“You can expect a visit from a Sheriff of the Court with a court order to take possession of your personal assets so that they can sell them in a public auction to cover the debts.
“The sheriff will arrive early in the morning, before you take the children to school. They know that people in your situation normally duck and dive, so they want to get to you before you leave your house for the day.
“He will serve you with the papers, and then come in with some police officers. You and the children will probably sit in the lounge while they take an inventory and then they will get you to sign for the assets that they take.”
By this stage I was no longer listening - it was difficult to hear over the roar in my ears and the nausea was making it difficult to concentrate.
Then he leans back in his chair, waves his hand in the air and says “But then again, it may not be that bad.” I sat up again and paid attention as he outlined a less-than-worst-case scenario.
I took action after that meeting, drew up a list of all my assets and all my liabilities, both personal and in the business. I liquidated what I could, retrenched staff, including my parents, made arrangements to pay the smaller accounts. Then I approached some of the bigger ones, armed with total transparency. In the face of a clear statement of accounts and facts, we made certain arrangements.
But one day, the Sheriff of the Court did come knocking at my door. It was 11 am, not first thing in the morning. And my children were already at school and did not have to experience this. Immediately I recognised that this situation was not the worst case scenario that I had envisioned before.
The Sheriff was a very polite, older man and accompanied by only a uniformed driver. Strike two against the threat of 'worst case'.
He came in, showed me the paperwork and explained it patiently. The Court Order did not in fact say that my assets could be taken. I listened, showed him my accounts and my paperwork and explained what I had done to address my situation. He advised me how to approach the woman responsible for payment arrangements as he had dealt with her often. His advice helped me to secure a simple and affordable repayment plan which immediately resolved the threat and pressure of that debt.
Two weeks later, the Sheriff returned. This time he apologised - to me - for having to bother me again. This Court Order did say that, at his discretion, my assets could be seized. He came in for a cup of tea at my old, round kitchen table. We discussed the paperwork and he looked around, casually, from his chair, without taking inventory. And then he uttered magic words.
Have you ever heard something said to you that creates two opposing emotions at the same time? He said to me “There is nothing here worth claiming to settle your debts.”
My immediate emotions were relief as well as “What’s wrong with my stuff that its not worth enough for you!”
But of course I kept that to myself. I was very relieved to keep my old, round kitchen table, second hand piano and ancient TV set.
His report to the suppliers, was that I had nothing worth taking. His advice to me, was precious. Again, he advised me how to approach the suppliers and negotiate with them, and again I was able to create a payment plan that relived my immediate situation, even if it has become a long term commitment.