Increasing sales mean customers value your hard work, your innovation, your creativity – what’s not to love?! In the modern world very few businesses sell without offering credit to their customers. (If you’re a retailer who accepts cards then potentially someone else offers credit to your customers…)
In this case more sales are good but what you really need to focus on is more payments from customers.
One of the things I’ve noticed is that when businesses grow everything gets busier. It’s amazing how sales go up and all of a sudden customers take longer to pay. When you send out more invoices somehow more go missing in the post (*although this might just be an excuse for late payment…).
The result of this is that although you are busier, needing to buy more materials and pay more wages there may not be any more cash at hand to pay the bills.
So how do you manage customer credit? Here’s my action plan:
Make sure you have chosen to offer credit to each customer, not just let them have the goods on a promise that they’ll pay later.
Do you know the customer? Have you done business with them before? It seems simple, but first impressions from a face to face meeting can tell you a lot about the customer.
Also take time to look at their business premises, does it look organised and well looked after?
You probably have a new customer form to record delivery and contact addresses etc. It’s a good idea to include your standard payment terms (eg 30 days) and ask for trade references from existing suppliers.
Credit checks can also be helpful, and there are a huge number of different agencies who offer these services. However the best option is to make the decision based on your own impressions.
UP TO DATE
This is the number one thing about accounts – you can only make good decisions if your information is up to date. It’s worth paying for a book keeping service to make sure that you can rely on your accounts.
Once you’ve offered credit to customers and your accounts are up to date you need to keep track of who owes what:
– How much do they owe?
– When did they last pay?
– Are they buying regularly but not paying regularly?
– Have they been buying regularly and then stopped, without paying what they owe?
– Are there some invoices which seem to have been overlooked for payment? (Maybe they have genuinely been lost in the post?)
Don’t let issues go unchecked. Maybe this seems arduous, but this information should mostly come from your book keeper/ accounting software.
It’s important to share some of your information with your customers.
– Send out statements regularly, at least once a month.
– Send copies of old invoices if they appear to have been overlooked, email makes this really easy.
If it’s proving difficult to get money out of certain customers you need to rely on the personal relationship we discussed before. Phone contact is usually more effective than letters, it is harder to ignore.
On the phone, be realistic. Being rude might get you paid this time, but will probably not keep the customer in the longer term.
Ask what the situation is, is there a problem? Try to respond creatively to what you’re told – if bills are paid on a certain day of the month you could work around that. If there’s a hold up due to a delay in your customer’s customer paying you could take that into account.
Do keep a record of your conversations though; do you always get the same excuses or the same promises? If you end up needing to consult a solicitor because you can’t get the customer to pay you will need to have a record of what you have done to try to recover the debt, but this is the very worst case scenario.
It really is worthwhile thinking about your process for keeping track of customer credit – you’ve already done all the hard work to find the customer and make the sale so getting the payment is the final piece of the jigsaw.