As much as you may enjoy your profession, one of the downsides is definitely finding yourself chasing customers for payment for services you have already provided. How is it that the customer who was so available and responded promptly when you were developing the project or discussing the job in hand has all of a sudden disappeared off the face of the earth?
It is an unfortunate problem and one that has undeniably increased since 2008 but it is one that many business-owners face on a daily basis. Here are some tips to help prevent the problem from ever occurring and others that can be used after the event but there are steps you can take before resorting to mafia-style tactics!
- EVALUATE THE RISKS: If a customer contacts you requesting your services especially for those larger projects where there is more money involved, take the time to sit down and evaluate the risks. Consider signing a contract that details obligations for both parties, the expected results and the payment plan. If the project really is worth a lot of money, it may be worthwhile to obtain a risk and solvency assessment so you can see if this person or company has a history of non-payment or whether they are registered on debtors lists such as ASNEF. What is the company’s cash-flow? Would they be able to meet all the costs or will you end up chasing your money afterwards? There are reports that can be obtained online via companies such as e-Informa and Axesor where much of this information is available. Some of these companies offer the first few reports for free but require registry for continued use but an initial, small cost may save you a world of pain later on.
- TAKING PAYMENT UPFRONT: This is an option that is used by many and it prevents investing money and precious time in a project you may not get fully paid for once completed. Even if you choose to charge only 50% of your own fee upfront, if the job requires materials, request the full cost of the materials is paid before work commences so you do not end up paying out of your own pocket. Whatever way you choose to be paid for your services, the terms should be thoroughly explained in your quote so there is no confusion.
- STAY UP-TO-DATE WITH YOUR BILLING: Even though billing is an admin nightmare for many business-owners, it is a crucial part of your business. If you don’t issue bills, you won’t get paid. If you agree to payment in instalments, send your customer a reminder a couple of days before the due date and once the job has been completed issue the final bill promptly. If it seems you can’t be bothered to collect your money, they won’t bother themselves either to organize payment.
- DAMAGE CONTROL: If after all the above, you find yourself with outstanding invoices, it is time to do damage control. This could mean contacting your customer by phone to gently remind them of the missed payment as in some cases it could be a genuine mistake that is easily corrected. If your customer does not follow through after guaranteeing payment by a certain date, you could send a written reminder detailing the service provided, the agreement you reached regarding payment, the outstanding amount and give them a new deadline upon which they must pay.
- DEBT COLLECTORS: If all your previous efforts have proved fruitless, you may wish to contact a debt collecting agency to assist. These agencies use various methods to pressure the customer into paying their outstanding debt to you and normally charge a percentage of any monies recovered as their fee. At the end of the day, if you’re owed a large sum of money, it may be well worth paying the commission if it means recouping part of your money instead of nothing at all.
- LEGAL PROCEEDINGS: This is the final step and should always be the last resort in these cases but if everything else fails, it may be the only option left in one last bid to retrieve your money. If you go the debt collecting agency route, they may have a department that initiates legal proceedings on your behalf but if not, seek a solicitor’s counsel before taking this step and then submit the relevant paperwork at court.
It is not always possible to predict how a customer may respond so that element of risk still remains but hopefully these tips will help you assess a situation before it becomes a real problem and save you much time and resources in the long-run. When you request and receive a service, it is your legal obligation to pay for said service so those who are in the habit of leaving a trail of unpaid bills in their wake should remember that this practice is in fact theft!