Over my 38 years, the role money plays in my life (along with its relative importance) has changed significantly. Paydays in high school were pumped right back into the economy via the local mall or jammed into savings accounts to save for college expenses and any other big things I saw on the horizon.
Today, money’s role in my life is more akin to cherry blossoms – a lovely product of the business I’ve built, and there will no doubt be more if I continue to feed and nurture said business. It gives me the means to take care of Me, take care of the people I love and share it with those who need it more than I ever will…and occasionally just blow it on something ridiculously fun that leaves a smile on my face for days*.
* not hookers
On any given day, we are both the consumer and purchaser – there’s no way around it. While money’s the accepted currency for payment, there’s a role we don’t ordinarily talk about: being a vendor. I’m a vendor, you’re a vendor, he’s a vendor, she’s a vendor – wouldn’t you like to be a vendor, too? (and dammit, I love me some Diet Dr. Pepper) Accepting our roles as vendors, I think, is a higher level of responsibility for a business owner than just being someone who expects to get paid. So today, I thought I’d run down some things that can help business people to become better vendors and elevate their business practices to ones that operate with unquestionable integrity.
Deal with your HR and administrative shit
Do you have a W9 on file for every contractor and employee? Are you set up to pay your quarterly taxes? Do you have all of the required business licenses to operate in your county, city and state? Are you filings up to date with the Secretary of State’s office? When you let these things slide, it snowballs. Any prospective client should be able to look up your business entity and verify its validity and skipping out on your taxes is not only a total asshat move, it puts undue financial burden on your company. As someone who recently had a vendor share cash flow woes they blamed on a shitty CPA, which were apparently affecting their ability to pay my invoices on time, this is bullshit. Deal, because poor planning on your part doesn’t constitute an emergency on anyone else’s.
Get an invoicing program (I personally use GetHarvest, but Freshbooks is also a raging favorite with other small businesses), track your expenses and receipts MONTHLY and not in some hurried panic at year-end where you’re crapping kittens at the eleventh hour on April 14th and start acting like you own the legit business you claim to operate. Deal with your admin shit.
Don’t go down-periscope
We can all get better at this. Here’s the poop: we are all busy. But as a business owner, you are never too busy to respond to someone who has reached out to you. This goes for new business inquiries, simple client relations moves and (inhales deeply) all financial matters. Nothing pisses me off more than when an invoice sits hanging in the ether with a symphony of crickets attempting to lull me to sleep.
If you go down-periscope on me, I will hunt you down. It is a total dick move to enter into an agreement and have someone perform the work you requested and then not see fit to respond to emails or offer lame excuses when you can get around to them. It’s also a dick move to delay a project because you don’t have your shit together. I would rather hear that you own it – you totally dropped the ball or your cash flow is hosed or your pet hamster gnawed your goddamn checkbook to shreds – I don’t care. The moral is, I want to hear it from you and in a timely fashion.
Make the move to communicate and for all that is holy, do NOT fuck with other people’s money. It is inordinately rude and disrespectful to think that I – or the person that you’ve hired to do a job – does not have bills to pay and mouths to feed just like you. And know that this is coming from someone today who realized over the weekend that she had not paid her attorney’s bill for her latest contract revisions (yeah, the ones that help me get paid and legally protected). He will receive an email today, including a check number that’s in the mail, with the explanation that I’m an idiot and spaced it.
Ask for help
I think that we all have the tendency to operate in Can’t You Read My Mind? land all too often. We assume that our clients work the same way we do and their terms are the same as ours. Ask your clients and your vendors for help.
Some questions and things to ask of and share with new vendors:
- Is there anything you need from me administratively prior to commencing work? Vendor agreements, W9s, NDAs or the like?
- My billing/payment terms are _______. Do you agree to those terms?
- I have a standard contract for services. We can’t commence until that’s mutually signed and on file.
- If you don’t have one of these, please refer to this video. Jesus.
- Do you have any questions about the contract?
- How do you prefer communications: phone or email?
Stop thinking that the people with whom you do business can read your mind. Because they can’t. Nor will they ever be able.
This goes back to the whole down-periscope pet peeve, but one thing I’m proud of with my business is the openness of my dealings between contractors and clients. They are bcc’d on billing inquiries when that inquiry affects their cash flow. They are asked how they prefer to be paid. I explain what’s going on with every account and they are brought to meetings as required. I give them a lot of leeway to accomplish their tasks and in return, I ask for work that is the same quality I myself would produce.
On the other side of the equation, I never glaze over a client’s question. If they become excessive outside a scope of work, I explain that we’re entering Consultingville and we should schedule a session as 73 two-line emails isn’t a way around paying for an hour of my time. I reach out when there is no reason other than to say hello or pass on a cool article and I make sure that their life events, such as a new baby, marriage, loss, business expansion and the like never go unnoticed.
Communication isn’t about what you say. Rather, it’s about what you don’t. Silence is telling and we can all tell the difference between radio silence (bad) and I’m here if you need me – hope all is well.
So that’s my list on how to be a better vendor. I’d love to hear what you have to add, as most of these ideas came from the comments on 19 Things I Wish I Knew Before I Started My Business. Now go forth, leave the asshat business behavior behind and do good business. There’s no better compliment to receive than, “I really appreciate working with you, because you make doing business a pleasure.”