced, for goodwill, the number of hours we'd actually spent).

30 days later, no loot. While I was prepared to be patient, I felt responsible for the specialist.

A polite email to the client revealed we had a further fortnight to wait. Given all our effort, the specialist and I were miffed.

My mentors say tough times mean I should be even more flexible.

Yet my heart says a last-minute job, done perfectly under pressure, deserves swift reward.

I'm either justified or relapsing. What do you reckon?

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