Archana, there are only a limited number of excuses you will hear regarding an invoice that has not been paid. The designated person responsible for collection must be aware of the frequently used reasons, valid or invalid, and be prepared to answer the excuse and make the collection. The following account for approximately 90 percent of the excuses used:
Product or service not satisfactory or incomplete.
Bill not received by e-mail or regular post.
Bill not correct – overcharged or other errors.
Lack of money. We haven’t been paid yet by our own customers. Don’t have the money.
We have already paid the invoice, the check is in the mail or an internet transfer has been affected.
The job was not satisfactory or correct - Determine the problem and arrange for the appropriate person in your company (usually the accountant) to have the problem investigated, corrected, resolved, and then immediately communicated to your customer by e-mail. Enter the details of this communication in your files. Upon notification of the resolution of the problem, the customer is called and the commitment for payment is confirmed. Under no circumstances should the individual responsible for collecting Accounts Receivable negotiate a reduction in the invoice to secure payment.
Invoice not correct - overcharged - Make the necessary correction, if justified, and e-mail invoice.
Lack of Money - Ask when they will have it. Get a definite commitment for the date when a check will be mailed or paid by some internet facility like Paypal. Ask for the check number and amount as a means to ensure that payment has been made.
We never received your bill - Verify to whom the copy of the bill should be mailed and the address. Obtain their e-mail address or fax number and e-mail or fax them a copy immediately. Ask when they will make the payment after receiving this copy. Follow up in 5 days.
We have paid that bill or the check is in the mail - get the check number, amount, and date mailed. If the check has been in the mail for more than 10 days, request that the customer stop payment and issue another check.
Regardless of the excuses given, the purpose of the contact with the customer is to get a commitment for payment and collect money that is due while keeping the customer satisfied.
When all other collection efforts have failed, a formal letter should be sent to the customer. Here, you are serving formal notice that unless payment is received within _____ days, the account will be turned over to the collection agency/attorney - as applicable.
It should be noted that whatever decision has been made at this time, it must be followed through. It is always more desirable to get a commitment from a customer to make regular payments, even in fairly small amounts rather than have to pursue other collection methods.
I am the Community Manager for Business.com. I see this topic come up in the community all the time. It can be frustrating with the lack of response or plethora of excuses that come from the client on why he/she is not able to pay for the services rendered to them. George Mikituk listed some excellent, actionable steps you can take right away in the attempt to collect the money owed to you.
For more advice, the Business.com team recently published a guide on How to Handle Non-Paying Clients, which outlines steps you can take to prevent non-payments in the future, as well as how to approach and respond to non-paying clients.
Unfortunately, collecting late or ignored payments is uncomfortable no matter what. However, the Business.com guide will help you approach clients professionally, so you can be confident that your business handled the situation as best as it could.
You've already received some good advice from George and Taylor. Allow me to shift the perspective somewhat. The time to worry about non-payment is before you begin any work for the client. For instance, I require new clients to pay a non-refundable deposit up front. It typically ranges from 33 to 50 percent depending on the nature of the engagement. This ensures that you will cover your upfront costs at a minimum. The best part? You need to have this discussion only once since, after the first time, the client has been trained to pay a deposit for subsequent projects.
All these answers are good. One thing to consider is there are other ways to get paid.
Does this client have a following or fan base?
Are they willing to market and sell for you in exchange for your services?
Are they willing to bring in paying clients in exchange for a commission to pay down their bill?
Are they willing to conduct some telemarketing calls for you?
Do they have website or newsletter - such that you can advertise on their sites?
Are they associated with relevant events and trade shows, such that you can make avail of their booths or contacts?
Take a look at their Social Media network. Do they have any contacts that you want to be introduced to or partner with?
Are they in a position to provide important business connections?
If this client has additional value (other than payment) - take advantage of those opportunities in exchange for the bill. The results may be more valuable than the cash.
If the client doesn't have an extensive business connection - then ask for a positive video testimonial, google or yelp review. Video an interview with them such that they state their situation before your service, and then what your improved situation after your services. Use their project results as a Case Study to illustrate your value and quality of work. Ask their permission to publish their results on your website, brochures, and newsletters.
There are many ways to use their project as a marketing tool - in exchange for payment. Having this kind of marketing tool is priceless.
Getting paid is one of the most challenging questions in any business regardless of the size of the enterprise. There is the delicate balance between retaining customers vs getting cash into the business for survival.
There are 2 questions in these matters. Firstly, what do you do with your current debtors, and secondly how do you avoid future problems with non-payers.
There are some excellent answers here for the former so I won't go over old grounds, but here is some for the latter.
One of my guiding principals in life is that “Making mistakes is OK, but not learning from a mistake can be fatal. Mistakes can become positive experience if we learn from them, but they will remain a mistake if we make them again and again! Successful people never repeat the same mistake, they just make new ones!!”. So yes, I have plenty of experience which means I have made plenty of mistakes, but I am here because I have never made the same mistake twice :-)
Our business is purely service based (web design, development, web hosting, and consulting). In all cases we take 50% of the total cost of the project in advance. This means only 50 % of our revenue is at risk (it is better than 100% being at risk).
In the case of web development or software development, we do not hand over the code to the customer until 100% of payment is received by us. I know many sales people will be horrified, but as business owners we have to live in the real world. Once we handover the code, we have no way of recovering it. It is not like a car that we can go to court and repossess.
Perhaps this is something you could explore.
Wish you the best