Late payers

Yesterday my business had £15,344.22 of invoices outstanding, of which £2,449.50 was over 30 days old. We had an overdraft of £911.31.

Today we have £9,525.22 of invoices outstanding of which £1,529.50 is overdue. And we have money in the bank.

We should never have actually been overdrawn because there is money in the deposit account, but we went away for the weekend, straight from working Friday, so did not transfer money over to cover the business credit card bill of more than £1,500 going out Friday.

But the reality is, had our clients paid us on time, we would not have been close to going overdrawn.

Dealing with late payers

Late paying customers are a pain. There are some that do it regularly – I usually stop working for those, and some that do it occasionally. And there are some who pay on time, all the time, but then lose and invoice or make a genuine mistake.

I’ll admit to having paid late myself. I do tell my providers that if they have not heard from me within a week of sending me an invoice they need to phone me as I have missed it.

Best practice

And that is key. The best advice for billing and following up payments is as follows (I wrote this years ago – do as I say, not as I do):

  1. Credit check prospective customers through agency reports, bank references or from other journalists before agreeing to supply, not after the sale has been agreed.
  2. Monitor existing customers and review them twice a year.
  3. Grade your customers by risk levels and treat each account accordingly, setting credit limits and terms for each customer. Consider making companies apply for credit terms.
  4. Pay close attention to quickly growing companies or companies that have been, or are being, taken over.
  5. Before agreeing payment terms, determine whether a customer’s situation is likely to improve or worsen.
  6. Watch for a sudden change in orders; a dramatic increase could signal that other suppliers have stopped supplying.
  7. Make your terms of trade clear and unambiguous, including stating your intention to use the late payment legislation. Negotiate and agree payment terms at the point of sale, not afterwards.
  8. Get a confirmation that what you have supplied has been received and check that the customer is satisfied with the quality and number delivered. Errors or faults are often used as an excuse for delaying payment.
  9. Always invoice on time, accurately and to the correct person responsible in the format they require, using purchase order numbers or any other references necessary.
  10. Chase up within a few days to ensure the invoice has been received, is in the correct format and is being processed.
  11. Chase up the invoice a few days ahead of the due date or a few days ahead of the company’s cheque run.
  12. Check the status of each customer before supplying further material. Do not continue to supply if the account is overdue. Set special terms (7 or 14 days) if the customer has paid late before; if the customer fails to meet the special terms, revert to pro-forma invoicing/cash on delivery – or cease supplying altogether.
  13. Take action to collect debts and use the legal tools at your disposal, including the late payment legislation, to claim interest and charges.

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