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Bettie Goes Solo: Knowing When It’s Time To Divorce Your Supplier

A few months after deciding that I was serious about starting a small business, it became blindingly obvious that accounting was most definitely not my thing. I’ve never been good with numbers. And, even after nearly a decade working in the Accounting Education sector, I still take out my phone to work out how much my basket of shopping at Lidl will come to.

So when it came time to sort out tax returns and company accounts, I made the decision to outsource. Best, decision, ever. No more stressing about working from home allowance. Gone were the evenings spent trying desperately to decipher income tax and National Insurance Contributions. It gave me more time to spend on the things I enjoyed doing and less time on things that made me grind my teeth so hard, I was destined to see a look of disappointment from my dentist.

I received a recommendation from a friend for an accountant that could sort out my bookkeeping and taxes. After an initial meeting, I made a decision to sign on the dotted line, for what seemed like a reasonable monthly fee. For me, it was more important to spend time looking at finished accounts reports, than tediously uploading five million receipts every month. Parting with the cash each month meant a huge weight was lifted from me and it was absolutely money well spent. Or so I thought.

About a year into our relationship, things started being delivered later than expected, not how I’d asked and in what seemed like a panic. After a meeting with my accountant, he told me the monthly fee I was paying was not covering the huge amount of hours they needed to sort my accounts. Because you know, my giant multi-national organisation was just so complex they couldn’t handle it. Hmmm…

He suggested that I take on more of the day-to-day bookkeeping by uploading my receipts online and doing all my own reconciliation – the very thing I had employed them to look after in the first place. And, like a mug, I said yes.

Why?

I’m still not entirely sure.

After attempting this for a few weeks, I realised that I was being a total plum and started to look for an alternative. I learnt a lot in the three months that followed and even though it’s been loooooooooong, it’s given me a good set of skills if I ever need to divorce another supplier in the future.

 

There’s no point in carrying on a relationship that’s not working for you.

 

It’s not you, it’s me. Oh wait, actually it totally is you

There’s no point in carrying on a relationship that’s not working for you. When you’re a small business, it’s easy to feel like you don’t have the upper hand in professional relationships. For me, sitting at a meeting with an accountant who employs over 100 people definitely made me feel a little insignificant business wise. And this inferiority complex of mine manifested itself in me letting this particular supplier get away with murder. And on reflection, boy did he know it.

Having confidence that a supplier knows what they’re doing is one thing. Having confidence that they know what they’re doing for your business is quite another. While it’s a little soul destroying admitting you’ve made the wrong decision when choosing a particular supplier, get over it. Swallow your pride, chalk it up to experience and find someone better.

When you hire someone to deliver a service (particularly one where you’re not sure of the ins and outs of), it’s easy to be led into believing that they’re working hard, rather than hardly working. If the service isn’t delivered as you’d hoped for, it’s like any other transaction. You’re the customer, so you have every right to complain and/or end that business relationship.

 

You want to be the big fish in the little pond. Or at least an average sized fish in an average sized pond.

 

There’s plenty more fish in the sea

Often the supplier/client relationship falls apart because you weren’t properly matched. My experience really made me rethink the process of choosing a new supplier. Rather than just look for a blanket recommendation, I needed to find businesses similar to mine to suggest a new supplier. I used Facebook groups to get some recommendations and had a lengthy conversation with the people that supplied them to ask them what worked so well for them.

You want to be the big fish in the little pond. Or at least an average sized fish in an average sized pond. If you’re the smallest client that a supplier has, chances are you’ll be the last one to be considered. You won’t get the same level of service as some of their bigger clients and you’ll probably end up feeling a little insignificant.

You’re better off being with a supplier that deals with businesses your size. This will mean you’re no longer the teeny tiny client that is allocated ten minutes a month. You’re just as valuable as all the other clients on the books and the work coming through will reflect that.

 

Dealing with the cold shoulder

Once you’ve told a supplier that you’re leaving them, you’re likely to get a bit of the cold shoulder. Slow response time to emails, phone calls being dodged – that kind of thing. The professional equivalent to blocking someone on Instagram, this can be absolutely infuriating but is fairly common in these situations. In my case, I spent day after day forwarding the same email from weeks earlier waiting to get a response. But even though I didn’t exactly enjoy being the world’s most annoying customer, it had to be done to finalise all the work that needed doing. Don’t be afraid to be that customer.

You may even encounter the dreaded guilt email. “My second cousin twice removed has broken their pinky finger and I’ve been tending to their every need for the last three weeks. This is why I haven’t responded to your many, many emails”, or “My pet turtle died and I’ve been grieving. It’s really insensitive of you to continue to contact me while I’m getting over the loss of such an important family member”. Beware of these emails. They’re only designed to make you feel so bad that you ease up the pressure or just walk away from the incomplete work all together.

If a supplier attempts to play the guilt card, you have to remain stoic. Don’t let them play on your emotions, and definitely don’t let them get away with not delivering the work. Keep on as you have been until you’ve gotten what you’re after.

 

 

Finding love again

Since leaving my old accountant and working with a new company, I’ve realised that you can find love again with a new supplier. And while I already feel like I’m more in control in this supplier/client relationship, it’s early days.

One of the most important things I’ve learnt to do is setting expectations with my new supplier. I know exactly what I’m getting now and should always be getting for my monthly fee and I’m already feeling a lot more secure with my choice. It’s important to be confident that you’ve made the right decision, but that doesn’t mean you can take your eye off the ball just yet.

This will be like any new relationship. I need to spend time getting to know the best way to work with them, understand what I need to do to keep things running smoothly and make sure I’m not ignoring them, as that will only lead me back down the same path. If life is all about experiencing new things, then business is all about learning new things. Every mistake you make is one less you’ll make in the future. So take all the lessons you can from the dissolution of your supplier relationship, and use them to make your next one ten times more successful.

 

Don't cry for him, your mascara is too expensive

 

Andy is the owner of Bettie Confetti, a snarky greeting cards line available at Not On The High Street, Etsy and select independent retailers in the UK. For more on this topic, we’ve put together a handy guide to help you choose the right suppliers for your business

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