One of the challenges of being an entrepreneur is having to do it all yourself. For small business owners accounts receivable can be a bear. There are sales, marketing, HR, strategic planning, budgeting, accounting, inventory, shipping. In some ways, you know more than your larger counterparts!
Adding to the challenge of mastering these many skills are the small things that crop up every so often. One of these is trying to recover money from a non-paying client or customer. In order to increase your cash flow, it’s important to build a proven accounts receivable system that grows with you.
Build a payment schedule
You already have a billing and collections policy. (And if you don’t, it’s time to build one.) If it’s not fully implemented and automated, now’s the time to get that system running. With the help of your billing software, create instant reminders when payments are late, and establish a schedule and procedures to follow up. Ideally, this should become an automated part of doing business.
Adjust your policies
Sometimes, all it takes are a few changes to boost your inflow. For example, when collecting client information, get their permission to call or text your cell phone and require a deposit before they get the service. If bills are going out in 30 days (or longer), it might be worth speeding up the cadence.
Within a few days of service, follow up with a phone call or email. Verify that the service was completed, ask if the customer has any questions or feedback, and finish the call by letting the customer know their final amount due, and when the invoices are going out. It’s not uncommon for unhappy and dissatisfied clients to ignore the bill or postpone payment. Early contact is one way to head this off.
In addition to having a late fee built into your policy, reward customers who pay early. For example, offer a 2 percent discount for payment received in 10 days.
Give laser focus to overdue accounts
When the due date passes with no sign of green from the client, it’s time to follow up. (Hopefully with some of these proactive measures, this will happen much less often.) It is here where small business owners get shy out of fear of annoying the customer. In reality, waiting diminishes your chances of recovering the money. Be proactive, and step up your attempts to connect before the next billing cycle. Start with a courteous email. If nothing comes of that, be persistent. Increase contact frequency to at least once a week with phone calls, follow-up invoices, and emails.
Work with a collection partner
It’s a common myth held by entrepreneurs that only larger companies can afford to work with a collection agency. When late payments reach the 90-day mark, IC System has several right-priced solutions that even a sole proprietorship can use.
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About the Author: Brian Eggert
Brian Eggert is a business development specialist and writer for IC System, one of the largest receivables management companies in the United States. With 18 years in the collection industry, Brian's experience includes operations, client service, proposal writing, blogging, content creation, and web development.