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Money / Financial management

Improve cash flow cycle by retraining your debtors

A good cash flow cycle is one in which the period between paying your expenses and getting paid by your debtors is as short as possible. Here are some strategies to tighten yours up.

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Prevention is better than cure

If you’ve effectively taught a client that they have 60 to 90 days in which to pay you, it is then very difficult to get them to start paying on time.

To avoid this, make sure you and your client both agree to the credit terms when you set a new account up. This may include discounts for early payment, or interest charged for late payments.

Communicate with your clients

Once these terms are in place, monitor them by communicating with your client so they are always clearly informed of when they are expected to pay.

It’s also good practice to communicate about how late payments will be handled. For example, a three-step process may involve a phone call at two weeks late, a letter of demand at one month, and referral to a collection agency at two months.

Be assertive

If a debtor is already out of hand, don’t worry; you can still rein in your cash flow cycle.

A lot of micro-businesses are scared to request prompt payment because they feel they will lose business by being too demanding, and they let their clients elongate the cash flow cycle.

"The squeaky wheel gets paid first, so be that squeaky, indispensable, wheel."

You need to assume a more assertive attitude, because once you’ve provided goods and/or services, you’re working for free until your customer pays you. And if you don’t ask for payment when it’s due, that client is paying another business on time. The squeaky wheel gets paid first, so be that squeaky, indispensable, wheel.

Want more articles like this? Check out the financial management section.

Speeding up slow payers

So your client is paying at 90 days and you want them to start paying at 30 days? Changing their behaviour requires a gradual approach.

If you’ve let your clients pay on longer terms, you have to work with them to make changes; you can’t just pull a stick out and start beating them with it.

Call them more frequently, and sooner than you usually would. For example, if someone is paying you regularly at 90 days, start calling them at 30 days and say ‘The invoice is due, can you please advise when it’ll be paid?’

Another method is to start putting pressure on them earlier. A week before the invoice is due, send them a reminder, or call them up to make sure they’ve received the invoice and intend to pay on time.

You don’t want to lose your client by changing your credit terms dramatically, but do explain to them that you need to be paid on time.

Dealing with exceptional circumstances

If there have been exceptional circumstances that prevent your client from paying on time, find out if what they’re saying is plausible. If they can’t afford to pay the entire amount, develop a payment schedule and be clear on the consequences if the instalment terms are not met.

Be transparent

Lastly, let late payers know that you are accountable to someone else: you may want to refer to a supplier waiting on the payment to flow through, or mention your accountant, business coach or a third party agent. This puts a little performance pressure on your client, as they know that a late payment will be visible to other parties.

Have you managed to retrain your slow-paying clients? What tactics have been most effective for you to improve your cash flow cycle?

Colin Porter

is an entrepreneur and managing director of CreditorWatch. His passion is helping businesses minimise their risk to bad debt and protect their bottom line.

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