We've all been there. You've sent out your invoices and your reminders. You've considered calling them up, perhaps even threatening them. That invoice though? Still unpaid.
Not all delinquent invoices are created equal and while most business owners focus on chasing their clients for payment, there are ways you can mitigate the risk of a late payment with some simple preparation, prior to sending out your invoices.
How clear is your invoice? What are you highlighting, both on purpose and inadvertently? Most invoices highlight just the total amount due, usually at the bottom in bold.
Your invoices have a far better chance of being paid, as opposed to forgotten, if you highlight a few key elements on there:
List the payment due date in a separate section close to the total amount due
Mention the various ways your customer can pay you
Mention any penalties for late payment
Mention any offers you might have for early payment
Consider the language in which you frame the above points. For example, avoid any harsh sounding language like "a penalty of 10% applies...". Instead advertise the penalty as an undesirable option, something like "avoid paying 10% extra by paying before (due date)".
Not all of your customers are delaying payments on purpose. It is always important to come across as if you're giving them the benefit of the doubt. Language goes a long way to communicating this.
How Easy is it to Pay?
How many ways are there for your customer to pay? These days having a digital payment option is a no brainer. Along with that, you should also, at a minimum, have an account with a digital bank account provider like Transferwise or Payoneer, if you conduct business across borders.
In international business, your clients will sometimes have preferred currencies they wish to pay with. Providing a digital solution, as opposed to a standard wire transfer, not only gives them the option to pay in their desired currency but also reduces your currency conversion fees.
Adding a line, near the total amount due, about your various payment options is a good idea.
That's right! You should not stop marketing even when creating an invoice. This is less of a point about your invoice and more about the mental approach you ought to take with your business.
Marketing is the best investment you can make when it comes to your business since nothing else will give you a better ROI. The purpose of marketing is to nudge people into doing what you want them to do.
The purpose of your invoice, as a document, is to get people to pay you. The language, the design and everything else should essentially convey how easy it is to pay and how much needs to be paid. That's it.
A lot of invoices tend to dedicate a lot of space to listing out your address and then the payer's address. Before you know it, you've lost half your available space.
The language, the design and everything else should essentially convey how easy it is to pay and how much needs to be paid. That's it.
Dedicate the most real estate to a cost breakup and the total amount due. Right next to this, dedicate a section explaining how easy it is to pay and any other offer you have which incentivizes them to pay you faster.
Speaking of which...
If feasible, consider an early payment discount. Marketing this discount is important. If your invoice amount is small, then list the discount as a percentage amount.
If the amount is large, list out the amount they can save by paying early. In short, list out whatever creates a larger impact.
Upon sending the invoice, its a good idea to send links to payment processors within the email body and to list any offers you might have for early payment in there.
A good idea is to allow your customers to opt in to receiving mobile notifications from you upon receiving an invoice, a few days prior to the due date and once the invoice is past due.
For the first two options, include the early payment offer, if any, on the mobile message. For the final message, it is tempting to be harsh on there but always use neutral to soft language and do not come across as threatening.
You do not know what circumstances your customer is undergoing and being harsh with someone is a surefire way to get them to delay even more. Of course, there are some who deserve all the harshness you can give them, but even in these cases it is better to be so once you know the situation better.
The Phone Call
The final step should be to pick up the phone and call your delinquent customer. While it is not possible to exactly explain how this conversation ought to go, remember to use a polite and empathetic tone unless the person is outright rude.
A good idea is to negotiate a partial payment over the phone and to immediately send a link or email to enable them to pay the amount. Perhaps you could work out a barter agreement instead. The possibilities are endless.
Above all else, unless you absolutely do not wish so, your aim should always be to preserve the relationship. You never know who will step up to help you when your business is in the ditch.
A lot of business owners forget this point and adopt a blinkered approach to payments and forget to consider the other party's state of affairs.
Keeping all of your payment related information with this mindset will ensure you get paid and you strengthen your relationships in business.