Don’t start celebrating until the check clears! (Part one) A guide to effective collections.

The Check is in the mailWe assume that as a solopreneur you plan to make money. And in order to make money you must get paid by your customers in a reliable and timely fashion.

Do not, I repeat, do not underestimate the importance and difficulty of the collections process.

You need to have a collections system to insure that you get paid because  most customers do not automatically pay their debts on time.  Some will string you out intentionally to help their own cash flow and use your money for financing their business.  Customers who do pay their debts on time without any prompting from you are as scarce as hen’s teeth and are to be treasured.

Before granting a potential customer credit terms, it is imperative to perform a credit check.  (We’ll discuss this process in another installment.  Need to know now?  Please send us an E-mail.) And be sure to obtain complete contact information for the person in your customer’s organization who is responsible for paying their bills.

Once you have successfully shipped your customers’ goods, you will need to bill them, letting them know when payment is due.  (We’ll discuss proper billing and shipping in another installment.  Need to know now?  Please send us an E-mail.)

In order to get paid in a timely fashion, you will need a tracking system for all outstanding invoices. We use a simple, straight forward paper list of all the invoices issued.

Now, when a payment is coming due, what do you do?  Here is our recommended process:

1. About one week before the invoice in question is due, send an E-mail to the accounts payable agent (we’ll call her Jane Doe) that says something like:

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>> Dear Jane Doe:

This is a reminder that our invoice #???? in the amount of $????.?? Will be due on ??/??/????.

Thanks for your help.

Best regards,

Your name and company contact information.

>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>>

Tip: Always be polite and professional.  It is quite easy to let your emotions run away with you especially if you really need the money.  It may be tempting to scream at somebody with “So where in the $#@& is my money!!!!”  Don’t you dare do it!

 2. If you have not heard back from Jane with a payment date or have not received payment by the day after payment was due, send a follow-up E-mail that forwards your previous E-mail to dear ol’ Jane and politely ask her if she received the original payment reminder.

Tip: Don’t ever assume that delivery of E-mail transmissions is 100% guaranteed.  Jane may have not received the original payment reminder.  (I know, I know, you’re mumbling “Fat Chance!!”)

3. If you don’t hear from Jane within a day or so, you may need to resort to the telephone.  Once again, always be professional and courteous over the telephone.  However, at this stage you need to also be firm.  You need to get a payment date from Jane.

Tip: Be sure to clarify whether the payment date she gives you is when the check was (or will be) issued, or the date when the check went (or will) go into the mail.  If you have a “the check is in the mail” date, you can estimate when the check will hit your mailbox.  (I think that only one time in 35 years has the USPS lost a check that was mailed to me.)

4. If you were told that the “check is in the mail” but you don’t receive it after a reasonable, usually anguishing, period of time, you have to practice extreme patience.  (I was behind the door when patience was passed out.  However, even I have gotten better).

It’s time to call Jane again and let her know (POLITELY!) that you just can’t understand it but you have not received their check yet.  You want to portray an air of innocence and curiosity, not accusation. Jane will most likely tell you that something came up and she forgot OR the roads are too icy in their area for mail pick-up OR the person authorized to sign the check is on their death bed OR she has to check with the lackey who was supposed to actually put the check in the mail box OR maybe their company mascot ate the check OR they don’t have any money right now – you get the idea.

Before ending the conversation, ask Jane when (get a specific date and time) you can call her back to pin down when the payment will go into the mail.  This step is critical.  Then, of course, call back at the agreed time for status.

5. Repeat this process until you get the paid.

Got questions about this — or any other — business operation? Feel free to email angelo@solopreneurhotline.com.

3 thoughts on “Don’t start celebrating until the check clears! (Part one) A guide to effective collections.

  1. So glad that your system works for you Kirsten. Thanks for your comments. When selling products to other companies it is very difficult to require payment up front unless you have a one of a kind product that enables you to have a lot of clout. My experience with my company has required us to grant credit to most of our customers and effective collections are necessary for us to continue.

  2. As a solopreneur, I do not offer credit or billing. Payment is due upon receipt of services. If clients choose my discount packages, I ask for payment up front. This has worked great for me and I haven’t received any complaints from clients.

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