Like most people new to the entrepreneur game, I’ve spent most of my working life working for someone else. I’ve never had to negotiate contracts or hard line anyone. Well not much anyway and I’ve usually had the backing of someone must wiser and tougher than me which makes taking the hard line much easier. But now? Now I need to be able to not only take the hard line but draw the line like a surgeon making his first incision. Fast. Clean. And emotion free.
Now that’s not to say that surgeons don’t feel anything when they are operating on someone but I’ve assisted on some minor procedures and you do get a certain detachment. An ability to separate the human emotional component from the job you have to do. That’s what hard lining for your business requires. The ability to separate yourself from the emotion invested in the work you’ve done versus the hard line you sometimes have to take to set your price, stick to it and get paid.
This analogy was given to me by someone who has become one of my key mentors. I am always surprised by the vehemency with which they impart some of their wisdom – as though they are indignant on my behalf. But I truly appreciate it because it forces me to take stock of how I’m handling something, reassess and incorporate their wisdom for next time. Sort of like being on a surgical rotation. The first time you cut in to a person wrong, I imagine the attending physician has a few key words for you so you do better next time.
So what does it take to look at business like a surgeon? Here’s my list:
1. A firm grasp on your business plan and what your bottom line is for at least breaking even if not making a profit. If you don’t have this, it’s easy to undervalue your work or let smaller contracts go unpaid. You can’t afford it and you need to remember that.
2. A clearly written contract that outlines the scope of your work, what you’re going to charge for it and what the payment terms are. Why? Because if there is a discrepancy on payment, you have it in black and white. No emotional outburst required and no letting it eat at you. Here’s the dotted line. You signed it. You owe.
3. A follow up schedule for past due accounts is a must. Do you know the last time you invoiced that account? Is your accounting software set up to send 15, 30 and 60 day reminders? Mine will be. I won’t even have to ask for a scalpel. QuickBooks will do it for me.
4. A completion upon payment clause is something I’m putting in to all my contracts from now on. What does that mean? A client won’t get the final design files, or original files of anything, until the invoice is paid in full. Then – they’re all yours. Why? Because isn’t it better that they pay you for your work than pay someone else to recreate your work?
5. A backbone – if you don’t have one yet, you need to get one. Surgically implanted if necessary. As Canadians we are known for being extra nice but nice has no place in business if you are going bankrupt. Learn to hard line early and learn it well. Be respectful. Be polite. Be professional. But sometimes you can’t be nice.
So what’s my point? That becoming a business person, hopefully a successful business person, requires all kinds of skills. Separating emotion from business is the one I’m working on now. It doesn’t mean I won’t get upset now and again. It doesn’t mean I won’t do someone a favor now and again. But now and again, I’ll wield my business scalpel, make the cut and do what’s right for my business. My boss is counting on it 😉