One of the not so fun areas of running a small business is dealing with accounts receivable. Usually we try to manage our payment process with our clients so that payment is made in full at time of delivery or installation. It’s important to our cashflow and it’s just smart business management.
Doesn’t always work out that way. There are some clients who say they will pay and then don’t. I am exceptionally pleased to be able to share that this doesn’t happen often — I would hazard a guess this happens with less than 1% of our clients. We have a fairly robust follow up process through email and telephone. Most of the late payments are because someone just plain forgot — no problem… a friendly reminder and it’s paid. There are others though where the client just becomes unresponsive— they start ghosting us. These are the stressful ones.
We work hard to have positive experiences with our clients and it’s always uncomfortable when it no longer can be positive. These ghosting situations end up taking a disproportionate amount of time and attention. And the amounts aren’t really big— most of the time it’s less than $500. You will ask ‘well is it worth it – putting all that time and energy into it?’ And that’s a very valid question. But, something happens here and ego gets in the way of logic maybe. We get triggered when a core value is compromised. We enter into a business agreement to provide value to a client and they agree to pay for that value. It’s a principle of honouring your commitments. Plus, it’s easy to feel like you are being made a fool of, and nobody likes that.
So, we don’t give up on an outstanding balance — we just keep going — month after month — following up asking for payment any way we can. I hear Bruce Springsteen in my head right now singing “No retreat baby, no surrender”. We will not give up.
Our follow up techniques start to get a bit creative at this stage. We reach out through social media private messaging. Sometimes we go old school and snail mail or drop off a hardcopy of the physical invoice. We also start to look about and see if there is anyone else we can find connected to the business and then we ask them if they can put us in touch with the appropriate person to facilitate the payment of the outstanding balance. In one recent situation, we happened to have a business relationship with the mother in law of a ‘ghost’. We reached out to her and asked if she could help us get in touch. We received an e-transfer for the outstanding balance the next day. Mums are the best!
We have one open case we are working currently. Our contact is no longer with the company, and the company is not responding to our emails through their general email box or web portal. There’s no Mum to reach out to this time either. So, we’re reaching out to employees of the company asking if they would point us in the right direction of who to connect with. There’s $110 at stake. Wish us luck!
If you have ideas on how to collect on accounts receivable, please share them as comments. I’d love to learn through your experiences.