Collecting the money owed to your business is an unpleasant, relentless task, especially if you’re a consultant in a small operation. If a phone call to the client with a past-due invoice doesn't yield payment, your next step might be to couple the invoice with a collection letter.
If you dread drafting correspondence and need a good starting point, download two sample collection letters submitted by TechRepublic members. Use them as a guideline for creating collection letters from scratch or compare them to what you’re using now to see if your present letter needs some revision.
When to write a letter
In his article, "Getting Paid," on the Small Business Advisor site, author Robert Sullivan suggests trying the following five steps to collect outstanding debts:
- Call and politely note that an invoice is overdue by "x" days. Request that payment be received by a specific date.
- Fax the original invoice and request payment.
- Send a registered letter with a copy of the original invoice and, again, request payment.
- If the amount is large enough to warrant it, have your attorney write a letter on your behalf.
- As an absolute last resort, consider hiring a collection agency.
Our sample collection letters could serve as models for the registered letter in step three. The first letter is basic enough to use for delinquent payment on any product or service. The second letter is geared toward services or projects that are being billed at set intervals or when certain objectives have been completed.
Need more advice?
If you're interested in more collection resources, Dun & Bradstreet, a provider of business information for credit, marketing, and purchasing decisions, offers a Receivable Resources page with articles and tips for collecting your due. In its article, "Accounts Receivable: Taming the Beast," the company suggests that you "do something every 20 days" regarding collections. For example, the article suggests the following steps:
- Day one, you make a sale, deliver a product, and issue an invoice with terms set as NET 30 days.
- Twenty days later—10 days before the receivable is due—you call the customer. This is a precollection call that doubles as a service call.
- You ask if the order was received, if everything was satisfactory, if they have the invoice, and if they understand the terms.
- If there is a problem, you have a chance to fix it before the due date, and everybody is happy. If there is no problem, you know the customer is satisfied and is likely to pay on time, and the customer knows you care.
- The next call (if necessary) is then scheduled for 20 days after that, 10 days after the due date. If a genuine problem has arisen, it's early enough to deal with it efficiently. But if you're being stalled, you'll know that, too, and you can act accordingly.
About.com also offers a variety of resources, including small business tips to help you get your clients to ante up.
How do you lean on your delinquent debtors?
What tactics have you used to get the cash flowing from clients' accounts into your own? Send us an e-mail and let us know.