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Money Policies

Have you noticed any trends lately in how your clients are reacting to your payment policies? Are some of your prospects and established clients expecting you to design, build and install your sign products without a deposit, or payment in full upon completion?

By Mark K. Roberts

I would like to say hello to my fellow sign makers worldwide, as I now join the family of contributing writers. I hope you will find my stories useful, profitable, and enjoyable. If not, be sure to tell me.

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    Have you noticed the economy getting wacky? Get ready for a major wave of cash flow challenges that are rolling our way. If you have not experienced it yet, you will. Here are some methods to keep you from getting soaked! After all ­ it is YOUR MONEY!

    In my seminars, I teach my students to guard their money like their lives depend upon it, because anyone and everyone will take advantage of a sign professional if they sense we do not value our money, our talent...and our time. I would suggest that you create a new policy sign, and post it where all (including you) can see it. Even though I do not have a walk-in showroom, I still have this sign posted on the wall behind my desk. My sign reads: Welcome to Intersign. For all sign and design orders under $1,000, we require payment in full upon order. For orders over $1,000, we require a deposit of 50% with the balance due upon receipt of your sign, or design project. We accept all major credit cards.

    Keep your message short, to the point, and firm. The reason you get out of bed in the morning is to provide for yourself, your family, to take care of your obligations, both present and future, and to serve your immediate market with beautiful and effective visual advertising. Sign companies are not banks. You must end your policy of NET 30 days for sign payments. In these days of economic uncertainty, why risk any of YOUR money?

    Wean your clients off this policy. Convert them to credit card payments. Some will resist; however, times change and policies change as well. Never let them turn the tables on you when they say something like this, " well if you really NEED the money that bad, here is my credit card". I have heard this a few times from some “smart-mouthed” clients, but I turn it around like this: "The issue is not me needing the money...the issue is all professional businesses that produce custom made products do so when, and only if they receive a deposit up front. Shall we proceed with your sign order or do you want to think about it for a day or two?" Reverse the guilt trip and they will quickly see that you mean business. Any further smart comments from the client will result in me suddenly becoming too busy to help them at this time. I have "weeded my client garden" several times in the last couple of years, and guess what? I have eliminated some major headaches at the same time.

    Unfortunately, we are still paying for the sins of our sign ancestors, as they were unmercifully trampled upon by smarter, and more business-savvy customers. I run my business like an advertising agency. I interview my clients when they call for an appointment. My front door is locked, and visitors must ring a bell. I have a sign right next to the door stating that clients and vendors are seen by appointment only. If I am busy routing, painting, or engineering a train of thought, and I am not expecting anyone to ring the bell, and the bell rings, I ignore it! I must operate in this manner, or I would never have time to go home.

    If someone calls and the first thing out of their mouth is "how much is a for sale sign?” I answer their question with this: "Depending upon how fast you want to sell your property (or anything else), we can design and produce your sign to give you an immediate sale or you could opt for a lower priced, "plain Jane" sign which would only prolong the sale process of your property. Our mission, Mr. (or Ms) Client is this: we are here for your success. We can deliver results for you with our signs. Would you like to schedule an appointment to visit our studio, or would you prefer for me to bring my portfolio to your office so you can see first hand what our signs can do for your business"?

    Beware of your regulars
    Keep your guard up with established customers and clients. Lately, I have lost several long time clients due to their cash flow problems. This trap is very easy to fall into when we accept telephone orders for sign projects. A client may call and want a few point-of-sale signs for their store. The copy is discussed, and suggestions are made about how the signs should look. You may give a price for the signs, and the customer agrees and tells you to proceed. After you have made the signs, you call the customer and inform them that they are ready. I did this about a month ago for four small Coroplast signs to be used on a bar-b-que sandwich vendor’s trailer. He was a long time established customer, however, his purchases always ran in the fifty to one hundred fifty-dollar range. He also liked to complain about my prices too.

    When I called the customer, he told me to deliver the signs to his trailer, located about four miles from my shop. He asked me to screw them onto a wooden “A” frame sign that was sitting outside his trailer. Of course this was not part of the original deal; however, I did have to go to Sears, which is in the same parking lot where his trailer was parked. I agreed and I asked if his employee in the trailer would pay me for the signs. The customer assured me that the employee would pay me in cash. “Just get those signs over there right now”, he barked!

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    I don’t know how you react to commands from a “high dollar” customer like this one, but I can tell you that I was less than thrilled about dropping what I was doing and making the delivery and unscheduled installation of these four Coroplast signs. About an hour later, I had a break in the action, and I did make the trip to the customer’s trailer to deliver the signs. I decided to be a “nice guy”, and I took my cordless screw gun to install his four small signs.

    The lady (I’m being polite here) in the trailer pointed to where the signs were to be attached, and she spun around and disappeared into the back of the trailer. I cleared my throat and said, “Excuse me, I need to collect for these signs before I install them”. She immediately went into a fit of rage, and explained that the owner did not tell her anything about paying me for the signs. She ordered me to wait right here while she called the owner on her cell phone to check out my story.

    I could hear her half of the conversation, and he obviously asked her if she had enough cash to pay me, and she admitted that she did. Now, she spun around and ordered me once again to install the signs and the owner would come by my shop in a week or two to pay me. Well, needless to say, this did not put a smile on my face. I told her that was not what I would be doing, and I proceeded to turn around to leave. She yelled at me (remember, these are “Carney-type” people) and told me to talk to her boss right now. She then handed me the cell phone and told me to talk to the owner.

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    The owner said that she could not pay me for the signs because she needed the cash to make change. I offered to accept his credit card over the phone, and he resisted. He then said that he would drop by my shop and pay me “In a week or two”. I never said another word. I placed the cell phone on the greasy counter and slid it back to the princess working behind the dirty screen, and walked away.

    Four days later the owner called me and chewed me up one side and down another. I then decided that I have had enough. I told Mr. Rockefeller that if I went to his Bar-B-Que trailer and ordered 60 sandwiches and then I would tell his princess behind the screen that I would come back to pay her in “a week or two”, she would probably call the cops. I also told him that he still owed me for the signs. He then told me to store the signs where the sun doesn’t shine. I hung up the phone (I accept no cursing from anyone) and went about my day, learning yet another valuable lesson.

    Stick to your policies
    Money is getting tighter and the ones that will get burned are the ones that are lax about their business policies. Three days later, the former customer called and told me he was a “Man of his word”, and he would come by to pick up the signs. To this day he has not made good on that promise. Looks like his word is “good as grass”!

    By no means am I telling you to chase off your customer who happens to be General Motors, Boeing, or some company of that stature. Just keep your receivables at a workable level. Remember Enron and World Com? These were once huge conglomerates, and now where are they? Guard your cash and your cash flow. Simple changes in your operating procedure can yield massive results in your clientele, your cash flow, and your profit margin. No one knows the future, and it is your future that must be protected. Until next time, this is Mark Roberts. Remember to “Price ‘em right”

    Mark Roberts has owned his own sign shop for twenty-five years, and has been teaching seminars and writing for national sign magazines since 1991. Be sure to visit Mark’s website ( to see his seminar schedule and other products for your sign business success.

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