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Manage your debt and get paid on time

One of the most important rules for a successful business is to swiftly collect money that’s owed to you – it should be coming in faster than you must pay it out. This means being able to deal effectively with customers who owe you money, because the last thing you want is a protracted debt collection process that could wind up in court. It’s time consuming, expensive and stressful.

Establishing efficient systems means that not only will you get paid faster, but you’ll also reduce the risk of late or non-payers. The more robust your payment and credit systems are, the less your chances of having to chase up debtors. At the end of the day, prevention’s infinitely better than a cure, so keep the following in mind:

  • Offer immediate payment options – people like paying on the spot, especially for a job well done. If your business offers a service that customers can pay for immediately, using a mobile payment option, then not only do you have the money faster, but you don’t have to waste time sending out and chasing up invoices. Talk to your bank about what solutions they can offer, such as online payments, debit and credit cards, and mobile payments.
  • Don’t let it fester – if you do have to send out invoices, don’t put off chasing them up. The longer you leave it, the harder it’ll be. If you have a good accounting system, you can set up a flag system so you know who owes money and when.
  • Run credit checks – if you’re going to offer credit terms to your customers, check them out first. That way you’re making an informed decision about the risk you’re taking. You can do this at Equifax or TransUnion. If you do decide to offer them credit, make sure you have a credit agreement in place where you’re both clear on the repayment terms.

Be careful offering credit

You might be tempted to offer credit terms to everyone, but it’s better to be choosy when you’re deciding who to accept. To help avoid fraud be wary of:

  • Unusually large orders – watch out for customers that order small amounts, pay on time, and then place a very large order. If you do decide to accept the order, ask for a deposit or progress payments, and of course, ensure you’ve checked their credit rating.
  • New customers with no credit history. If you are selling to other businesses, be careful as new start-ups often run short of cash.

Collecting debt

If your business uses invoicing payment options and you do extend credit, you’ll probably have to chase up customers at some point, despite your best efforts.

Before you begin debt collection procedures, make sure the debt’s valid. It’s important to confirm that you’ve supplied the correct products and services, in the right amounts, for an agreed price within a certain time frame, and of a certain standard and quality. Once you’re sure of that, it’s time to chase up what you’re owed.

Make it personal

If you can put a human face on the debt, reminding your customers that what they owe is affecting you personally, they’ll probably pay up faster. Try:

  • Phone calls – speaking to your customer directly is a good way to personalize the issue, and if there are any misunderstandings, you can clear them up. Sending emails – instead of a past due notice – that emphasize the trust you placed in them is also a good way to make it personal.
  • Offer a payment plan – if your customer is in genuine trouble, offer to let them pay in increments. Make sure you draw up an agreement outlining the payment plan.
  • Explain to them that the money they owe you is important for your business, and that as you don’t have stacks of spare cash lying around, you need it for your operations.

If you can, try to be flexible when it comes to repayments. You could agree to accept goods for their resale value or accept a service instead of cash.

Hire a debt collection agency

If you’re still not getting anywhere, it might be time to call in the professionals. They are, after all, the experts, and they know what methods work. However, it’s a big step because when you get a debt collection agency on the case, you’re probably going to alienate that customer for good. If they’re a habitual non-payer, you might not see this as any great loss, but it’s still important to think carefully about what the impact will be on your relationship with your customer.

Going to court

This really is a last resort and should only be used when absolutely everything else has failed and the debt you’re owed justifies the cost of a legal intervention. Speak to your lawyer about the process, cost and potential outcome and make your decision based on their advice.

Summary

If you want to avoid a stressful collection process, the key is to have robust systems in place so that you minimize the risk of having to chase debtors. You know the saying that it’s easier to prevent fires than it is to fight them; the same is true of getting paid what you’re owed.