Your products are on the store shelves and you’ve fulfilled your end of the bargain, complete with promptly submitting invoices. Still, you find yourself cash-poor as the lapsed invoices languish on some accountant’s desk.
Wringing prompt payments out of clients begins with you, according to Susan Trivers, president of the Revenue Driver-Trivers Consulting Group in Virginia. “The most important thing that people can do to get paid on time is to believe that they are entitled to get paid on time,” Trivers said. “It is a mindset that you are not doing anybody a favor when you are in business. You are earning the money.”
Starting with that mindset, it’s important to talk about your payment terms at the beginning, even before you agree to do business together, Trivers stresses. “People tend to be afraid to do so because they don’t have the mindset that they deserve to get paid, and they think that they might lose the business,” she says. Sometimes you’re better off not getting the business, she adds.
Trivers, who is a business consultant, says she offers to provide clients with a proposal and, during the conversation, she tells them her terms for the project.
Businesses should not accept any assertion from a client that they have their own policy to pay in an extended period of time, she emphasizes. “When a company says, ‘It is their policy,’ I say, ‘You are buying from me and I set the policy, and if that’s a problem we can stop,’” Trivers says.
From the start, you should be sure to get the name and number of the person who writes the checks, she continued. “The thing about getting it when you’re starting the work or you’re establishing the terms and conditions is that they’re not anticipating any problems,” she says. If you wait until later, they may put up obstacles to giving out the information.
Trivers also stresses it’s important to specify the payment terms starting from the date of invoice. “Then you should say that the invoice is going to be sent today, so that they understand that it’s today, not in 30 days,” she says.
Then, 10 to 15 days before the payment is due, the business owner needs to call the accounts payable department to make sure that the payment is scheduled as promised.
“You say very nicely, ‘Oh, I’m just checking to make sure that my invoice is in your payment schedule for the date,’” Trivers says. “Let them know that you’re serious.” She urges owners to call back five days before the payment is due, to make sure once again that it’s scheduled to be paid as promised.
While she does allow a few extra days for mailing the check, if it isn’t scheduled to be issued by the agreed-upon date, this is the time to become vocal. “You say, ‘We have a signed agreement and it’s very explicit and I expect to get paid on that date. If you can’t guarantee it, then I need to talk to the manager,’” Trivers says.
If you still don’t receive your check, the key is not to quit, she stresses. “If you have to call them every day, it’s really obnoxious, but remember you deserve it,” she says. Each person must decide for themselves, but if it’s more than five days past the due date Trivers advises taking drastic action – writing a letter to the CEO of the company explaining that you were happy to provide them with the goods or services and you have a signed agreement but you are not getting paid according to the terms of the agreement. “You will generally get a check in two or three days,” she says.
Jeromy Sonne, director of accounts at Sonne & Taylor, a Denver advertising firm, has found offering an inducement to pay promptly can sometimes help. The company now offers a discount to clients who pay in less than 15 days.
“It’s not a lot, but it’s surprising how that really motivates people to get checks out the door,” Sonne says. Likewise, the company charges a small amount of interest after 30 days. “It’s built into our contract when we start a relationship to say, if you pay before 15 days, you get a discount, if you pay between 15 and 30 days there’s no penalty and if it’s after 30, it starts accruing,” he says.
Sonne uses “Harvest” software for the invoicing process, which includes a feature to automatically follow up with clients at a set interval. His firm has this set to automatically contact clients on a weekly basis. He views such reminders as invaluable. “Sometimes with past clients I tend to believe that slow payments are less malicious and more that they’re busy and things fall through the cracks,” Sonne says.
He reminds service providers it is not incumbent on them to provide generous payment terms. “If you’re a service provider and you’re giving your clients any sort of payment window, you’re acting as a lender,” he says. Keep that in mind, and it ultimately becomes easier to set terms that don’t amount to providing clients with a free line of credit.