Did you know that next week – April 30 – is Honesty Day and it’s also my birthday? Therefore I should, shouldn’t I, be very honest on that day of all days. Shouldn’t we be honest every day?
Honesty Day actually was created in the USA in the 1990s by press secretary M Hirsch Goldberg as it was, it’s claimed, at the end of a month which started with a celebration of falsehoods or tricks (April Fools’ Day). However it appears it was mainly around the publication of the book ‘The Book of Lies: fibs, tales, schemes, scams, fakes and frauds that have changed the course of history and affect our daily lives’.
Whatever its roots, the brutal truth is that we are in lockdown, I’m not looking forward to a birthday where I can’t go anywhere and I’m going to have to make the best of it as many people will have to as well (look out for details of our stay-at-home bake off across our Creative Nature social platforms, we’d love you to join in).
Also the brutal truth is that as lockdown continues, many small business owners and micro business owners are struggling – and there’s no sign of that easing.
We all know what the stresses are here in the UK. We know that there is government support in business which is taking too long to come through and which is actually missing out a large part of the SME community (mainly micro businesses and the self-employed who are company directors). We all know that the claims for Universal Credit have gone through the roof and we all know this will all have to be paid back at some point soon. We all know we’re facing an economic recession.
We know that we have a moral duty to stay at home to save lives and try to cause a ‘pattern interrupt’ to the march of Covid19 across our countries, indeed globally. Then we see that some people in America are calling on business to return to normal because they want their hair cut or their toenails clipped or whatever. As if Covid19 isn’t killing enough people the world over.
By far the biggest stress upon businesses at this time though is a lack of cash flow and that is massively impacted by those who do not pay their bills in a timely manner. Late payment is a scourge for UK businesses and a major cause of the failure of small companies.
Yes we can ask for deferrals, reductions or delays to paying our tax, our VAT or our rent – however that’s galling when others are getting grants that they don’t have to pay back. For many of us, we don’t want to incur a debt that we’ve only got a short time to pay back before the banks slap on the interest.
Now, more than ever, business leaders must take a stand and, if necessary, name or report those who are not taking responsibility for paying their bills. Big companies often take months to pay small suppliers and we don’t have months, we simply don’t. The loss of small independent companies will make the world of business a very dull place if we don’t all act ethically now.
So how have we at Creative Nature handled this situation? How are we, on Honesty Day and every day, playing fair?
*We have looked at our expenditure and made some decisions. I’m a details person so I know our numbers very well so we’ve dropped some expenditure that we cannot justify right now. If this has involved a conversation, we’ve had that conversation. There’s been no gaslighting here.
*Suppliers we value and that we believe are critical to our ability to thrive, we are paying as normal, having conversations with them if it’s going to take a little longer to pay but we are paying. Communication is key.
*We have explored what government assistance we are entitled to and we’re making the right applications.
However not everyone is like us and that’s worrying in business because it makes a bad situation for business even worse. It’s heart-breaking for any business owner to have to keep their own suppliers at bay – having difficult conversations sometimes on a daily basis – because they have not paid their bills on time. It’s cold comfort to a business owner who hears that they’ve not been paid because their client has not been paid and it creates a chain of discontent. However it’s better to have those conversations than to stick your head in the sand and pretend it will all go away. It will not.
The UK’s Small Business Commissioner, Phil King, wrote to some businesses earlier this month to call them out for what he called the poor payment practice of sending a standard issue notice to their whole supply chain to say that payment of invoices would be delayed or simply stopped. He also wrote to those brands who, he said, are showing leadership by ensuring that their smallest suppliers are paid immediately or very quickly.
He said: “A delayed payment to a small or micro business will help ease the pressure on your cashflow but for the business owner not receiving a relatively small payment, it may be the difference between putting food on the table or not. It can also have a huge impact on well-being and mental health. I ask you to consider the human impact of your actions rather than seeing them simply as transactions.”
And that’s it in a nutshell. It’s the honest truth. In business if you don’t pay your bills, particularly to a small or micro business, someone else might not eat, pay their mortgage or be able to pay the bus fare for their child to go to school. Can you live with that? Do you not care enough to pick up the phone and either pay or make a payment plan? Or do you hide, pretend, don’t answer your phone or emails (at a time when someone cannot turn up on your doorstep)? Have you used this situation to not pay debts you already have? If you are this person, remind me not to do business with you….
*Julianne Ponan is the CEO of Creative Nature Superfoods, a free-from snack brand which offers products which are healthy, delicious and free from the top 14 food allergens. The company is based in the UK but exports products worldwide (though during Covid19 that’s not always possible). Julianne herself suffers from anaphylaxis and is allergic to many foods including all nuts, chickpeas, sesame seeds and much more. This constant need to consider what she eats led her to create the brand and all products are manufactured in the UK. For more information visit www.creativenaturesuperfoods.co.uk