Risky Business: dealing with poor payers is a business nightmare
By Martin McAllister
As a business owner, it's rarely possible to completely guard against bad debt; after all, the only way to avoid debt would be not to trade at all. Running a small business is not without risk, but there are steps you can take to reduce the risk of debt. All companies have to get paid somewhere along the line, and it is important to be aware of the nature of your customer at the outset of any trading relationship.
It is often advisable to carry out a credit check on any potential client before entering into a trading relationship, especially if you have no prior knowledge of the client. Also, give the client a credit limit which reflects the credit rating of the client: if the credit rating is low, then it is advisable to give the customer a low credit limit and vice versa. If the client exceeds their agreed credit limit, or invoices remain unpaid, ensure that no further goods or services are provided until the account is brought back within the terms of the agreement.
It's also a good idea to keep an eye on your customers' payment history. Poor cash flow or too many debtor accounts are the top problems facing most small businesses – second only to low turnover or lack of business in the first place.
In addition, you'll want to ensure that your customers know and understand the terms of their credit agreements prior to commencing any trading with them. Providing the customer with a copy of the terms and conditions which they must sign and return to you can help in the event of legal proceedings to recover payment. Furthermore, make sure that any invoice includes the terms of payment and a due date.
Over time, if a customer's payment of their invoices becomes progressively more sporadic, or even worse, aren't paid at all, its maybe worth making enquiries with the customer as to the reason for late or non-payment. They might be having financial difficulties - possibly through lack of business - or perhaps their own customers aren't paying them, resulting in their failure to pay you.
But, if all your attempts at collecting have failed, what else can you do? You might consider legal action in order to try and receive your money through the court. Or, you might instead employ the services of a debt recovery company. There are numerous debt recovery companies, such as Capquest who can assist in reclaiming debts, or in some cases will buy the debt from you, although at a reduced rate.
However, whatever you do, don't let the problem become so large that the account is no longer manageable: deal with the problem sooner rather than later.
About the Author
There are numerous debt recovery companies, such as Capquest, who can assist in reclaiming debts.
The Capquest Group are members of the Credit Services Association.
Martin McAllister is an online freelance journalist. He lives in Scotland.
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