It is bound to happen in every artist’s life that you experience a customer who is, well, difficult. Now you can define “difficult” any way you want. In my case, it means when a customer places an order but then cannot meet your expectations of payment for said order.
I’ve been extremely fortunate in my art business that I have never had to deal with such a situation until now. The closest I’ve come to playing “collections officer” is requesting past due payment on a couple Net 30 orders. And that situation was resolved without difficulty. Perhaps it is part and parcel with the economic times. Earlier this year one of my wholesale customers closed the doors to her store. It was sad to hear that she had to close her business.
This situation, however, was a challenge for me because I don’t like confrontation. In fact, I don’t really like the word “confrontation.” (The word just conjures up images of anger and frustration.) But anyways, I truly dreaded dealing with this issue. When you’ve lived a good part of your life as a people-pleasing-I-don’t-want-you-to-be-angry-with-me human being…let’s just say it takes a while to prime the engine, swallow your weeniness, and make that call. No one likes to be a hardass.
But this is a business and in business expectations are set. When you receive an order, you expect that payment will be received under whatever arrangement you and the customer have agreed upon. In turn, the customer expects that you, artist, will deliver your product in a timely manner or under whatever schedule you have agreed upon.
Sounds pretty straightforward and not complicated, right?
To prepare for this situation, I set an intention for the conversation. I used my tingshas to help clear the stuckness I was feeling. And then I made the call. In a nutshell, I set a final, firm due date for payment or I cancel the order.
No one wants to do this. You really do want the customer to get their order. You really don’t want to lose the money. But you also need to stay true to your expectations. At some point you can only be so accommodating. I keep reminding myself that this is part of business; the good and the not-so-good. But it still sucks.
Here are a few things I’ve learned from this situation:
- Set your expectation up front and early. I relied on a previously agreed upon payment plan that worked well the first time and not so well this time.
- Follow-up. Don’t let too much time pass between conversations. The “out of sight, out of mind” motto rings true in these situations too.
- Rehearse what you’ll say, set an intention, and don’t get angry. Money is an emotional trigger. Don’t feed into your frustration or the other person’s frustration.
- Don’t take what they might say personally. Don’t react to their words; just be neutral. Sometimes it is better to say nothing.
- Accept that the outcome may not be what you hope for. Not every situation has a happy ending. Don’t dwell on it. Learn from it and move forward.
Though I’m not sure what the final outcome of this situation will be (cue the voice-over: “Will the money be received? Will the order be canceled? Will someone tell me why I’m talking this way :-)”) I feel better knowing that I handled it professionally and with confidence.
What has been your experience in dealing with these situations?