For the majority of customers and clients who do cough up on time and present no issues when it comes to paying their bills, there are always the odd few stragglers who slip under the net and cause you grief. Aside from the obvious gaps in your finances, these rogue customers also cause you the type of stress and disruption that you just don’t need so we’ve put together some advice on dealing with the situation in a prompt but professional manner.
The aim of the game, of course, is to reach the finish line with both the pending cash in your pocket and the customer still on side but as with most things, there will likely be a number of hurdles to jump over along the way. Whether it’s through financial struggles or sheer ignorance, clients and customers who don’t pay their fees are something you simply can’t afford to tolerate. This situation is particularly risky for start-ups and small businesses that are running on a tight budget, so keep on reading for guidance on tackling this tricky dilemma.
Lay down the laws from the off
As the saying goes, prevention is the best type of cure and this concept wrings particularly true in this type of situation. What we are saying here is that by being absolutely transparent and explicitly clear with your clients and customers before they even become clients or customers is a great way to head off any potential payment issues.
Although the topic of money is notoriously awkward, when conducting initial consultations or meetings, be sure to broach the subject. This will ensure that they know exactly how much money will be required of them, when this should be paid and what they will be getting for the suggested fee. It might also be worth outlining briefly what would incur additional charges further down the line so both parties are singing from the same hymn sheet.
If and when they do eventually sign up as a client or customer, you should go through this information with them again face-to-face but this time also put it all down in writing. Draw up a concise and explicit contract so you can’t be blamed for any misunderstandings or gaps in their knowledge at a later date. Include a clause that explains what action will be taken should a client or customer fail to deliver payments then both keep a signed copy of the document in your records.
Set an example of prompt punctuality
If you’re going to insist on impeccable punctuality from your clients and customers with their payment deadlines then you need to return the favour when it comes to sending through invoices and bills. Whether you choose to send these documents in hard format or electronically, be sure to do it promptly and consistently so that the customer gets into a routine of when money needs to be paid. Setting a regular date when invoices and bills will be sent will establish a regime that customers are more likely to adhere to.
When sending these documents, you also need to be sure that they are distinguishable from regular emails and post to avoid being tossed into the growing pile of ‘things to avoid and ignore’. If you are sending them via the post in paper form then stamp the envelope with the word ‘invoice’ in red ink to catch their attention and leave no room for the ‘oh it must have got thrown away with the junk’ excuse. A similar effect can be achieved electronically by using the subject box to your advantage and stating that the email contains an important invoice document.
Reminders, reminders, reminders
No we get down to the nitty gritty, when clients and customers fail to make their payments on time. While this is extremely aggravating and disrespectful, you do need to remain calm, polite and professional when dealing with the situation and always give the customer the benefit of the doubt. Set a predetermined time frame (which you should outline in the preliminary contract) and if the pending payments haven’t been made within this period (usually 10-30 days), send out a physical and/or electronic reminder.
Should this fail to rouse their response and you are still yet to receive the money owed to you, carry out a phone call reminder in which you can speak directly to the customer. This will enable you to gain more insight into the situation and establish if there is a valid reason as to why they haven’t met their financial requirements. Remain rational and professional in explaining that they are currently in breach of their contract and owe you X amount of money and if it isn’t paid, you will be forced to take legal action. Quite often the threat of legal dealings is enough to scare them into footing the bill and the issue should then be resolved.
Support from a legal body
However there will also be those particularly difficult cases where you either still can’t get in touch with the customer in question or when you do make contact with them, they outright refuse to pay their bill for whatever reason. If this reason is due to financial instability meaning they are struggling to collate the funds needed to pay you, then you could offer them an extended deadline or the option of instalments. But if they are refusing to cough up for an unjustifiable reason then it’s time to factor in some professional back up.
Suing through a small claims court is the first port of call as it doesn’t require the presence of a lawyer, which means minimal hassle and expenditure on your part. You can also reach out to a reputable collection agency who will go about dealing with the collection on your behalf. Sometimes this is the best option for keeping the situation as calm as possible and avoiding any detrimental backlash. Seeking the expertise of a qualified legal body is only really necessary if the pending payment in question justifies the costs that you would be obliged to fulfil in return for their services.