Where have all the ties gone?

A blue tie - ©iStockphoto.com/terexLast week I attended a computer trade fair, and was almost shocked to see that during the first presentation, I was the only member of the audience wearing a tie!

It certainly got me thinking.  Many people had turned up in casual dress, and others were wearing a suit with a waistcoat, but without a tie.  During the rest of the day I observed that most of the people in the hall with a tie were actually working on one of the stands.

On reflection, it’s a trend that has been going on for some time. [Read more…]

My first day in court

Paragraph Symbol - ©Can Stock Photo Inc. / froxxThis week I had my first experience of visiting a German court.

I’ve talked before about the payment culture in Germany, and how some customers just don’t pay up.  I have had to register customer debts with the court before, but this was the first time I had actually been to one, as it was a slightly different situation.  This time, it was a supplier who owed me money.

Last year, I sent some items of computer hardware back to one of my supplies for repair or replacement.  Unfortunately the supplier then filed for bankruptcy.

It took a lot of telephone calls to get my hardware dealt with, but one of the items, which I had luckily noticed was not working before I sold it to a customer, was gone for a long time.

In the end I called the manufacturer and was told that the item had been destroyed and a credit note issued, meaning that rather than getting a replacement I now had to register as a creditor (called a Gläubiger in German) to my own supplier. [Read more…]

Zahlungsmoral: Some customers just don’t like paying

The Germans have a word for it, they call it „Zahlungsmoral“. Literally translated it means „payment morals” but a better way of saying it would be “payment culture”. People use it when they are talking about how willing people are to pay off a debt.

It is something that many German businesses have to deal with. The larger ones, of course, have employees to chase after the bad debts, but for smaller businesses and especially self-employed people like myself, it can be an additional workload that would be unnecessary if people just paid their bills as they should.

If I am doing work a client at their home, then I will usually require them to pay cash when I am finished. I tell them this in writing in advance, to avoid the “I haven’t got that amount of money” type of expressions once I’m finished. I still get that once in a while, but thankfully no longer that often.

But it does not always work like that. Businesses that I visit on a regular basis will want a bill sent to them before they pay me, so I make sure that they sign off the work that I do on each visit. Sometimes I work from home, on a website for example, so then even that is not possible.

This means trusting the client that they will pay, and they usually do. But sometimes they need a little reminder.

The “little reminder” is called a “Zahlungserinnerung” and is a sort of friendly reminder that they owe me for the work I did for them. After that you get into “Mahnstufen” – that is when you start setting deadlines by which payment has to be made. After three of these, the final step is to register the debt with the local court. If all goes well and the customer does not contest the debt, then you can pass the court documents on to a bailiff to go to collect your money.

By this time you have court costs, bailiffs’ costs, and costs for recorded delivery mail – all of which the bailiff can collect for you at the same time. But all the same, have still spent a lot of time going through this process. Time that you could have probably better spent on other projects.

Luckily, I have only had to go through the entire process once. All other debtors have paid up sometime before it got to the final stage. And after a while you get to know how your customers are. Some pay immediately, others pay on the last day before the reminder goes out, and a certain number only pay up when they receive the reminder. A handful wait for the final demand.

This is the “Zahlungsmoral”. It is often quoted by self-employed people in Germany as once of the main reasons for giving up their business, or even going abroad to find work.

Because at the end of the day, you have to eat.  Your customers may be able to put off paying you for a couple of weeks, but that just doesn’t work at the supermarket…

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