When small business owners don’t get paid, it can get personal!
by Marilyn Miller
“Trusting someone is my decision. Proving me wrong is their choice” –Unknown
One of the most common ways a business agreement is violated is nonpayment. Nonpayment for any service or product is never a good thing. But for a small business owner, the consequences go much deeper than economic effect. It becomes personal.
In theory, business and personal matters must always be separate, but small business owners often do business with family, friends and neighbors. They put their personal energy into their work, and it is their personal energy that makes them good at what they do. They provide their product of service with an expectation of being paid, and when they are not, it feels like a betrayal. In addition, they feel as if they are put in the very awkward position of having to ask for their money, a task which takes time and energy away from the work they love.
I am passionate about the right of small business owners to be paid for the work they do. Yet every day, I see them walk away from money owed to them. I asked some Maine small business owners how they feel when they do not get paid and also what factors keep them from pursuing money owed to them.
Local healthcare practitioners feel a sense of betrayal and disrespect.
“Over time you build up a rapport with patients. I feel like we try very hard to work with any financial issues,” said a Portland chiropractor.
A physical therapist in town said, “It feels like our services aren’t valued and sometimes it feels personal, as if we are being taken advantage of. It is also scary because we are a small business and can’t pay our bills if our clients don’t pay in a timely fashion.”
Another physical therapist, this one from Penobscot county replied, “It is extremely disappointing when a patient decides not to pay us for our services. We give our patients every opportunity to pay us, we offer small monthly payments, give them a lot of time to pay. We are a small business and find it disrespectful when they don’t pay.”
It is not only health care professionals that feel the sting. A local landscaper described feeling as if services were being “stolen” from him.
A website designer told us, “I felt disrespected. Slapped in the face. Blown off. Robbed. And angry. (It) made me wonder why I work at all.”
Not being paid makes a small business owner question their value. Confrontation is never easy, and the time and energy involved, coupled with a fear of retaliation in the form of fewer new business referrals, often keeps them from trying to recover money due them.
It makes you wonder, do you really want a person who has stiffed you to refer to another (potential) non-paying customer?
So yes, small business owners have a right to be paid. But they also have a responsibility to take a look at how they are extending credit. Are they doing everything they can to protect the business?
Nothing is certain, but certainly doing nothing is not a good alternative either.
Marilyn “Mara” Miller is committed to small businesses. She is founder of M3 Consultants, which helps small business owners improve their cash flow through better credit practices.
If you have comments or ideas for future issues please email Marilyn at email@example.com.