Monday, 15 September 2008

The King of Cash - part 2

Gemma rolled her eyes and walked backwards out of Nick’s office as he answered his ridiculous red telephone. She still hadn’t got an answer out of him, and she could hear her own phone ringing ominously again, no doubt another fretting debtor on the line.

Her holiday had been more than needed; it had been recommended by her doctor. She had been getting worse over the past few months, and had only managed a strained ‘Hello’ before bursting into tears on the poor young GP once again. And she couldn’t blame her family life- they had been really supportive as things deteriorated at work. But she knew how much the company needed her, how much they relied on her to sort out difficult customers. Having two weeks off, she saw now, was only half a solution, as no one had been covering her essential work properly while she was away. How could they? There was no standard policy to follow, though she had tried to instigate it many times. If she was honest with herself, she didn’t know where to start.

She struggled round the desks and reached for her phone, cringing all the while because she had a strong feeling about who was at the end of it.
‘Good morning, please could I speak to the person in charge of the accounts? I believe it is a Mrs Gemma Dodds?’
Gemma was slightly taken aback by the cool voice, the almost pleasant manner of the lady. ‘Speaking’ she squeaked.
‘My name is Helen Ross, and I am calling with regards to invoice number 44521, dated 1st July 2008?’ Gemma closed her eyes, knowing all too well what was coming next – that invoice number had been competing for brain space all holiday. ‘Would you be able to have that invoice to hand just now?’ the voice soothed.
She had expected a launch into a rant, had expected the voice to raise her hackles and start a row, but found herself sitting down and pulling the invoice from the bottom of her ‘to do’ tray. ‘Yes, I have it here. See, we’ve just been having a few problems, I’ve only just got back today to start sorting through the pile…’
‘That’s fine, I do understand. You see, we are having similar problems, it’s always tough to pay your suppliers when your customers are struggling isn’t it?’ Gemma felt a pang of guilt- she realised she wasn’t the only one in this situation. She used to talk to her suppliers and her customers – they used to have a great relationship. When did all that get lost?
‘Could you tell me, were there any problems with the products and the service you received from us?’ She couldn’t honestly say that there had been. The usual faultless service, and though her customers might claim otherwise to get out of paying their bills, the products had been of excellent quality too. ‘No,’ she murmured, ‘no, they were fine. Sorry, I know we should have paid this a while ago…’
‘Don’t worry, that’s why I’m calling you today- to work out a solution that is best for all of us’. Gemma could have wept. A solution? This was the call she had been praying for!
‘Could you tell me what is standing in your way at the moment?’ Helen queried, gently and persuasively. Gemma blinked – she honestly wasn’t sure. She had seen the figures, there was enough money in the bank to pay this bill, though she wasn’t convinced that there would be enough for all the bills… she realised in a flash that this was what Nick was most afraid of – running out of cash. Perhaps if she had been a little gentler with her own customers, like Helen was being to her now, they might be more willing to boost Nick’s coffers. Her shoulders sagged. ‘We are just a bit behind I’m afraid. I need to find out, well, I should really know, if we are able to pay you right now. I know it’s overdue, but I’m the only one who deals with this kind of thing, so it’s not been done as I’ve been away on holiday. I am sorry about this.’
‘Sounds like you need some support from within your own team,’ Helen mused. ‘Have you tried teaching others what you know? Sharing a bit of the responsibility?’ Gemma had certainly thought about it, but again, where should she start? She didn’t feel confident enough herself, let alone teaching others.
‘Don’t worry about this bill anyway. Could you give me a date you think you could get it paid to us by? Don’t worry if it’s a week or so, I’d just like you to give us a time so you’re not struggling, but also so we know when to realistically expect the money’. Helen sounded so reasonable, it was hard to resist replying ‘Well, actually, seeing as it’s right here infront of me, I can get the boss to sign the cheque today, if that’s ok with you?’ It made perfect sense to start getting rid of the problem, and as Helen had said, start finding solutions.
‘That would be fantastic, Gemma, thanks ever so much for prioritising us, and we’re really glad there were no problems with our service. So could I just confirm – if you pop it in the post today, it should get to us by the end of this week?’
‘Yes, the end of this week, and I’ll definitely get it sent today’ Gemma said, with far more conviction than she had felt five minutes ago.
‘Brilliant,’ Gemma could almost feel Helen smiling down the phone – and not a raised voice in the place. ‘I’ll drop you a line just to let you know we’ve received it, if that’s ok with you? Speak to you soon then.’
‘Ok, speak to you then.’ Gemma replied, trying to remember how Helen had got her to agree to this so gently and calmly.
‘Oh, and just one more thing’ said Helen, in a conspiratorial fashion, ‘if you’d be interested, I went on a fantastic course recently that really helped me with my credit management calls……’

Gemma’s situation shows why planning is so important. An old Chinese proverb states ‘only when the water is still can you see through it clearly’. Too many businesses find themselves in a web of difficult customers, late payments, demanding suppliers and emotional turmoil as their dream life seems to be edging away. It is almost impossible to drag yourself up when there is so much pressure on. By planning ahead for difficult times while things are stable, (while the water is clear) you are almost reaching out to a troubled ‘future you’ and providing them with a set of rules and processes to obey. It’s not just a rope, but a ladder: specific steps you can take to climb out of the difficulties.

Visit us next week to find out how Gemma’s course affects the rest of the business, and helps make Nick the King of Cash!