The Other Guy (Almost) Always Has More Dimes

Early in my entrepreneurial career, I ran into what turned out to be a fairly common occurrence over the years. I needed a project. Money was tight. I was in a prospect’s office. The contract was almost ready to sign.

“I’m a little uncomfortable,” the prospect said, “with one of your terms.”

“What term is that?” I asked, my stomach giving a bit of a flutter.

“I’m not sure I should pay you anything up front. I mean, your price is fair and I’m sure you can do the work, but what’s to prevent you from taking the advance and vanishing? I’d like to have the leverage here.”

Gulp.

I needed that advance to make my payroll. I couldn’t give it away. At the same time, if I drew a hard line in the sand, I might lose the project and still not be able to make payroll.

“I can understand that,” I started, not understanding at all but needing to buy some time. “You will be trusting my integrity. But what kind of business could I build if I went around screwing my customers? How many future prospects would you influence if I did that?”

While he mulled that response, another thought came into my head. It had been placed there by a mentor some time before. But it took a bit more boldness, more conviction, than I was necessarily able to conjure. Still….

“Besides,” I ventured, “you have a lot more money than I have. If I work for you without being paid in advance, I’m kind of acting like your bank, financing part of your project. I don’t want to be in the banking business, I want to be in the writing business.”

There was a brief beat. Then he burst into laughter, grabbed his pen and as he signed off on the contract — including my advance — he said, “Best explanation I’ve ever heard.”

Remember when you’re selling, particularly services, to someone else, that they almost always have more money than you and you really don’t want to be in the banking business.

Over the years, I’ve developed an absolutely iron-clad rule:

Always be working off the other guy’s dime. He’s got more dimes than you.

This means not only an advance to start the work but also progress payments along the way. The idea should be that he’s always paid for the next bit of work you’ll be doing and, more to the point, if he fired you right now, you’d have been compensated for what you’ve already done.