A Christmas Collection
The payment was late: to begin with. There is no doubt whatever about that. This must be distinctly understood, or nothing wonderful can come of this story I am going to relate.
Once upon a time - of all the good days in the year, on Christmas Eve - old Scrooge sat busy counting his unpaid invoices.
"A merry Christmas, uncle! Don't forget to pay a festive bonus on those invoices!" cried Scrooge's nephew, coming quickly into the room.
"Bah!" said Scrooge, "Humbug!"
And he ushered his nephew out of the house and double-locked the door behind him.
The Shackles of Stagnant Supply Chains
Later that evening, Scrooge suddenly awoke in his chair, alongside the last dying embers of his stingy fire. From the cellar came an ominous sound - the clatter and clank of rattling chains.
He heard the sound scrape across the cellar floor, and then climb the stairs, and then, as the door flew open -
"I know him!" cried Scrooge as the ghostly figure entered the room. "He worked for me!"
"Worked, but was not paid," the apparition replied. "I wear the shackles of every stagnant supply chain I became involved in. You forged this burden, link by link, and yard by yard; now it is I who must bear it."
And the vision faded before his eyes - but Scrooge somehow knew that would not be his only visitation.
The Ghost of Contracts Past
The following night, at the same time, before the chimes of the clock had even begun to fade, a small child appeared before Scrooge, dressed in plain clothes without decoration or accessory.
"Speak, child," the old miser commanded. "Tell me why you haunt me."
"I am the Ghost of Contracts Past," the child replied. "Once I would have appeared to you in fancy costume; but each unpaid invoice in your lifetime has made me plainer. Nobody gives flourishes and favours to clients who pay late."
"Humbug!" cried Scrooge. "I get what I pay for, and expect nothing more. Be gone with you!"
And the child faded before his eyes.
The Ghost of Contracts Present
Another evening passed, and this time the vision was of a jolly giant, festooned in a fur-lined green robe.
"I am the Ghost of Contracts Present," it informed him. And the spirit took him on a tour of the city, sprinkling coins into people's pockets as they went.
"Please tell me," asked Scrooge, "why are you doing that?"
"The money is owed," replied the ghost simply. "And needed, too, at Christmas more than any other time."
"Humbug!" cried Scrooge. "It's just one day, like any other."
And the jolly giant faded before his eyes.
The Ghost of Contracts Yet To Come
On the third and final night, the apparition that fell upon Scrooge's eyes was the most ominous of them all, a gaunt, shadowy figure who would not speak a word in his presence.
Scrooge followed the reaper through vision after vision: statutory interest charges; small claims court actions; mounds of letters from debt collectors, solicitors and bailiffs; until, eventually, he was confronted by his own demise.
Upon death, Scrooge had left a mountain of unpaid invoices, and forged for himself the shackles of so many stagnant supply chains, his spirit could barely move.
"Please, tell me how I might change this?!" implored Scrooge, but the reaper remained silent, and slowly faded from view.
The Christmas of Correction
The following morning, Scrooge awoke early from his feverish sleep, and throwing open his window, called down to a passing errand boy.
"What's today, my fine fellow?" he asked - for he had lost count of the days he had spent in the company of the spirits.
"Today?" replied the boy. "Why, Christmas Day!"
"It's Christmas Day!" said Scrooge to himself. "I haven't missed it! The spirits have done it all in one night!"
And he called down to the boy - "Here lad, I have payments to settle! Help me and I'll pay you too!"
"Invoices? On Christmas morning?" replied the boy. "But it's a bank holiday!"
"Then we shall pay by cash, in person!" declared Scrooge.
And he ran to all of his suppliers and settled all of his accounts then and there - even those which were not overdue.
Casting Off The Shackles
That evening, the first spirit - the shackled contractor - visited once again, this time free from his burden of chains.
"You have saved me, Mr Scrooge," the vision told him, and there behind him, Scrooge saw three more figures - the child now festooned in fancy dress, the jolly giant whose work handing out money was done, and the reaper, who cast off his cloak to reveal a smiling gentleman beneath.
"And you have saved your suppliers from a swingeing Christmas," the now-shackleless contractor continued, "so that they might buy food, and wine, and gifts for their families."
And Scrooge took his handkerchief from his pocket and sobbed, as the spirit of the child cried, "God bless us, every one!"
Are you struggling to get money out of a Scrooge client? Tell us what Christmas treat you plan to buy if they settle their bill in time, and join in the debate on Twitter with the hashtag #scroogeclient.
Image by flickr user Jim, the Photographer is licensed under CC BY 2.0