All businesses go through the process of submitting invoices to customers, and collecting payments. Businesses also have the problem of not having their invoices paid on time or not being paid at all. We know that invoicing and keeping track of payments coming and going out of the company can be difficult to manage, but it must be done to stay afloat in this hectic world of business.
In order to master the art of invoicing, and ensure you get paid on time, here are a few tips to consider when engaging in a business transaction of any sort with your clients or customers.
1. Use a Contract
When entering into a new business relationship with a client, make sure to set up a contract that outlines the following:
a. Key details of the work to be done for them
b. Responsibilities that each party may hold
c. Payment terms and late payment policies
d. Expected amounts the client will have to pay
By providing these details, and making it clear to the client, it can avoid any misunderstandings that can occur later on. It can also ensure that payment will be made in reasonable amount of time.
2. Choose your Invoice Language Wisely
Make sure your payment terms are described at the bottom of the invoice, in clear and easy to understand jargon. For example, payments due within 30 days, simply say “30 days” instead of saying “Net 30”. Some other things to keep in mind when wording invoices are:
a. Politeness matters: simply saying something such as “Thank you for your business. Please pay within x days” increases the chance of an invoice being paid sooner rather than later.
b. Apply late payment fees: include a message outlining the late payment fees on your invoice. In doing so, it may get you paid slower, but increases the chances of getting paid
3. Invoice Early and Often
As soon as you deliver to your client, have an invoice ready to go for them. The sooner they receive an invoice the sooner you get paid, which is essential to your business. So make sure not to let an invoice fall through the cracks.
If the amount owing is a large one, don’t be afraid to break up the payment into smaller ones, making it easier for the client to pay. By doing so, it makes it easier for the client to pay more promptly. One thing to keep in mind when billing for partial payments is to clearly state that this is a partial payment for such and such services or goods, in order to avoid any confusion.
4. Detail your Invoices
Make all invoices detailed and itemized as much as possible. This can take more time, but it can save time from having to clear out misunderstandings over what is being billed for, and what may still be outstanding. Another thing to keep in mind is that if a client is not exactly clear on what they are being charged for, they are less likely to sign off an invoice in a timely manner.
Also, by being detailed, it shows the client what value they are actually getting out of your services, making it more likely they will stick around, and even refer you to their colleagues.
5. Find Out Who Pays You
If your client is a small business, its probably the business owner signing the cheques. If it is a medium to large sized business, then it is probably someone in an accounting department or financial controller. By knowing who and where exactly they payment comes from, it makes it easier to address any outstanding invoices in the future. So when signing a new client, get the name and contact information for the person responsible of payables.
6. Always Follow Up on Outstanding Payments
We all know that all payments are not made on time, and how it can affect our cash flow. So when a payment hasn’t come in by its due date, follow up with a quick email or friendly phone call to remind your client of the outstanding payment. Make sure to emphasize the late payment charges, to ensure they pay you sooner rather than later. After the initial follow up, continue to follow up once a week until you’ve been paid, and don’t be afraid to use a statement of account, that outlines how much they owe, what, if any payments have been made, and by how many days their bill is outstanding.
7. When Legal Action is Necessary
What to do when a client ignores polite reminders? Put a stop to any ongoing work for the client. As for the payment expected for the work already done, send a strongly worded letter prompting payment. If that fails, consult a lawyer, and have them send a letter on your behalf. A letter from a legal consult is usually enough to prompt the client to respond to you in some way. For small businesses, and independent owner-managers, this is usually not necessary, but it is better than having to go to small claims court, which could be a last resort if the amount owing is a substantial amount, and worth the effort.
If you find a client is constantly paying late, find out why. Don’t be afraid to meet with them, and talk to them. It could be a simple misunderstanding, such as they feel that all the work has not been completed for them, or it could be a bigger issue. By taking the time to find out will not only ensure you get paid, but will also help establish a valuable relationship with the client, or find out how valuable they actually are to your business.
By following the above steps, will not only make invoicing easier, but also ensure that your business has enough cash to stay afloat and spend less time chasing down payments so you can do what you do best…growing your business!