Managing cashflow is one of the biggest and most important challenges you will face in your business.
It doesn’t matter how brilliant your business idea is, the old saying “turnover is vanity, profit is sanity, but cash is reality” is so true.
Unless that fabulous new customer actually pays you, in full and on time, they are not a fabulous new customer at all.
It’s crucial, then, not only to effectively manage your finances and keep on top of income and outgoings – but also to do as much as possible to ensure you get your invoices paid as quickly as possible.
So what can you do to help prompt payment?
Before starting work:
- Make sure you have a signed agreement for your work. Ensure your terms and conditions are clear and payment terms are agreed.
- Check out who you are working for if possible – consider looking at Companies House or doing a credit check on your client. A client on the edge of going under is not going to pay you!
- If it’s a significant piece of work, consider asking for a deposit or part payment upfront, especially if you are having to incur costs from the outset.
Once the work is finished:
- Be sure to invoice promptly. This may sound obvious but many businesses don’t invoice as soon as the work is done, and if you are doing several things at once, it’s very easy to totally forget.
- Include a due date prominently on your invoice – in line with your agreed terms.
- Consider payment as soon as the job is done using a card reader. You wouldn’t expect to leave a restaurant and get an invoice next week, so why would you expect to eg pick up your printed fliers and not pay there and then? If immediate payment on completion has been agreed, then make it easy for your clients to actually do this by having the right technology in place.
- Make sure the invoice is correct – and complete. Queries are a very good way of delaying having to pay!
- Consider checking the invoice has been received by your client and it’s all OK. This again stops any “I never received it” delay tactics later on.
- At some point you are probably going to have to chase up someone for payment and this may not come easy to you.
- Remember, business is business, it is not personal – and hopefully more often than not, the payment has just slipped your client’s mind and they will cough up with a gentle nudge.
- A couple of reminder emails initially, with a copy of the original invoice, is a good, professional, non-aggressive way to start.
- If that fails, then you are going to have to pick up the phone. If you are having to call a large accounts department, then do get the name of who you speak to and try to come off the phone with a positive step in the right direction. If it’s not immediate payment, it may be finding out the date of the next payment run, and confirmation that you are on it, or the email address of the person who needs to authorise the payment etc etc.
- Hopefully you wont have to go as far as taking legal action as this is time consuming and takes your attention away from running your business. But don’t be afraid to follow this path, if you have done the work as agreed, then you deserve to be paid. Several small business schemes (such as the FSB) offer discounted rates and free assistance to help you chase slow payers, so if you are a member of such a group, make sure you use the services on offer.
- Whatever you do – don’t start a new project for a client who has not yet paid for the last piece of work – unless you have a very good reason to believe they are good for the money!
Many accounting software packages now can greatly help with your debtor management. The invoice can be prepared quickly and emailed over to your client, standard reminder letters and statements sent out and reports easily prepared to show you who still owes you money and how long it has been owed for.
Chasing for payment takes time and its not fun; so automate as much as you can, and concentrate on keeping your clients happy – as happy clients tend to pay up!!
For more information, please contact Rosie Forsyth at Wilkins & Co.