Mahon Digital is a full-service digital agency based in the UK, Finland and Estonia, providing digital marketing, paid advertising, SEO and website design services to their international client base.
We sat down with founder and MD, Saija Mahon, to talk about getting paid, the difference in payment cultures across Europe and how GoCardless and Direct Debit have brought them a predictable way to track payments and monitor cash flow in the business.
The challenge of late payment in the early days
Saija Mahon started Mahon Digital in 2010 as a 'solopreneur', after a successful career working in Finnish and London-based digital agencies. She’s grown the business steadily over the past seven years, opening three offices and taking on 14 employees, but late payment of invoices is something that’s been an ever-present challenge for the company.
“You know what, it’s always a challenge to get paid – and it continues to be a challenge. I’m part of a lot of groups for entrepreneurs, start-up owners and other business networks, and I’m not unique in finding late payment an issue. It’s very annoying not to get paid on time because I have overheads and salaries that have to be paid on time and I need to pay the taxman on time.
So it’s always a challenge, and in the UK the payment terms are usually 30 to 60 days – so you’re already waiting a long time for payment. It’s very frustrating sometimes.”
How UK payment culture differs from the Scandinavian approach
As a UK-based Finnish entrepreneur, Saija gets to see the different ways that countries approach the payment of outstanding invoices. And she’s noticed a clear difference between payment times in the UK and in her native Scandinavia.
“In Scandinavia, Estonia and the Baltic countries, I don’t really have to chase for payment. The business culture is so honest and transparent. They pay 14 days on time, every time. I’ve had my Scandinavian business for almost six years now and my accountant doesn’t have to spend any time on chasing invoices, whereas in the UK it’s completely different.
Late payment in the UK has become a bad habit that no-one wants to seem to get rid of. I really appreciate the payment culture in Scandinavia, being appreciated and getting paid for your work on time. Our UK clients obviously appreciate what we do, but at the same time it’s frustrating when I see in other markets that the payment culture is very different.”
Late payment in the UK has become a bad habit that no-one wants to seem to get rid of.
Getting proactive with the payment challenge
With her experience of 60-day+ payment times on some of their UK agency invoices, Saija knew that a solution was needed to reduce the 5-10 hours per week the Mahon Digital team was spending chasing up their late payments.
“Originally, we had a few people paying by standing orders, but bank transfers were usually the most common payment method that we had. But that means clients remembering to pay, or you get the ‘Oh, we didn’t receive the invoice’ response, which is a common one.
We use Xero for our accounts and invoicing. So our accountants now deal with the chasing of any payments, and I’ve removed my team from it and myself from it. However, if you’re a one-person business or a small company and you deal with the customer service, payments and invoicing – as many SMEs can – then those awkward conversations could potentially cause a dent in your business relationship with customers.
You’re doing the work, trying to be motivated and go the extra mile – and if you don’t get paid then it doesn’t motivate you, and it takes time to chase.”
How GoCardless has transformed payment times in the UK
It was Mahon Digital’s accountant who first suggested the transition to GoCardless and Direct Debit, to remove that chasing workload and to make their payment times faster.
“We work with RS Partnership, a very good accountant and business advisers. In the UK, they provide an FD service to us, give us advice and do just about everything on the finance side. They suggested GoCardless to us a couple of years ago and we’re in the process of trying to implement it with every client – especially when new clients come in.
The accountants love having GoCardless for Xero. Everything is synced and you can go to this one central platform and see your if your invoices have been paid, and do lots of forecasting and calculations on your profitability. That gives you a more stable view of what’s going to happen over the next six months, rather than worrying what’s going to happen
Payment by GoCardless is now standard policy for our payment terms. And that’s because it will help our cash flow, it will help to get paid on time because it’s Direct Debit and it’s heaven-sent for that late payment issue in the UK.”
Having the cash flow needed for growth
Being able to automate cash collection, and by doing so remove the need for those awkward conversations to chase payment, has been a huge benefit for Saija and her team. And the improved cash flow has allowed her to open their new Estonian office in the tech hub of Tallinn.
“Streamlined payment with GoCardless stops those awkward conversations with clients, it saves time and it obviously helps cash flow – that’s a huge thing! But it also means you can focus on growing the business and not spend time trying to get the money you’re owed.
We invest in our growth, and obviously we need money coming in at a reasonable time to do that and to ensure that all of these three offices continue growing and I can continue paying salaries, hiring people and keeping jobs in the business. But it’s all tied in to cash flow, of course, and it takes a huge amount of stress away from the business owner.”
Driving a change in payment culture with GoCardless
So, does Saija think the UK can get out of it’s bad payments habits and start embracing a more transparent approach to paying suppliers on time? Is it time for a change?
“I’ve suggested GoCardless and Direct Debit to people within my networks. The way of invoicing in the UK is so ingrained into the old way of doing things so Direct Debit is not yet the standard. But hopefully change is happening right now – all of us need to change our bad habits.
As businesses, we need to move onto GoCardless and this Direct Debit way of paying. That way everybody gets paid, everybody’s cash flow is better and everyone should have more money available – because no-one is holding up that chain of money.
If we all change to this seamless way of paying, the money will start flowing around a lot better!”