“The only man who sticks closer to you in adversity than a friend is a creditor.”
How often have you loaned a friend some cash only to see the friendship turn sour when you try to bring up getting paid back? (Don’t say you’ve never been warned that friends and money don’t mix.)
Your clients, however, are not your friends – they’re much more.
You’re actually in a committed relationship. And a good one will stand the test of time provided both parties follow the usual relationship rules of honesty, mutual respect, good communication and trying not to owe each other too much money.
But you could be forgiven for thinking your client will always do right by you, I mean, after all the countless favours and bending over backwards involved in getting them on board in the first place.
But then one day they stop paying.
They’re not answering your emails.
You don’t think you have done anything to upset them……
…..but don’t reach for the chocolate ice-cream just yet. What have they been like in the past? Is this out of character? Perhaps it’s just a little bump in the road.
Let’s go back to where it all started.
It’s impossible at the beginning of a relationship to know how well it will go, how long it will last or if you’ll end up in court. Learn from all those expensive Hollywood divorces that didn’t have a prenup and make sure you:
Always provide your credit policy and terms of trade upfront to all new clients
Ensure they have signed your contract and understand their obligation to pay up!
Ok, so you both knew what you were getting into.
But there could be several reasons for the lack of communication and late or non-payment of an invoice:
An oversight (lost invoice, new staff member – hey, we’re all human!)
The size of the company could determine how often they do a payment run (no-one cares about your strict 7 days terms if they’ve decided they’re going to pay everyone on the 28th of each month.)
Financial difficulties (their clients could become a little unreliable too.)
Withholding funds because they are unhappy. (This is one of the best ways to get your attention.) Perhaps you’ve broken a promise or provided poor quality of service?
It’s time for action!
Make the first move and call them to find out the reason behind why you are feeling ignored. Here are a few important tips to help with the reconciliation:
- Be polite. Always assume when first contacting them that it’s likely an oversight
- Contact them as soon as account becomes overdue – if you don’t they’ll mirror your behaviour and be in no rush to make a payment
- Send any missing invoice copies/statements as soon as requested – make sure you are not the reason for the delay
- Review your billing cycle. Perhaps a slight change in your invoice date could see you make the cut off of your client’s set payment run rather than being always pushed out to the following month
- Be open to payment plans. Encouraging part payments keeps you in regular contact and allows the relationship to continue, helps them trade out of trouble, and you get something rather than nothing
- Advise your Sales team immediately if you run into an unhappy non-paying client so they can resolve any issues with the product/service being provided. (Remember, getting paid is an important part of the sales process!) But keep your sales team out of direct negotiations regarding chasing money – they’ve spent too long cultivating their business relationship and becoming the client’s trusted advisor
- Your accounts department needs to get to know their accounts department. It’s a fantastic opportunity to develop a rapport of their own which will only enhance the overall business relationship with the client. And if they like you they’re more likely to push your invoice to the top of the pile (no-one ever does a favour for someone they don’t like)
- Remain polite, yet firm, until resolved (there’s no need for it to turn ugly)
One of the key relationships in your business is the one you have with your debtors, after all, your cash flow depends on it. So look after yours by not only being there when it’s going well but by sticking by and working with your clients when times are tough.