Oscar Wilde said that “there is no sin except stupidity”. The famous author obviously never tried chasing an overdue invoice! Late payment is a sin in the world of small business. It affects cash flow, wastes time, and causes frustration.
What to Do When A Customer Doesn’t Pay
Zervant has put together a list of the 7 types of sinner you’ll have to face when it comes to late payment. And we’ve got advice on how best to deal with them too.
1. The Loveable Late Payer
A good client that you’ve worked with with for a long time. You get on well with them and they’re a valuable source of business. But they NEVER pay on time. You don’t want to risk damaging this relationship, so what are your options?
It’s perfectly acceptable to send polite, timely reminders about the payment. One a few weeks before the payment is due, then another on the day of the deadline itself. And if your loveable late payer still hasn’t paid, send a reminder a few days after the deadline. All of this can be done in a matter of clicks by using online invoicing software.
2. The Penniless Late Payer
People get inventive when it comes to excuses for missing financial deadlines, such as being “busy looking after a flock of escaped parrots”. But if your client genuinely has no money to pay the invoice, you need to find an alternative solution.
Even if the excuse is funny, the effect on your business certainly isn’t.
Suggest the invoice be paid in instalments. For example 20% this month, 40% next month, and so on. This eases the burden on your client and improves your own cashflow. Be sure to confirm the new agreement in writing to avoid a similar problem next month!
3. The Unplanned Late Payer
Every business goes through ups and downs. A good client may, unexpectedly, miss a payment (maybe they’re suffering from late paying clients themselves?). This doesn’t mean that they’re not going to pay, just that you might have to hold on for a bit.
The poet George Herbert wrote that “good words are worth much, and cost little”. So pick up the phone and find out what’s going on. (Politely) ask when they plan to pay you.
And as they’re usually a reliable payer, by extending the terms this time they’ll owe you a favour next time round. As above, make sure you communicate any revised terms in writing!
4. The Angry Late Payer
You win some new business, you do the work, your client is happy. But when it comes time to invoice they turn from Jekyll to Hyde. Suddenly they’re questioning the price. Or they’re unhappy with the work done. They refuse to pay until all issues are resolved.
If you were at fault, of course make sure you apologise. Thinking forward, how valuable will this customer be? If there’s future potential it may be worth taking a hit now and benefiting later on.
Short term pain for long term gain.
But to avoid such problems it may be best to send an estimate first, clearly stating all costs for the job. With a couple of clicks Zervant will convert this into an invoice when the work is done.
5. The Lord Lucan Late Payer
Some clients have a habit of pulling a Houdini when a payment looms. It’s simply impossible to get hold of them. They ignore your emails, your phone calls go unanswered.
If you want to get your money you might need to look at getting external help. Debt collection agencies or factoring are two options available. But you need to weigh up whether it’s worth the extra time and money to pursue this invoice. Or is it better to write it off as a bad debt and blacklist the customer?
6. The Amnesiac Late Payer
The client that, conveniently, always seems to ‘misplace’ your bank details when a payment is due. They would have paid, they assure you, but they’ve forgotten where they put that piece of paper with your information on. Now they just can’t seem to find it.
With Zervant you can send a reminder in seconds. So you can politely jog your ‘forgetful’ client’s memory as many times as needed.
7. The Corporate Late Payer
They demand longer payment terms than everyone else. And even then they still fail to pay on time.
The bully in the late payment playground.
Once again your best weapon here is online invoicing software. You can send quick, clear invoices and consistent reminders. Make sure that your late payment interest rate is clearly stated on the paperwork. And don’t be afraid to use it.
Where possible, diversify your client base. Try and work with smaller businesses as well as lucrative, larger contracts. That way your financial health isn’t hanging on one large payment from a big company.