Sometimes I feel like I’m dealing with a bunch of wimps.
Wimps who cave in without a fight and who compromise their integrity for money.
Last week I wrote about a recent European Directive to combat late-paying clients. New, stringent rules have changed the game in favor of small and mid-size companies. No longer are we at the mercy of businesses and government institutions that made us wait forever to get our money.
Now, any Europe-based entrepreneur can charge interest if a bill isn’t paid on time (usually within 30 days), and add at least €40 (about 54 USD) to cover the cost of debt collection, should it come to that. There’s no legal obligation to send a late-paying client a reminder. It is expected that an invoice gets paid when it is due.
If this were to happen in the U.S. where I live and work, I would jump for joy. Every year, thousands of businesses go bankrupt. Not because their product or service stinks, but because they’re waiting to get paid. This new Euro-legislation aims to make that a thing of the past. Isn’t that a cause for celebration?
Some colleagues greeted the new rules with fear, disbelief and skepticism. One freelancer wrote to me:
“Those regulations are nice in theory, but I wouldn’t dare go after one of my biggest clients. It usually takes them 100+ days to pay me and I hate that. So, why do I put up with it? Because if I were to get tough on them, they’d hire someone else in a heartbeat.”
I asked him: “How do you know?”
He said: “I don’t know for sure, but that’s just what I believe.”
The Dutch have a word for someone who thinks this way:
“Doem” means “doom” and “denker” is “thinker”.
In other words, a doemdenker is someone who tends to focus on the worst-case scenario.
Whenever you tell a doemdenker something positive or promising, his or her knee-jerk response consists of three words:
BUT, WHAT IF… followed by some terrible idea of what might happen. Emphasis on “might”.
Do you know people like that?
Let’s say you came up with a brilliant plan and you can’t wait to share it with your friend. As you tell her all about it, it’s impossible to contain your excitement because you’ve never felt so sure about anything in your entire life. You just know this is going to be a success!
What you’re secretly hoping for is that your friend will share your enthusiasm. Instead, she interrupts you in mid-sentence and says:
“But, what if…”
Thanks Debby Downer, destroyer of dreams!
The words “But, what if…” are a huge cop-out for the overly cautious and the irrationally fearful. If you’ve ever taken a communication training, you already know that the word “but” is a conversation killer. It basically negates everything that’s been said before.
The words “what if” are usually the lead-in to all kinds of assumptions that may sound plausible, and yet they haven’t materialized and they most likely never will.
Buried under the surface of these three words lies something else: a deep fear of failure. A fear so strong that it can crush even the most creative and ambitious plans to pulp.
A MISSED OPPORTUNITY
Last week, one of my friends was asked to audition for a big part. It was one of those rare opportunities that only comes around once or twice a year. Yesterday, I asked him if he had heard back about the job.
“Oh that,” said my friend. “I thought about it and I don’t think I was the right person for that part.”
“In other words, you didn’t audition for it?” I asked.
“Correct.” said my friend.
“Give me one good reason.” I demanded.
“That’s pretty simple,” my friend responded. “What if I would totally blow it? I can’t stand the idea of people laughing as they’re listening to my demo. It’s humiliating. Anyway, that part was beyond my reach.”
“First of all,” I said, “you don’t know how people are going to respond to you. You don’t even know who they are, let alone what they’re looking and listening for. Who knows, you might be exactly what they had in mind.
Secondly, you feel this part would have been a stretch for you? Whatever happened to challenging yourself? Remember, they asked you to audition for a reason. If you don’t raise the bar too high, you’ll never be disappointed. You’ll also never find out what you’re capable of.”
“But I hate to be disappointed,” said my friend. “Every time I audition I get my hopes up and when I don’t get the part, I feel terrible. I keep on asking myself: What if I had done it this way or that way? Would the outcome be any different?”
“Listen,” I said, “you can play that what-if game until the cows come home and never get anywhere. Only those who give up will never be disappointed. I understand that you want to protect yourself from failing, but the way you’re dealing with it now is robbing you of big opportunities. You’ve got to be ready to take risks.
Let me give you a few keywords to help you on your way:
Preparation, Courage and Confidence.
There are at least three things I have learned from successful people. Number one: their success can never be attributed to luck. It has everything to do with careful preparation.
Number two: successful people are usually optimists. Three: optimism is never a substitute for preparedness.
If you want to put yourself out there, you also need to have courage and the belief that you can make it. It’s nice to have friends and family who believe in you. Ultimately, you have to have faith in yourself. You deserve to be successful as much as anyone else, but if that’s not something you feel inside, you’re sabotaging your own success.”
“You should write about that in your blog,” said my friend.
“I’ll make you a deal,” I answered. “There’s still time. If you go for that audition, I’ll see if I can turn this into a story.”
HAVING THE GUTS
What I said to my friend, I could have said to that colleague who didn’t want to get tough on his late-paying client. Even though the law was supporting him, he didn’t want to ruffle any feathers because he assumed this client would get rid of him. He was so afraid to damage the relationship that he didn’t even try to work something out.
His attitude enabled the client to keep on engaging in unfair and unlawful practices. I call it: training your customers how to treat you. We see the same thing with rates. Once you accept something, it becomes the new norm. A norm you helped create.
I’m not saying that we should all go on a collision course with our clients. What I am saying is that we should stop making assumptions about what the client might or might not do in response to our request. I have found that if you’re well-prepared, confident and respectful, there’s usually room for reason.
It does take a certain amount of courage to put your foot down (in a gentle way, of course).
FROM THE HEART
Courage comes from the Latin “cor” and the French “coeur” which means heart. If you believe in your heart of hearts that something isn’t right and it needs to be corrected, you owe it to yourself to do something about it. At least, that’s the way I live my life. With that attitude, there are no easy ways out. I’m willing to be flexible, but I won’t bend over backwards to the extent that I’ll break.
I won’t lie to you: this philosophy does cost me clients and I’m okay with that. Every time I ask for a certain rate or I request to be paid in advance, clients have the right to reject my terms & conditions. In turn, I have the freedom to pick and choose whom I want to work with. Because I choose to do business in a certain way, I’ve also gained clients.
I’ve learned one other thing. It has to do with setting boundaries. As soon as you promise yourself not to put up with certain things anymore (such as low rates or late payments), you will be tested. Colleagues will challenge you and customers will see if they can get you to give up your principles.
Resistance creates strength. If you’ve ever done weight training, you know that already.
Your integrity is not for sale.
Be brave. Stay strong.
Be a lion.
If only for a day.
Paul Strikwerda ©nethervoice