How To Get Your Clients to Pay On Time
By Marco Terry
Two things you can do to get paid on time by your customers
There is nothing more frustrating to a business owner than delivering quality products and services on time, only to have to deal with a customer that pays late. Slow and late paying clients can drain your resources and be a major source of frustration. Many slow paying customers seem to require multiple collection calls, reminders and cajoling in order to finally pay. At their worst, slow paying customers can create significant problems, especially if cash flow is tight.
When cash is tight, many owners tend to go into “collections” mode. They will try every conceivable way to get late paying customers to pony up. This is an understandable knee jerk reaction to a tough problem. Unfortunately, it seldom works. Late customers will keep paying late. And good paying customers will get upset by the collections tactics. This ends up being a lose-lose situation for all involved.
However, there is a better way to handle this situation, and it is a way that produces good results in relatively little time. All you need to do is to manage your clients and invoices as will be suggested in this article. Once you implement these techniques, you can stop worrying about your slow paying customers and start focusing on doing what you like most: running your company.
There are two things that you can do to ensure that you’ll get paid on time. First, you need to check out the credit rating of your commercial prospects, before doing business with them. This is very critical and easily done if the prospect is a business (rather than a consumer). Second, you need to implement a program to follow up on your invoices, but, using the right way. If you do these two things, you will minimize the time and frustration of chasing slow payers and maximize the time you spend growing your business.
So, how do you check your business prospect’s credit?
Remember this important rule. The best way to avoid having a client that pays late (or worse, one that never pays) is to not take them as a client in the first place. It really is that simple! You can accomplish this by screening their business credit rating before doing business with them. The most common way to do this is to get a commercial credit report from one of the major credit bureaus (Experian, Dun & Bradstreet, etc.). Most business reports show detailed client information including payment trends and a business credit score. The payment trends are important because they show how quickly the prospective client is paying his other vendors – a good indicator of how quickly he will pay you. Commercial credit reports are valuable tools that should be used to screen all potential business clients. You will find that the small investment in time and dollars will save you lots of hassles and potential losses.
The smart way to manage your invoices
Managing your invoices correctly is critical if you want to get paid on time. This is necessary, even if your customers are “good”. Fortunately, it doesn’t need to be complicated or time consuming. You just have to do it consistently. The first thing you need to do is to keep track of your invoice aging. Most accounting packages such as QuickBooks™ can create an invoice aging report. The report shows the length of time that an invoice has been open (and unpaid) and is a critical business management tool. You should check this report every week and plan your collection activities around it.
Also, you should plan to follow up with clients on their late paying invoices regularly. Just remember that most clients will try to pay their invoices at the last possible minute. This means that a payment may arrive a day or two after the due date. If you haven’t received the payment by the third day after the due date, you should call the client to inquire about its status. However, be sure to be polite. All you need to say is, "I am calling to inquire about the status of the payment for invoice #321.” If a check has not been cut, follow up by asking if there is a target payment date. When making follow up calls, remember to be persistent, persuasive but above all, polite.
Following these techniques should help you book good quality paying clients that will help strengthen your company’s bottom line.
What can you do if you still can’t afford to wait? Is there a solution?
Sometimes, business owners cannot afford to wait the usual 30 days that most commercial customers take to pay an invoice. If this is the case, you might want to consider invoice factoring as an option. Factoring is a financial tool that is specifically designed to help you afford to offer credit to your customers.
Factoring is a tool that allows a business owner to capitalize on the power of their slow paying invoices. It allows you to turn your invoices into immediate cash, enabling you to afford late paying customers. You do this by selling your unpaid invoices from good paying customers to a factoring company.
In the typical factoring arrangement, the factoring company will purchase the financial rights to your unpaid invoices and provide you with an advance payment on them. You can get this advance payment usually within a day or two of selling the invoice. The factoring company then waits to get paid by the customers, while you enjoy immediate use of the funds.
However, invoice factoring is not for everyone
Factoring companies make their revenues by buying your invoices at a discount and then waiting to be paid by your customers. That means that they will pay you less than face value for them. Their fees can range from 1% to 12% per transaction, depending on a number of criteria such as volume and customer payment trends. To be successful with factoring, your company should be well managed and have gross margins of about 25% or more.
Also, factoring companies will only buy invoices if your customers are credit worthy. A customer is considered credit worthy if a reasonably good payment record exists. Factoring companies can help you evaluate the credit worthiness of existing and new customers, to make sure they meet this criterion. Many times, a factoring company can act as the credit department for your business. This is a critical feature of a good factoring relationship and helps ensure that you only do business with good clients.
Although not for everyone, invoice factoring can provide you with the financial wherewithal to offer payment terms to your best clients and supply you with working capital to grow your company.
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