Working for overseas clients is either a gamble, or a logical expansion, depending on which way you look at it - but as a self-employed contractor, you need to be confident that you will be paid promptly, as international debts can be more difficult to pursue.

A recent client handled by Safe Collections demonstrates this well; Alex Tucker had every reason to expect prompt settlement of his invoices by his Dutch client. He had worked with the company, both as a self-employed individual and as temporary staff, since 2005, as well as supplying services via a third-party limited company.

The Professional Contractors Group have called for an anonymous hotline to be created, allowing small business owners to 'name and shame' large companies that pay late or otherwise try to use their 'brand power' to manipulate payment terms.

While the PCG are calling it a 'witness protection' hotline, we prefer to call it Slimeshoppers, as it doesn't get much lower than a big business trying to use their size as an excuse to withhold payment to small suppliers.

Late payment of invoices is now - for the first time in recent years - the single greatest risk to creditors, even outranking debtor insolvency in a report from credit risk insurer Coface UK.

According to the insurer, 60% of the claims it received in the first nine months of 2013 arose due to "a customer's protracted default" - that is, either late or non-payment.

The world of credit control brings to mind the infamous Donald Rumsfeld quote:

"There are known knowns; there are things we know that we know. There are known unknowns; that is to say, there are things that we now know we don't know. But there are also unknown unknowns - there are things we do not know we don't know."

Admittedly he was talking about weapons of mass destruction, but the same applies to your customers' financial situations, and effective credit control eliminates as much of the 'unknown' as possible, and maximises the 'known knowns'.

Slow payments represent a substantial risk to small and medium-sized businesses, who must often meet the cost of materials and labour for a month or more while waiting for customers to settle invoices.

But SMB cash flows were recently given what seemed to be a much-needed shot in the arm, in the form of the Prompt Payment Code - a commitment from big firms to pay their invoices as soon as reasonably possible, rather than withholding important funds from their SMB suppliers.

The Experian Late Payment Index published on Monday shows again that the bigger a company is, the later it is likely to pay its suppliers, making for a timely reminder of the true nature of 'brand power' and its potential negative impact on small companies' cash flow.

In the third quarter of 2013, the smallest firms, with just one or two employees, paid an average of 20.62 days beyond agreed terms on overdue invoices - the smallest delay among UK companies of all sizes, and a slight improvement from 20.78 days in the previous quarter.

It seems only fitting that Halloween week should be the moment when Blockbuster Video - one of the UK's biggest zombie businesses - reveals that, for the second time in ten months, it is lurching back into the corporate graveyard.

Zombie businesses are those that are only just surviving, but would be unlikely or unable to continue to do so if there were any kind of substantial shock to their ongoing operations.

That pretty much sums up Blockbuster's situation, as current owners Gordon Brothers Europe have been unable to bring the company into the 21st century; former US parent company Dish still own the digital rights to the brand, and competitors like LoveFilm, Netflix and Sky have already cornered the British market for streaming films.

The Centre for Retail Research has published its latest Who's Gone Bust? report, giving an insight into how retail companies have been affected by five years of economic turbulence.

Worryingly for all involved in the sector, it appears that conditions are getting worse; 2012 saw 54 companies fail, matching the previous highest total set in 2008, and with 39 brands failing by the end of August alone, 2013 is on track to be even worse.

Britain's small to medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) contribute some 99.9% to the private sector - but are facing losses of around £3.7 billion due to poor credit control and debt collection processes.

A report from Exact, a provider of business and finance software, tallies up the costs of non-payment to UK SMEs, with some fairly alarming figures for individual examples of unpaid invoices.

Research from the Bank of Cyprus UK reveals the extent to which British business owners are worried about their cash flow - even in the face of decent sales figures, and to a greater degree than they are concerned about the wider economy.

The findings fly in the face of recent headlines in the mainstream media, where you might be forgiven for thinking the state of the nation's finances as a whole is the biggest obstacle facing small to medium-sized businesses.

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