Doing business is not about work: it’s about GETTING PAID!
This is a source of misery and frustration for many entrepreneurs and Small Business owners and operators at the beginning of their careers. While they correctly focus on doing what they do well, getting the word out, engaging customers and closing deals, a good number of them find themselves stuck and frustrated when it comes to actually GETTING the money they’ve worked so hard for.
It comes down to a basic mindset trap: somehow, many of us have been convinced that there is something bad about “focusing on the money“. In my five years of leading sessions for Operation Hope‘s Entrepreneurial Training Program, I’ve actually heard people – who are supposedly there to learn how to be entrepreneurs – say, with a straight face “I’m not in it for the money“. To which my replies is always “then you need to get a JOB“.
It’s very simple: if you are not in business to make money, you’re doing it wrong. PERIOD – this is not a discussion. I’m not saying you’re greedy, materialistic, uninterested in people or any such nonsense you may have convinced yourself that this means. The bottom line is, well… the bottom line. Business is doing something for other people and getting paid for it. Anything else is a hobby.
For those of us who didn’t grow up in an environment where people owned or ran businesses and openly discussed how those things worked, this is a new frontier. We worked for a living most of our lives – we punched the clock, did what we had to, and got a paycheck every week or so. Now, we must face the world with the expectation that they will pay us on our terms, and not theirs… and many of us feel like we’ve got our hand out, asking for something we’re not sure we deserve. Since there’s nobody’s time clock but ours, no performance review or six month assessment… we don’t know how to measure our worth. And THAT, more than anything else, is the root of the problem.
In that light, let’s examine some basic truths about “work vs. business” that, hopefully, can help us adjust our mindset with minimum effort, and get on with the business of getting paid for doing business.
This is “do or die” right here. Most of us reading (and writing) this article are what I call “accidental entrepreneurs“. We didn’t grow up expecting to own a business, seek out customers, close deals and submit invoices: we figured we would find a decent job, get hired and work hard until we retired, getting paid fairly and receiving timely salary increases as we proved our worth.
Business is completely not that. The work we do, the price we charge, the steps we take to get paid are entirely our own. “Asking for money”, we have been told all our lives, is like begging. Until we realize that every invoice we will ever submit is for money we have ALREADY EARNED, we won’t be able to shake the feeling that we are paupers rattling a tin cup, begging for the indulgence of passersby to sustain the folly of our silly efforts.
You are a BUSINESS – it is who you ARE, not what you do. You provide value to people who want and need it, and for that you deserve to be paid. You must not only tell yourself this – you must understand it to be true deep down in your core, or you will never be completely comfortable when it comes to “asking for money”.
Your clients contact you, urgent or enthusiastic about getting you to do the thing they want or need. You discuss the issue, confirm their request, get their signature on the contract or agreement (please tell me you’re not working on verbal agreements and handshake deals…) then set about getting the work done. During this part of the deal, you won’t have to chase them down as they call, text or email you to make sure you do what they want, how they want it done, are on schedule and on or under budget.
Finally, the work is done… and you get weird inside. Suddenly, you feel practically embarrassed as you have to send them an invoice and “ask for money”. Well, let’s stop right there: you are NOT “asking for money“. You ask for money when a friend lends you $20 until payday. or a relative makes a personal loan for you to buy a car or what have you. When you submit an invoice to a client, you are requesting payment for professional services already performed.
Let’s be absolutely clear about this: you are NOT a hobbyist. This isn’t something you’re doing in your spare time – this is you, BEING A BUSINESS. Your doctor, dentist, plumber or mechanic doesn’t apologize when it is time for you to pay them. Why are you feeling any way other than confident when it’s time for your customers or clients to pay YOU? Haven’t you done a good job, meeting or exceeding their expectations and requests? Isn’t this what you do “for a living”?? It’s not being cocky or presumptuous to expect to get paid.
When you were an employee, if your boss told you on payday you weren’t getting paid… that would have been a fight. For one or two weeks, you punched the clock, did the work, and you had BETTER get paid for your efforts. It’s no different now: the only difference is your mindset. Change it! Just like with your paycheck…
If you get NOTHING else from this article, let this be your takeaway. You are not taking anyone’s money when you submit an invoice for your professional services – you are requesting money that you have ALREADY EARNED. Don’t ever let it be a debate, a discussion or a disagreement – it’s not up to your customer to determine IF they feel like paying you. The equation is very simple: you WORK, they PAY.
This is why I mentioned above that you must – MUST – work from signed contractual agreements. Many of us start off working from verbal agreements and handshake deals, because we often are thrown abruptly into being a business due to a layoff or economic downturn. This phase should last as briefly as possible. While every verbal contract technical is legal and binding, good luck with that should a customer choose to renege.
Written contracts are not only much easier to enforce, they can (and should) also help to clarify exactly is expected of all parties involved. How much time will this take? Who provides the materials or third-party services that may be required? Will you have any out-of-pocket expenses and, if so, will you be compensated directly for them or absorb the cost in your fee? Dealing with these details and others are where handshake deals get messy and sometimes fall apart completely. Preparing your customer agreements (which you, not your customers, should always do) gives you the opportunity to address these issue before they become deal breakers.
Contracts and service agreements should not be, in our opinion, about “what if we have to go to court“. If you feel you may have to take legal action, you probably should consider whether you should even take on this particular client in the first place. Contracts, for solopreneurs and Small Business people, are about two things in particular: eliminating as many “show stoppers” as possible, and enforcing the payment of your invoices after the work is done.
The main difference between a professional and an amateur is that a professional GETS PAID.
Think about it: when you take your vehicle in to a mechanic, and they analyze the problem and tell you what (they think) is wrong and what needs to be done to fix it, what’s the first thing you ask them? “How much is that gonna cost?“, right? Same thing if a dentist tells you you need a crown, a filling, a root canal, or whatever (you may also ask “does my insurance cover this?” but it’s basically the same question). If you hire a plumber, an electrician or a contractor to work on your office or home, you don’t just let them at it without getting at least an estimate.
It is no different when YOU are the professional, the contractor, the consultant. Making money is THE reason why you “do business”. Is it the only reason? Of course not. But it had BETTER be the primary reason. Believe me: most businesses that don’t have making money and getting paid as the MAIN reason they are in business, aren’t in business for long. What motivates you, what gets you out of bed, brings a smile to your face and puts a pep in your step and all that “happy talk, positive thinking, motivational, mood altering, jazz hands” stuff notwithstanding, you had better make sure your bottom line is your top priority.
You’ve got bills to pay. Plans to make. Things to do that are actually about making you happy, or making the world a better place. Simply put, we must do good before we can do well… and there’s no such thing as a broke philanthropist. Charity and good works are done out of our excess. If we’re “just getting by”, we can’t really be much of a change agent in this world. It’s not about greed, folks… it’s simple math: Income must exceed Outlay, or you Upkeep becomes your Downfall.
Finally, you must not only get paid, but you must get paid as soon as possible. Something easily overlooked by the self-employed, the solopreneur and the Small Business owner or operator is that money quickly loses value over time.
It’s called cash FLOW for a reason — the money you owe me, I owe someone else. The longer you take to pay me, the more you disrupt my ability to stay on top of my debts, remain profitable and invest in my future plans. This is why I advise service-based solopreneurs to ALWAYS get a down payment for their services, and stagger payments into two or more parts. If you get it all at once, you’ll spend it all at once.
That “feast or famine” thing doesn’t work so good during the fallow periods. Every month you have your recurring expenses, even if the devil don’t come and the creek don’t rise. Rent, utilities, food, travel, hygiene and more – all must be paid whether you have a new client, new contract, new business or not. By staggering your payments, you stand a better chance of always having some amount of cash flow coming in — and by not getting it all at once, you forcibly restrict yourself to a tighter budget. Or a budget at all!
Running a business is as much, if not more, about MONEY management as project or task management. Many of us are quite good at doing the work, yet quite lousy at collecting the fees or paying the bills. There’s too much anxiety and embarrassment ingrained in our attitudes about money. We are discouraged from openly discussing how much we make, how much we owe, or how well we do or don’t manage what funds we have.
This is quite odd – especially in the 21st century social media age, where we openly discuss things that would make the most immodest person of a few decades ago blush. Why this is is a sociological study for another post on a different blog – the fact is that if we are to be successful Small Business people, solopreneurs, contractors and consultants, we must confront whatever the source of our reluctance to deal with money in a straightforward and resolute manner. And, as Loretta said to Ronny in “Moonstruck”: