'Cash is King'
One of the keys to a successful business is positive cash flow. If you have more money coming into your business, than there is going out, you will always be able to settle debts as well as invest in and grow your company.
You need your customers to pay on time. You need to be able to pay your suppliers and your staff. You also need to be able to invest in the business to hire new staff and purchase new technology and have the funds to continuously improve your business and how it functions.
No matter how many invoices or how much revenue you bring in and how many assets you have, you will have no income if your customers are not paying you on time.
Debtors are the people who owe you money. Whether they are overdue on paying an invoice, or their payment is scheduled for next month, they are in debt to you.
Prevention is key to ensure you are getting paid on time and fast. Can you get paid before you do the work? What are your terms, and how are you receiving the money?
Product-based businesses will usually have good cash flow because the customer will pay for the product when purchasing. Then the creation and/or delivery of the product will then occur.
Product businesses may suffer though if they are purchasing in wholesale. For example, if there are 30-day payment terms on 500 units, you need to have enough money to pay for this and be able to make money back. You will need to know your supply and demand and pay careful attention to your inventory days.
Service industries often only get paid AFTER the work is complete. This can impact cash flow if the job is postponed or takes longer than usual, especially if the project is already being completed over a long period of time.
Can you get paid upfront?
As a general rule, we advise that at least 50% of the product or service is paid for upfront / before the offering has been made.
This deposit will protect you in cases where clients go bankrupt, they pull out, or they are not happy with your product or service.
Your cost has then already been covered by the deposit, and something is better than nothing!
There are different ways you can make sure to get paid at least a percentage figure upfront:
- Payment terms of 50% paid now and 50% paid upon completion of the service/product
- 100% paid upfront - the product or service not completed until payment is complete
- Recurring charges, such as a subscription service, you will receive payment regularly, and then you will give the product or service.
Terms of business
If you offer a service, you should have a clear and concise agreement upfront.
You should send the invoice the moment the work is agreed; you can always update this in the future or if you need to charge for extra work you can do this as and when, but at least you know the initial invoice is agreed and you should know when it is going to be settled.
Your consumer will know how much it will cost, they can budget for it, and you will know how much you will be getting paid.
The clearer you communicate with your customers from the offset about prices and timescales, the happier they will be to continue to buy from you and the clearer you will be on how much profit you will make and when you will make it.
We recommend for small businesses that the payment date should be 14 days from the receipt of invoice if possible. If the invoice is not paid within this time or within the right timescale for you, i.e. 30 days, this will negatively impact your cash flow.
'The more options you give people to pay you, the more likely they are to pay.'
Customers can pay you through various applications, whether this is Xero, Stripe, Paypal or other methods.
At Cone, we use GoCardless. GoCardless automatically collects payments on a schedule, e.g. monthly. Gocardless can also be used for ad-hoc payments if you regularly work with clients but not to a specific plan or guaranteed monthly work. This means you can agree for the amount to be taken and do not have to wait for the client to pay you manually.
Debtor days are the number of days between the invoice date/delivery of service and the date of when you actually receive the payment.
The average number of debtor days in the UK in 2019 was around 42 days. That is almost a month and a half between invoice or even delivering the service - and then getting paid.
This figure should be lower, and the lower, the better.
If you are delivering big projects - such as building work or developing a large project, it may be worth considering setting up a payment plan such as monthly payments. This ensures you have a regular monthly income for the project rather than completing all of the work and still waiting afterwards to receive the lump sum.
Automation for Invoices
Automating your invoices and invoice reminders will save you a lot of time and create many efficiencies, and different apps can help you to do this.
In Xero, there is a built-in invoice chasing function, and you can schedule automated emails based on the due date. Most systems will have reminders to go out after the invoice due date, e.g. 'your invoice is seven days overdue' and 'your invoice is fourteen days overdue'.
But, you should make sure that you start the conversation earlier.
Set up an email template to be sent three days BEFORE the invoice is due - check in with the customer and remind them that the invoice is due in three days.
On the day the invoice is due, another template can be sent to check-in and alert the customer that the invoice is due today.
You can still have the 7, and 14-day reminders go out afterwards if the invoice has not been paid yet, but having the conversation earlier and giving reminders before it is overdue will help it to stay in the customers' mind. You will know they are well aware it is due.
Around 60% of people pay on the second chase!
Other apps that can help you automate this function are:
Chaser app https://www.chaserhq.com/integrations/xero and
You could also set up a Zapier connection between your invoicing software and an emailing software such as Mailchimp.
It's OK to ask for the money that you are owed!
Many people feel an awkwardness around asking for money and payments, even though they've earned it and the customer has agreed to pay!
You could set up an invoices@ email for your business, solely for chasing clients and communicating with them through this email regarding invoices and payment reminders.
Remember, you are offering a service that this consumer wants and has agreed to pay for. You have shown up for this and delivered, and they know they have to pay.
If you don't have them already, write up terms of business.
State your payment terms and price as well as any other necessary information.
Make sure you check in with your mindset - remember you can do this!