Opinion

Corporate South Africa you are killing us!

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The entrepreneurial story is one filled with marvellous tales of entrepreneurs determined to succeed against all odds. Most self-starters dream of building a legacy, something they can be proud of.

Headlines on the cover of entrepreneurial magazines and online sites boldly proclaim that their featured entrepreneur/business person is successful with a whopper of a story e.g. “five years to 194 million’’. My adulation knows no bounds. I am not writing on behalf of those businesses and entrepreneurs who have managed to become sustainable and wealthy. I am, however, writing on behalf of the little guys and girls who continue to build their business with the hopes it becomes sustainable.

I am, however, writing on behalf of the little guys and girls who continue to build their business in the hopes it becomes sustainable.

I remember some time ago when the government use to be the worst at paying service providers. Minister, corporates, media and the enterprise at some point consistently bemoaned the late payment practice. Government those days had put a sword to many a business who eventually could not stay afloat with untold amounts in payments outstanding not to mention being paid consistently late.

Public engagements on the issue and consistent media coverage played a role in changing payment policies – I would like to think. I currently do work with governmental institutions and can honestly attest to their endeavour to make payments on time or by the stipulated date. However, I can’t say the same for corporate companies. I personally know many entrepreneurs who do work for organisations that are rather large and well-established.

The businesses and entrepreneurs I speak of employ between 1 – 12 people. I know we wax lyrical about the struggle of the entrepreneur. Nearly every day we engage this topic across all media outlets in some form or another. I have sat through many seminars, conferences and workshops to know entrepreneurs are special. A special breed of people who have decided to do it for themselves. It then goes without saying that some service providers are contracted to some rather large organisations or multi-nationals. I want to specifically focus and single out corporates in South Africa who claim to understand the plight of the little guy. I want to focus on the “Corporate Goliath” who promised to help and facilitate progress and growth. I want to callout the ones who pat themselves on the back for spreading their generosity by giving the “smallish service provider” work.

I want to focus on the “Corporate Goliath” who promised to help and facilitate progress and growth.

My lived-experience albeit anecdotal, tells me that the development of SMME’s/ entrepreneurs is a growing trend amongst corporates. Kudos to you for doing it. Another worrying trend is the number of service providers who complain about late payment. I have not done any research or investigate how often ‘’Corporate Goliath” pays “little David” late but from my engagements with the proverbial David – it is regular enough to know it’s a problem that some face. If your company pays on time, then this is not aimed at you. It’s aimed at the ‘’Corporate Goliath” who makes us submit invoices early but then pays us late.

I am speaking to that organisation who keeps telling itself that working to grow SMME’s and transfer skills and empower them is a good thing. You are killing us. Let me be clear – you pay us late every month, even though we have worked for you for months in some instances for years. Your killing us because your finance person doesn’t understand paying us on the last day of the month – means it clears in the new month. Your killing us because of the knock-on effect of paying me late means I can’t pay the person who I have employed. Whom I have entered into an agreement with and their hope Is that I can pay them every month for services delivered. This is sometimes the only breadwinner in the family. The implication of late payments, waiting to pay on the last day of the month is dire for a business who in most cases don’t have access to additional capital – a rich father or somebody to bail them out.

The implication of late payments, waiting to pay on the last day of the month is dire for a business who in most cases don’t have access to additional capital – a rich father or somebody to bail them out.

The banks are of no help. If I have a bad record that was incurred years ago the banks won’t even look at the turnover of my business currently. Reality check – most entrepreneurs I know are in debt up to their ears. Entrepreneurs spend a lot of their time praying and hoping that they will make enough money to pay their bills. I know we talk about the hardship of running your own small business, but this is “Gladiator” in full colour.

Here is an indisputable fact us little people all dream of one day turning our little engines that could into roaring engines that drives economies and employs hundreds if not thousands.

You are killing us because we are at the cold face of employees who stress about paying their bills. Dealing with loved ones who are confused when the breadwinner’s salaries don’t arrive on time. They don’t understand why your employer is not paying you.

Another indisputable fact most employees think entrepreneurs have more money than they claim to have. Late payments cause hostile relationships with landlords who are no longer understanding. Jeepers creepers! we are not even talking about bank charges, debit orders and everyday life things that a late payment exacerbates. We must then send a carefully crafted message or stand with our tail between our legs to explain the situation to our staff. People who believe in us and have decided they will walk this journey with you. We are emotionally and physically drained because we must stay upbeat about the current financial situation. We must be careful not to show our employees and our loved ones that we are stressed and worried about all the various situations and scenarios that are unfolding while making plans to borrow the money from people who don’t have any more to lend you…

I really battle with this question – what is the point of making us invoice early in the month if you choose to pay us on the last day of the month? Maybe corporates need to pay us before the 30th so the money reflects on the 30th. I would call that true empowerment. Imagine a “Corporate Goliath” who cared if all their suppliers were paid on time. Imagine that. Getting your finance team to understand the role they could play in growing a service provider. Imagine a finance person who could understand the world of an entrepreneur or SMME.

I really battle with this question – what is the point of making us invoice early in the month if you choose to pay us on the last day of the month?

Here is also another undeniable truth – none of us enjoys calling you non-stop to find out when you will pay us. We dread picking up that phone, sometimes we wish you don’t answer.

It’s hard trying to grow your business because you make it harder than it has to be. I will reiterate not all corporates do this but a fair share of you do. You are critical to our success and to our failure. I spent time with service providers a couple of days ago. One of them has not been paid in two months. I think you can imagine the turmoil that creates. The amount of phone calls you have to field from those you have outsourced some work too e.g. graphic designer, website designer, copywriter, cleaning services supplier and the list goes on.

A large percentage of small business owners try their best 99% of the time. Service levels in some cases are even better than their larger counterparts. To us “Corporate Goliath” you are more than just another client, you are sometimes our only client. You are sometimes the reason our children can go to school, we can live and employ more people.

Maybe! its time you start finding out about the SMME’s, entrepreneurs and businesses who are providing services to your business. Instead of only reserving your CSR for your projects – employ some social responsibility towards your suppliers. I know of some organisations that have created programs for their suppliers to upskill them but it means nothing if you don’t pay them on time.

Instead of only reserving your CSR for your projects – employ some social responsibility towards your suppliers

There are some things corporate companies can institute that will create a more successful and sustainable service provider;

* Develop a better understanding of the smaller service providers

* Create a payment structure that allows you to pay suppliers faster.

* Do an audit of your smaller suppliers

* Create a channel for suppliers where they can escalate payment queries.

* Set up meetings at suppliers/service providers offices where possible so that you can get insight into their operations where possible.

About the author

Samm Marshall is a South African television presenter best known for hosting the e.tv reality charity show Let’s Fix It, and Morning Live on SABC. He is currently a media trainer with Media training SA. MD of www.social-tv.co.za a CSI/CSR/shared value news platform. MD of www.brandlive,co.za a thought-leadership platform that allows companies to host their own radio shows.

 

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