Last editedMar 20233 min read
More than 440,000 small firms in the UK could be forced out of business because of cash flow problems caused by the late payment of invoices, data from the Federation of Small Businesses (FSB) has revealed.
The data, which was drawn from a survey conducted In December 2021, revealed that 30% of the UK’s 5.5 million small businesses had seen the late payment of invoices increase over the last three months, with 8% warning that the problem has become so bad that it was threatening the viability of their business.
Late payments: a long-standing issue for businesses
The problem of late payments has been a constant and long-standing frustration of the small business sector, with firms often forced to pay their suppliers, wages and other bills while facing long waits to be paid themselves - a problem that the FSB data reveals has been made even more acute by the pressures of the pandemic.
Our research into 'money muteness' also indicates the "very British trait" of leaving things unsaid is one the factors contributing to businesses being under- or unpaid. 25% of British small businesses feel uncomfortable talking to their customers and suppliers about money.
How to deal with late payments
To help you overcome the barriers to timely payment, we’ve put together our top five tips for dealing with late payments.
1. Set your terms and expectations at the start
Make sure your customer is clear on your payment terms right from the start – highlight what they need to pay, when they need to pay it and whether there are any penalties for late payments and then display it obviously on each invoice.
This will help to avoid customers paying late simply because they weren’t sure when they should pay. It will also help make conversations about late payments a little less awkward as you’ll simply be reminding them of the terms rather than surprising them with penalties or deadlines.
Tip: Consider shortening your payment terms. Most companies tend to use 30 day payment terms but you don’t need to. It could be worth discussing with the customer upfront to try to reduce your terms and stop your invoices being left on the backburner. Asking for payment sooner means you’re more likely to stay near the top of your customer’s to-do list.
2. Send out invoices promptly
Making sure you invoice immediately can help to ensure you are paid on time. Where possible include:
Your company name, logo, registered address and company number (if applicable)
Your terms and conditions
Details of the service or product
Any reference or order number
The amount due
The invoice date and number
The customer’s name and address
Your payment details
If relevant, how much VAT has been charged, your VAT registration number and a VAT breakdown for each item on the invoice.
Tip: Make sure that this information is all accurate - any mistakes could mean the invoice is sent back and payment is delayed.
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3. Make it as easy as possible to pay you
Paying your bills isn’t always easy – not only do you have to remember in the first place but you also need to write and send off the cheque, spend time waiting to pay over the phone or make sure you’ve got everything you need to log onto your online banking.
Tip: Consider how you can make it easier for your customers to pay. This could mean sending reminders at a point when they can actually pay, letting them pay in a way that suits them, offering ways to pay you there and then or even just making sure you always include all your payment details in reminders.
4. Talk to your customer about why they’re not paying on time
Good communication with your customer is key to avoiding late payments. It may be that your customer has a real reason for not paying you on time. By speaking to them early on you may be able to work with them to solve the problem perhaps by doing something as simple as changing the payment date or offering instalments.
Tip: If you’re collecting recurring payments consider using an automatic payment method like standing order or Direct Debit. Once a Direct Debit or standing order is set up, your customers no longer need to worry about remembering to pay you each time as you can take a payment as soon as it’s due. What's more, you won't need to waste any more time chasing for late payments. It's a win-win situation for you both.
5. Give your customers regular reminders
Often all a customer needs is a reminder to jog their memory. You could try calling them a few days before the payment is due or follow up late payments with emails and calls.
Tip: Automating your reminder emails can save you time and effort. With providers like FreeAgent, you can write your unpaid invoice reminder email and then set this to be sent out automatically whenever a payment becomes overdue.
Can automation help you minimise late payments?
Rather than automating your reminders, you could automate the whole payment process. With Direct Debit and standing order, payments can be taken automatically whenever they’re due meaning that you won’t need to worry about late payments ever again.
This was certainly the case for The Fulfilling Station who reduced their debtor days from 59 working days to just 10 by asking customers to pay using Direct Debit.
To find out more about how using Direct Debit could help you avoid late payments check out our guide to Direct Debit.