It isn’t everyone’s favorite thing to do (in fact – there are few people that I know of that enjoy doing it) but it is something that is necessary to keep our lives in order and make things run smoothly.
Some of you may be thinking that I am talking about tidying up your work spaces and vacuuming your rugs, but I am actually referring to getting all of your business dealings in order and organizing your records. Many small businesses (and larger ones too!) fall onto hard times and fail because of bad record keeping or disorganization. The plain and simple truth is that without keeping updated records, there is no way that you can actually know how well or poorly your business is preforming and it is impossible to make the best decisions regarding it.
I am a good example of how things can go wrong.
A couple of years ago, I was going through some difficult times. While I was still doing design work for the magazine and making some new projects for a couple of wholesalers to distribute and to put on my site, I really didn’t have my heart into my business and I did things rather sloppy.
Part of it was that I didn’t have the experience in dealing with other companies and the other part was that I wasn’t wholeheartedly committed to what I was doing because of other things going on in my life. There were many personal things happening that took most of my attention and some of these business dealings were more or less an afterthought and not set up properly.
While it seemed to be working for a while, as these business dealings did bring in some extra income, as I became more dedicated to my business and began to really look at what was happening with things, I began to see that perhaps I wasn’t getting all I should have been from these relationships. Without getting into details, I will say that things were slanted more in the wholesaler’s direction and even though I was doing most of the work as the designer, I seemed to be getting the least amount of return from the relationships.
Since there was nothing done in writing with these companies, it made things very tricky. After all, I had been operation on a certain level for quite some time and as far as the companies knew, I was perfectly happy with the arrangement. But when seeing how things actually were playing out, I could see that there was little wonder that I wasn’t really getting ahead, even though now I was working harder than ever.
It all makes for a very uncomfortable situation.
I know of a lot of people who are looking to sell their work that they create – whether it be scroll saw project, painting projects or other woodworking pieces – and they get themselves into trouble just the way I did. They don’t make the terms of their selling clear and put them in writing. This includes both wholesale ordering and also when people make specific items for customers on a special order basis.
We have all read horror stories about it. Verbal agreements are made and one side believes one thing and the other side thinks something completely different. Unfortunately, usually the differences in perception are only discovered after the work is done and there is already money and time invested in the project. And that is when the hard feelings come into play.
This is also true when working on a wholesale basis with a company. While a verbal agreement and a hand shake used to be enough, it seems that the best thing you can do for yourself and your business is to get everything up front in writing, no matter what company you are dealing with and no matter how much you trust them.
While this may seem awkward when you feel that you have a good, friendly relationship with the other party, I found that especially in these times of uncertainty when things can change quickly and companies are struggling to survive it is greatly important that you have a written contract with your terms and conditions of your business dealings. This not only protects you, but it also protects the company you are dealing with. Since everything is in writing, there are fewer misunderstandings and a better sense of securities on both sides.
But don’t stop there. You also need to be sure that the company you are dealing with is adhering to those written guidelines and honoring the contract that you both agreed upon. While this sounds like a given, you would be surprised how many alleged ‘professional’ companies disregard the guidelines that are set. Whether it is on purpose or just an oversight on their part, it is important that you honor your side of the agreement, and equally important that you make sure that they are sticking to theirs.
Yes – this takes time and involves some investigation on your part. While it would be nice to think that you can just sign a piece of paper and it will protect all of your rights and you won’t have to worry, sometimes that isn’t the case. There are companies and businesses out there that are unscrupulous and tend to play by their own rules, knowing that the time and money it would cost for you to take them to court (even if you are absolutely in the right) would not be worth your effort. They play by their own rules, and if you find that you got a bit lazy and don’t periodically check up on them, you may be surprised (unpleasantly) when you do find out how things are being handled.
I have learned this first hand from more than one company that I have dealt with. I have also learned a couple of very positive things too.
I found that good and honest companies don’t mind contracts. In fact that encourage them. The old saying ‘they have nothing to hide or worry about’ rings true in that case. They are very open to questions about how they do business and they have very clear guidelines as to how they conduct business both with vendors as yourself and also with sales. They don’t look at questions as something negative and they are very up front with their policies and even invite inquiries and want to clear the air with you so that everyone has a clear understanding of how things are. Most of them already offer written contracts before they will accept products from you, as they want to protect themselves as well as you and make sure that everything is on the table and fair.
We have some great vendors for our products. We have several distributors for both our patterns as well as Keith’s pens that are a pleasure to work with. It recently occurred to me that in most of the cases, the companies that we have had little or no trouble with are those that work with clear written guidelines and are up front and open about their business practices.
On the other hand, the companies that we have had difficulties with seem to have been the ones where we have no contract. While there may be emails or other written documents stating what each side would want or what policies were, it seems that these were not taken seriously or adhered to in the way that they should have been. Perhaps the informality of the documents were interpreted as something casual and not regarded seriously.
So my advice to you today is to “Clean your house.” Take a good look at all of your business contacts and make sure that you are all on the same page and following the same guidelines when selling your items. Even if you didn’t do this in the past, it is a good idea to draw up a contract which spells out your practices and make copies for each party and both sign them. It protects both yourself and them from misunderstandings and insures a meeting of the minds. And that means peace of mind for all involved.
A final word of advice, is to keep communication open with these companies and check on things periodically to make sure that the terms you agreed on are being followed. Just because someone signs something, doesn’t mean that they are going to adhere to it – especially if they feel that you are not going to expect them to or make certain that they do. While many companies and businesses are honest, there are always those who are not. Why would you want to take the chance?
Taking the time to do this is I believe very important to any business – no matter what the size. It is very easy for vendors and distributors to ‘forget’ certain things and not adhere to specific guidelines that you may have set. After all, many businesses deal with several companies and each would certainly have their own criteria. It is your responsibility to be sure that your wishes and agreements are being followed. If it takes some time, it is certainly time that is well-spent.
(photo courtesy of molepire.com)
A little house cleaning goes far in giving you peace of mind.
Have a wonderful Friday!
-- Contributing Editor, Creative Woodworks and Crafts, Sheila Landry Designs http://www.sheilalandrydesigns.com "Knowledge is Power"