Failing forward: how one late debtor taught me to never give up

When one late payee almost cost Amber Williamson of Digital Willow her business, she didn’t give up. Instead she dug deep and chased down the elusive client

Failing forward: how one late debtor taught me to never give up

Managing debtors is not something they teach you in school. I was a master of advertising, but a beginner entrepreneur and even greener when it came to credit control.

I’d worked my way up the corporate ladder of advertising. I had planned multi-million dollar marketing accounts, across 72 countries. I was a digital partner at one of the biggest Advertising companies in the world, growing a brand that every household knew.

When I left to start my business Digital Willow, the growth marketing consultancy, I was determined I could help smaller businesses grow. I believed that through my leadership and the power of digital advertising, business success was achievable. Yet my idealism did nothing to prepare me for my side job as finance director. In the early days, an entrepreneur must wear so many hats.

Digital Willow’s main source of income was a delivery company I shall not name. This business was suddenly drowning as competitors hit the market with multi-millions of investments, all hammered into marketing. Said client began to rapidly lose customers. On reflection, it shouldn’t have been a surprise that our payment requests were suddenly ignored. Still, panic started to rise.

As the outstanding payments surged towards £100,000, I finally got the message and stopped providing services. My emails continued to be ignored and my calls remained unanswered. My key contact in the marketing department seemed just as clueless as I was. Staff were being made redundant like wildfire.

Desperation caused my resolution. I knew that I had to act swiftly to get the money before the company closed, it was critical to the survival of my business. Our insurance didn’t cover the loss, and I had hit my maximum on my credit cards in lawyer’s fees. Chasing this money became a daily and nightly worry.  To save my business I had to find four new clients within two months, all on substantial retainers. I also had no choice but to face my fear of asking for money and I knew it had to be done in person.

I wrote a very personal letter to the CEO and resolved to meet him eye-to-eye. I pushed my way past a complaining PA, charging into their offices and declaring my need for a ten minute exchange.  That meeting was a turning point. It was the day I became real, no longer a person that could be ignored. Four days before the high court, we settled on 86% of fees owed and their office shut down shortly after.

Within two months I had hit my sales targets and replaced the revenue. I dug deeper than I ever had before. It took all the faith, determination and drive I could muster. Slowly, Digital Willow began to thrive again.

I’m proud to say, not a single employee was made redundant and today we are in the strongest position we have ever been in. I’ve won the Best Woman in Business award at the London Southwark Business Excellent Awards for my strength in leadership and resilience. It’s amazing what can happen in a year. I won’t forget the lesson this taught me and now have processes in place so that debt collection will never get code red again.

It is a reminder that there is always a solution to a problem. Focus on the action you can take, believe in yourself and never, ever give up.

Amber Williamson
Amber Williamson

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