Practically Speaking is a weekly column that addresses your most pressing business dilemmas. The advice is the opinion of long-time business owner Gene Marks. Send your questions to PracticallySpeaking@fortune.com.
I’m trying to get my accounts receivable under control. Is it ethical to suspend all transactions with a customer once an invoice goes overdue?
This happens all the time. You ship a product or provide a service. Your customer doesn’t pay for any number of excuses (real or made-up). And then he asks you for more products or services. You hesitate. He gets upset. You feel like the bad guy. But he hasn’t paid for the original order yet! You don’t want to lose this customer. But you don’t want to expose yourself even more.
Welcome to the world of running your small business. Remember all those lessons you learned when you were a child about loving your fellow man and helping out others in need. They’re all true. But not in this case. Every business owner I know can list off the number of customers who stiffed him over the course of his lifetime. There is nothing worse than providing a legitimate service and then not getting paid for it. It can make you pretty darn angry, I’ve been there. And you’ll hear the reasons. But none of them make a difference. The bottom line is the work has been done, you’ve done what you said you’re going to do. But the customer hasn’t.
So keep this in mind the next time you decide to withhold services or product to the guy with the open invoice: what would a big company do? Would the cable company continue to provide cable services if a customer doesn’t pay? A large software company? Your bank? Your landlord? Your insurance company? These businesses don’t mess around. And neither should you. So yes, withhold that next shipment or that planned service until your customer’s receivables account is current. It’s your policy and stick to it. Your customer will either understand and comply or go somewhere else. And in the end, is a guy who doesn’t pay really a customer?
I just started up a new business and recently found out I’m pregnant with my first child. My husband and I can swing it financially but I’m passionate about my new company. Should I give up on my startup?
First of all, congratulations. Secondly – woo, you’re in for a ride! The plight of the working mom has become a major issue as more and more women have risen in the corporate world.
Obviously, I am not a woman and only a woman can know what it’s like to be a mother. I know plenty of mothers who are happy to give up their jobs and stay at home all day raising their kids. I know an equal number of mothers who couldn’t imagine doing this and instead get daycare as soon as possible so they can fulfill their career ambitions. Either way, it’s completely fine. No answer is better than the other. Now that my kids are in college I’ve seen 99% of their friends grow into great adults and with families that had stay-at-home moms and working moms. If you’re a good mom, you’re a good mom regardless of what you do for a living. And besides – your child isn’t going to remember whether you were or home or not when he or she was 2. You’re doing it for you. You must be happy.
So if you’re happier working on your startup and being challenged that way while your child goes to daycare or is looked after by someone else then do it. You are still a good mom. And because you know you, you’ll be a better mom because you’ll be happier. On the downside, yes you will spend less time with your child and you might miss that. On the upside, you’ll be building a business that will (hopefully) provide enough income to give that child the better things in life and a college education. And as long as you’re always available and that you show your love, you’ll be fine.