To Invoice or not to Invoice; Commerciality vs. Humanity in Times of Turmoil.

To Invoice or not to Invoice; Commerciality vs. Humanity in Times of Turmoil.

Between the price war and a pandemic lies some seriously tricky terrain for businesses to traverse. A cacophony of well-meaning voices, scream conflicting information, leaving behind the awkward moral dilemma: to invoice or not to invoice?

Good business practise would dictate that, logically, you should be chasing every penny owed to you. It’s yours by contractual right, your client has benefitted, you have delivered whatever product or service it relates to, and you will have incurred the costs of doing so. So far, so good, right?

If only life were so simple. The thing about having a business is that all business owners have one. It’s impossible not to recognise the challenge facing other business owners and employers when it’s the same challenge that currently faces you.

So, maybe, following an honest conversation with an important client, who is also under strain, you are now offering deferred payments, massive discount or not charging certain clients for services at all to protect your relationship. They will remember you when its over right? 

Maybe they will, but assuming you can continue to burn costs without your usual revenue streams for an unknown period, will they still hold the position, power or business that you need to pay the piper when things to return to ‘normal’? More importantly, will you?

At times like these, it’s hard to know how to reduce the burden on clients, colleagues and suppliers without devaluing your own business to the point of unsustainability through nothing more than well-meaning human decency. This is particularly true for small businesses where relationships are critical to the long-term future of the enterprise.

Small business owners are often closer to the day-to-day operations of the business, having a direct relationship with many of the clients. This can taint their view, creating opportunities for informal discussions where promises are made that can have longer-ranging ramifications than the current lock-down will.

Sometimes, the line between business and relationships is very thin, but there is always a line. Issuing nil invoices to support clients is noble but short-sighted. Businesses need cash flow, and the taxman expects to see believable invoices – even in times of disruption.

We all have a duty to our staff, suppliers, clients and families to at least try and secure our survival in these unprecedented times.

If you are providing a service that adds values and creates opportunity for your client base – charge for it. Review your fees if you must, but giving your primary product or service away for free, even temporarily, is a short walk to a ‘closed’ sign. Even if you survive, your client’s perception of your product value will have tanked, and it’s a hard climb to reinstate a paid product or service when people received it for free – at precisely the moment when it became most valuable to them.

Reserve incentives for easy-to-deliver services which cost little and use minimum resource, they can provide a useful passive income at times like these. These can be discounts, payment plans, early-bird discounts on services which will be reactivated when things get moving again. Barter, look for reciprocal deals, but please don’t offer freebies in attempts to buy loyalty. Loyalty is earned by reliably adding value. Know your value and respect it.

Every business is different, but the basics still apply – stall/shelve products or services that are currently undeliverable, focus on where you can add value and charge for it. Pay for the services you value to keep your business afloat and endeavour to keep costs low on all non-essential services – even the ones you like.

Frankly, if it’s not adding value to your clients in some way, then it’s probably not adding value to your business.  We have a long road ahead, and it’s going to be hard enough – there is no need to make it harder on yourself. Pay for what you get, and charge for what you can offer. Simples. 

Assets at Risk: the challenge of social posting in hostile environment operations.

Assets at Risk: the challenge of social posting in hostile environment operations.

Concerns about safety and social media are not exactly strange bedfellows. Every day we are bombarded with information on how to protect ourselves and our privacy online but how often do we stop to wonder if we might unthinkingly be sharing information that could put others at risk?

How often do we read between the lines, to see what is NOT being said? And do we respect that decision?

Last week, a client working in a high-risk area posted a photo showing a close-up of their product in use. The photo was taken with care. Every effort was made to ensure the platform’s anonymity and location. The headlining comment cautiously stated the location on a continental basis. Neither the platform, country, project or the operator was named; a carefully planned, pre-agreed comms strategy to allow the business in question to keep people updated with products and services while protecting the lives of those on the ground in an unquestionably hostile area. That evening, a comment popped up in the feed – ‘Hey, that’s the [inserts platform name] in [Inserts country]. I just came back from there not long ago”. A conversation around the asset in question develops with a colleague; the logistics of getting there, the remoteness of the location, the terrible weather at that time. All information, publically shared.

Inadvertently, in just seven words and a little chit-chat, a carefully managed communication strategy is destroyed. Onboard and transitioning crews may be endangered and somewhere far away, security teams could be scrambling to respond to an upgraded threat level.

As soon as the post was spotted, the comment was removed and thankfully, to date, no lives were lost in this instance.

However, the ongoing kidnapping of oil workers in Africa and South America continues to underscore the need for extreme care in some of the world’s high-value production zones. Millions are spent protecting the locations, project schedules and roster changes and yet, it appears that the greatest threat to safeguarding assets and the life of remote workers, may come from the well-meaning support of an engaged online community that fails to understand the risks of posting key information in their commentary.

This has been an ongoing challenge from a communications perspective and I doubt I am alone here. As a digital marketer, an engaged community is rarely a bad thing and followers that care enough to engage and comment on posts – priceless. This post is not meant to discourage comments. Interaction is always good, but a little mindfulness in our online commentary could save lives in these types of situations. this presents the question of how we can best engage with active social users to encourage better consider of not just WHAT is – or is not – being said but also to take a few seconds to wonder WHY.

On the back of these discussions, we have been brainstorming ways to address the balance of protection and promotion. Some of the suggestions we are considering to allow continued posting, where there may be a degree of commercial sensitivity or physical safety issues include:

  1. Educating followers by beginning posts with notice – i,e “Company identity and location withheld to protect life and safety of assets”.
  2. Consider the use of stock photography where possible to reduce the potential for id or information disclosure. This does raise the question of post validity of course but that’s a question for another day.
  3. If necessary, restrict or turn off comments on sensitive posts to prevent wider discussion.

If you or your company has experienced something similar, I would be keen to hear how you are approaching this challenge. Even with everything we know about social and how it works, the human inclinations of users continue to present new challenges. Every day is indeed a school day 🙂