Money, Money, Money!!!
Ava Barron Thomas is the Artistic Director at babyballet Exeter & DanSci Dance Studio, located in Devon. Like many SME owners, she didn’t go down her career path worrying about the impact of late or missing payments; rather, as Ava says, “My business is built from a passion for the arts and sharing this joy with little people.”
As someone without formal business training, Ava admits she finds it difficult to have money conversations with suppliers and customers -- especially as a friendly and high-energy dance instructor. “It makes it really hard to stand up for yourself when your business persona is a happy, smiley
person,” she says. “Sometimes it’s easier to let people walk away than cope with the emotional strain of opening the conversation.” The situation has worsened with Covid, since she is aware many of her customers are under more financial pressures than before. However, so is her business which has been hit by restricted numbers in classes and higher overhead.
“Every penny is important now,” says Ava.
Over the years, Ava has dealt with a few repeat non-payers. She estimates her business now has over £1500 in unpaid bills from the past 12 months which, as she says, “may not seem a lot to some, but is a month's wages to one of our staff.” In addition to the financial strains caused by late payments, Ava believes non-payers make things “unfair” for those that do pay promptly because her staff need to devote time to chasing payments -- as opposed to delivering all the services they’d like to.
She has taken steps to reduce or recover late payments. One is delegating the task of chasing outstanding bills to another staff member, as Ava recognised she tends to get “quite emotionally involved” as the business owner when she takes this on herself. Another has been to move as many customers as possible to direct debit, which has automated her payment collections. This has significantly decreased the time Ava and her staff spend on chasing and reminding customers each time an invoice comes due.
The findings from GoCardless’ research that female SME leaders find it more uncomfortable than men to broach the ‘m-word’ really resonate with Ava. Reflecting on her struggles, she says for her, the topic is “very emotional, but I wonder how many of my male counterparts would say the same”. She also recognises that organisations offering resources and expertise to tackle money issues could be more inclusive: “A lot of business support is hard to access. For example, breakfast business meetings: how can I ever get to that when I have children to get to school?”
For now, Ava has seen some progress in minimising late payments. She is determined to talk more openly about money because “businesses cannot function without getting this aspect right”. In addition to the measures above, she has found success in chasing payments by being really clear on company policies and using factual language. Ava says, “As exhausting as it is, sometimes you just need to put on your big girl pants and do the hard stuff!” She is determined to having more open conversations about money because she knows the reward: “If you meet your business needs in the simplest way possible, you have more time to focus on the areas of the business you do love -- like tiptoeing around with a magic wand in front of a group of eager, wonderful pre-schoolers.”