Taking the decision to stop supplying a client can be one of the hardest decisions any company has to take. With every piece of business so hard won it can be difficult to take a firm line with your credit control and potentially prejudice further income.
But when a customer persistently refuses to pay in full and on time, sometimes you are left with little option but to act.
For thousands of small to medium sized businesses, cash flow is probably the single most important aspect of financial management. And yet when it comes to planning and forecasting, it often receives scant attention. Indeed, many businesses unfortunately only realise how crucial cash flow is when problems occur.
Unless you have the luxury of an in-house credit controller - which is something even some larger firms can't afford - you might be tempted to take a head-in-the-sand approach to chasing overdue invoices, and simply try to pretend they never happen.
Sadly they do happen, even from trusted long-term customers, and that can lead in turn to some soul-searching: Why didn't they pay? Did I do something wrong? Is there no trust in business any more?
An unpaid invoice is a nightmare we would all prefer to avoid, but you're not necessarily just at the whim of your customers when it comes to whether or not you get paid on time.
It's also important to make sure you are invoicing properly - from the moment you take on a new customer, to how you deal with late payments - so you don't lose a single penny through your own fault and poor admin procedures.
New York publishing house Condé Nast has reportedly come up with a novel solution to the tricky issue of ensuring its contributors get paid on time.
As reported here, the magazine empire behind global titles such as Vogue, Vanity Fair, GQ and Tatler has decided to offer freelance writers an offer they cannot refuse - Condé Nast has very generously offered to pay invoices early, in return for a small reduction in the payment. Must be to cover all of the extra admin involved.
Having to deal with invoices that are not paid on time is stressful for any business owner. Late payments can seriously disrupt cash flow, take precious time to sort out, and can sour relationships with clients.
Most late payments are one offs and arise from perfectly understandable circumstances. With a little dialogue and a little patience, most can be resolved amicably. But what about that small minority of clients who persistently pay late?
Small and medium sized businesses need to be aware of a rising wave of frauds affecting companies big and small. The current most frequently used type of fraud is often called “Fake CEO Fraud” and we would urge all UK businesses to stay vigilant or potentially stand to lose significant sums.
Having to chase late payments is sadly an experience most people in business have to go through at one time or another. But knowing when irritating delays have crossed the line into a breakdown in the business relationship can be difficult to fathom.
Cash flow is important, but long-term survival depends on holding on to the clients that you invested in.
British businesses are facing a unique set of circumstances right now - the global economy is emerging from the deepest recession in living memory, domestic trade is uncertain with the EU Referendum looming, and there are issues of legislation from the National Living Wage to auto-enrolment pensions that are affecting company finances on a national scale too.
With all of this in mind, what are the implications for businesses of all sizes when it comes to getting paid for the work they do?
We recently blogged about Crowdmix, the London-based start-up that went into administration. It’s a sad fact that many businesses fail within their first year. This can’t always be prevented: starting a business is tough. But there are certainly things you can do to avoid disaster.
Profit is important to all businesses, but don’t underestimate the importance of cash flow either.