Dear Kier, I'm having trouble getting paid...

Welcome to Dear Kier - your credit control agony aunt. Each week, I'm dedicating time to help you solve your payment woes - whether you're a credit controller, small business owner, or even an accountant or bookkeeper. The questions I receive, along with my best advice, will be published below.

You can learn a little more about me, my story, and my credit control experience over here.

And, if you like, you can send me your own questions with “Dear Kier” in the subject to: dear.kier@chaserhq.com or tweet me @chaser_kier. If you'd like to remain anonymous, simply add “ANON” to the subject line. All emails will be deleted after a response and won't be published on the blog without permission.

Without any further ado, let's get stuck in!


How do you boost response rate to payment-chasing emails?

Submitted 11 Feb 2019 by Anonymous

Hi there,

I’ve seen your Dear Kier posts and wanted some help with my experience. I work as the office manager at a recruitment agency based in Durham and I’ve been asked to take charge of chasing payments as part of my role.

I’ve not done much of this before and have been sending lots of emails and making the odd call but I’m just not getting the amount of responses that I’d like. My emails get ignored with maybe 1 in 5 getting back to me.

How do I get their attention?

Thanks,
Anonymous

Kier's response

Legal notice: As a representative of Chaser I provide this advice on the understanding that you will consider the consequences of your chosen actions. Neither Chaser nor any Chaser employee will be liable on any basis for the consequences of your use of it.

Hi there!

Really excited to get stuck into this one. I do have a few tricks for this kind of situation.

Firstly, I’d say that you have to remember that chasing money is a human interaction, like any other business transaction. Some people have a habit of falling into the trap of being too robotic with the way they ask for payment, as it’s a sensitive subject. You have to make sure you're courteous and professional, for sure, but not robotic. We spend a lot of time at Chaser making sure that the human touch is always at the forefront of everything we do.

I once read a really interesting book that was recommended to me by a former colleague (and now good friend) called Inside the Nudge Unit: How small changes can make a big difference. It focuses largely on a unit created under David Cameron’s government whose mission was to increase the amount of interaction they got from the public with various government programmes. Whether it was encouraging people to take mandated courses or attend workshops on how to get back to work.

It was a fascinating read, chiefly looking at how humanising those interactions, sometimes with just tiny changes to the wording of messages, could have a massive effect on the responses they received. (The results were staggering too!)

To bring this back to your situation, try starting an email with “Hi, how are you today?” or explicitly recognising that their time is precious with “I understand that you’re busy, however...”. Some things to consider when drafting your messages:

  • Show empathy
  • Respect their time
  • Give context

That last point is key. People are much more likely to act if they understand your predicament. Add something like ”With it being such a busy time of year for both of us, being able to rely on payment dates is key to us being able to deliver a great service”.

So next time you’re drafting an email or planning to make a phone call, think about the person on the other end and avoid being that robot. It might not sound like much but I think you’ll be surprised at what it does to your response rates!

I’d love to know how you get on.

All the best,
Kier


New customer goes silent on paying high-value invoice

Submitted 21 Jan 2019 by Anonymous

Hi,

I’m in a bit of a bind with one particular customer. I run a confectionery business and halfway through last year received a sizeable order from an outlet that I hadn’t worked with before. We were communicating fine and on receiving a purchase order, I shipped the order and provided a delivery note.

Fast forward 6 months and after a host of excuses they’ve gone quiet. They won’t answer my calls or emails. I even tried sending a letter. I'm not sure what to do next. I can see online that they’re still trading, which is frustrating, but I don’t think I have the money to take them to court.

What do you suggest?

Thanks,
Anonymous

Kier's response

Legal notice: As a representative of Chaser I provide this advice on the understanding that you will consider the consequences of your chosen actions. Neither Chaser nor any Chaser employee will be liable on any basis for the consequences of your use of it.

Thanks so much for sending this one in. I'm sorry to hear that you’re in this situation. While it’s uncommon for debtors to go completely quiet, it does happen from time to time. It’s best to always have a credit control procedure written out, no matter the size of the business you're working with, just in case you find yourself in these situations. As part of that procedure, to reduce the likelihood of this happening again, I’d strongly recommend credit checking customers before doing business. The two services I'd recommend for this are either:

To resolve your current situation, I'd first recommend contacting the debtor one last time. Appealing to their sense of decency or finding a different person to contact can help re-ignite the conversation and get the invoice paid. Failing that, applying for a County Court Judgement (CCJ - providing the debtor is UK-based) is the next obvious step.

Although it might not seem like legal proceedings are an affordable option, applying for a CCJ online starts at just £25 (with a full price list available here). Plus, it sounds like you’ve got a solid paper trail, which will definitely help your case.

To file the CCJ you’ll use the government's Moneyclaim Online service. Before you get started you’ll need to find your local county court and have the company name and registered address of the debtor to hand (as per what’s listed on Companies House). The Moneyclaim website explains how to submit the claim quite succinctly and it should take around 30 mins to complete. At the end you’ll be prompted to make a card payment to pay the fees.

You won’t need a stack of evidence unless the defendant makes a counter-claim. When prompted though, include a quick summary of:

  • The age of the debt
  • The invoice number
  • The address and name of the defendant
  • Any late fees added

Once submitted, the court will issue a letter to the address that you listed advising the defendant that a court claim has been made against them and that they have 30 days to respond with the attached response form. Once this time has passed, if no response has been made, you’re then able to apply for a warrant for an additional fee. On approval of a warrant, the court can then request that a bailiff attend the property to reclaim the debt.

It’s rare that CCJs progress to the warrant stage but in the unlikely event that it does, feel free to drop me another email and I'll be more than happy to provide further advice.

I really hope this works out for you.

All the best,
Kier


New year, new you

Submitted 31 Dec 2018 by Anonymous

Hello,

I run a small law firm with the help of my wife and a particularly indulgent Christmas period has brought up the subject of our spending. As part of this new focus on saving we’d like to tackle our (arguably neglected) aged debtors, however we’ve got great relationships with our clients as many have been with us for years and we don’t want to rock the boat too much.

Do you have any advice on how to tackle the dreaded backlog going into the new year without upsetting too many people? We know they’re likely to be in a similar position, you see...

Thanks,
Anonymous

Kier's response

Legal notice: As a representative of Chaser I provide this advice on the understanding that you will consider the consequences of your chosen actions. Neither Chaser nor any Chaser employee will be liable on any basis for the consequences of your use of it.

Hi!

Thanks so much for sending this question. It’s definitely something that’s going to be on a lot of peoples’ minds at this time of year, so it’s good to be thinking about it as early as possible.

There’s a fine line between being too pushy and doing yourself a disservice so you have to think carefully about the dynamic you have with your customers and what their limits might be. My first piece of advice would be to remain polite and above all be honest. Don’t go in cold demanding money at a particularly sensitive time of year without any context or preamble. Empathy is a powerful motivator when used correctly, so think about how you might like to broach the subject. It’s perfectly reasonable to say you’re doing some ‘house-keeping’ and need to tidy things up before entering into the year ahead.

When you’ve decided on your tone the next step is to create an email schedule. If you use Chaser this is easy, as it only needs to be set up once and the software will send them for you. If not, be sure to write one out and mark dates to follow up in your calendar.

I’d also recommend using different wording from your standard email chasers in this case. Keep it bespoke to capitalise on the specific nature of this time of year. Each email chaser should be friendly yet precise, and change in wording as they develop, as to not appear like a copy and paste job. Sincerity is key. Then schedule a phone call after 2 or 3 emails if you’ve not had any success.

Finally, I’d recommend offering a life-line. By this I mean if in the first instance they’re not able to pay, or worse there’s no response, present a more attractive and manageable option such as a payment plan. It’s largely the case that debtors do actually want to relieve their burden but can’t for one reason or another. Offering a plan means that they get the satisfaction of making a positive step towards resolving their situation and you get a solid commitment to pay. Once you have that commitment it’s much easier to hold them to it as it’s something that they themselves have negotiated with you.

I hope this helps and good luck with your business in the new year!

All the best,
Kier


David vs. Goliath

Submitted 30 Nov 2018 by Anonymous

Dear Kier,

I’m a freelance copywriter that has a reasonably wide portfolio of clients. My smaller clients are fine but whenever I’m dealing with large corporates retrieving payment is always a headache. They just pay whenever they want.

Do you have any advice for dealing with larger companies like that?

Thanks,
Anonymous

Kier's response

Legal notice: As a representative of Chaser I provide this advice on the understanding that you will consider the consequences of your chosen actions. Neither Chaser nor any Chaser employee will be liable on any basis for the consequences of your use of it.

Great question! Thanks so much for submitting, this is something I've been asked a lot. I myself have been a freelancer and know all about that David vs. Goliath struggle.

Firstly I would check to see if you signed any kind of agreement on registering as a supplier. It’s quite common for the procurement teams of larger companies to make all suppliers adhere to their own supplier terms, and nestled in amongst all the legal jargon is often a line about payment terms. It’s quite common for them to pay on 60 or more days, as for them that’s 2 months worth of interest accruing in their account.

If you’re sure that you’ve not signed anything like that, in theory, these businesses should adhere to the same rules as any other. Your biggest challenge is dealing with the bureaucracy that comes with these firms, and my advice would be to be firm and persistent. Send initial emails so that you have physical proof of your chasing (or use Chaser to store them), but then favour phone calls. Call the main switchboard and ask for the Accounts Payable department. When you eventually get through it’s likely that they’ll deal with you in scripted responses so be sure to get them to answer:

  • “When are your payment runs?”, and
  • “Do you need a purchase order?”

When you eventually get a promised payment date from them, and it’s not within your payment terms, kindly remind them that you’ll need to receive payment by X date or statutory interest will be added. I've included a couple1 of resources2 below for more info on this.

In short, large companies will try to slow the process by making you jump through hoops. Make sure you’re leading the conversation - polite persistence pays after all - but in some cases you may just need to be a little more firm.

One final thing to note is that some freelancers are worried that being too pushy collecting payment will jeopardise their future with a large customer. Whilst this does need to be considered, I would add that the size of these companies often means that something is going to have to go pretty south before it works its way back up the food chain. There’s generally not too much cause for concern.

I hope that helps! Good luck and let me know how you get on.

All the best,
Kier


Additional resources:

  1. Gov.uk service to check large businesses payment history: https://www.gov.uk/check-when-businesses-pay-invoices

  2. More info on the application of statutory interest: https://www.gov.uk/late-commercial-payments-interest-debt-recovery


By clicking Subscribe, you agree to our Privacy Policy.