Many of the businesses I have worked with in the last 9 years business coaching in London, especially those in service industries, have come to me with a bank of uncollected invoices. Some of them have even had debtors owing them for work that was done months, sometimes years, ago.
Chasing up invoices is probably one of the most tiresome, time-consuming and immensely frustrating parts of running a business. And it’s almost definitely not what you got into business for, is it?
After months of unanswered phone calls, voicemail messages and emails, you might get to a point where you decide it’s easier to give up and write it off rather than persist. This leaves you out of pocket for work that you completed – this leaves you without money your business actually earned. Alternatively, you could keep chipping away and trying to contact the client, but if that is not systemised, it usually means you are wasting time and resources that could be used on more important matters. Clearly, this is not the most effective way of managing your team and makes the entire process more stressful than it needs to be.
So, with this in mind, here is a simple four-week plan that we give our clients to ensure that the process of following up on unpaid invoices is organised to decrease the number that drop off, and increase the cash being paid back to you, without any unnecessary wastage of resources.
An invoice that is one week late could be due to a genuine oversight by the client, so it is important to just give a gentle nudge at this stage. The majority of clients will appreciate the reminder and pay it immediately.
A friendly yet firm email is sufficient, informing the client that their payment is now overdue, and asking them to arrange payment as soon as possible.
It is fair to assume that, if the client was going to read your email, they would have done so within a week. If they have not paid at this stage, they have either not seen your email, or have decided to ignore it.
The best thing to do is call the client (this can be done by a junior member of staff, as it is not yet an urgent matter) and ask them why the invoice has not been paid. Offer to help them with any issues that they might be experiencing.
If the invoice has still not been paid after you have spoken to the client directly, then the issue should be passed to a senior member of staff. The client may be disputing the invoice, or might simply need a more forceful push to encourage them to pay the debt.
You should send the client another email advising them that the matter will be escalated if the invoice is not paid within a week and that they can get in touch if they have any issues.
A senior member of staff should call the client directly if the invoice has not been paid by week four, providing the client has not contacted you to discuss any payment difficulties.
Note: if they have contacted you, you might decide to offer the client an extended deadline, or set up some sort of payment plan.
The senior staff member should make it clear that the matter is now serious and that, if the invoice remains unpaid, legal action will be taken.
It is rare that after this stage, a client will not pay the invoice. If they still do not pay, then you are likely in the realm of having to decide whether legal action will be worth it at this stage or not.
However, implementing this simple four-week follow-up process, or investing in business consultancy services to help you introduce the system, will mean that your business can streamline its approach to unpaid invoices. When we have seen our clients introduce this system, it has invariably saved them time, money and stress.
If you are struggling with even figuring out who has lapsed in payments – or you have so many that you need to figure out who to prioritise – check out this video on following up with aged debtors, where I go into more detail about how to set your Terms of Trade, map out your debtors, set targets, and decide who to chase first.
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