Here's how things should work: you do some work for a customer, and they pay you for it right away. In reality, however, things don't always work out so cleanly and sometimes you'll find yourself chasing up customers who are slow to pay you what you're owed. For any tradie this is a huge problem because without that cash coming in you might not be able to put petrol in the truck or pay your subcontractors without taking out a loan—and then you'll be stuck eating the interest. Customers who are late paying their bills can be expensive and really hurt your business' bottom line.
How can you avoid getting into this situation, and what should you do if it does happen to you? There are lots of strategies out there, and today we'll talk about a few of them you can use to your advantage.
When you take on someone‘s job, you’re entering into a relationship with them—and there’s always some give and take in every relationship. The first step you can take towards making sure your customers pay up on time is to be respectful and personable with them. Acting in this way towards your enquirers is also a good idea as it can help you convert leads into actual jobs.
Know your mana
At the same time, respect is a two way street and you don't want to be taken advantage of. While it's important to be professional and friendly with customers, they also need to recognize that you're a professional who expects to be paid. It can be a bit awkward at times talking about money—but it's important to set clear expectations right from the start so that the customer knows how you operate, and what your payment terms are.
Bonus tip: Get rid of long payment windows, and start charging customers cash on delivery for the work you do. No other industry lets customers receive a product and then pay for it later, and it's not your responsibility to provide your customers with a line of credit. Get that cash sooner rather than later by insisting on upfront payment.
Send out great invoices
One way to ruin your cashflow is to send out messy, unclear invoices that confuse customers. Make sure the key information—like your bank account number—are in a clear, easy-to-see location. We've seen heaps of invoices where the banking information is mixed in with the invoice's goods and services, and it almost always causes confusion. Chuck that information up in either the letterhead of your invoice, or down at the bottom in nice, big text.
While you only need to include your business name on invoices, it's also a great idea to include all of your other contact details. This way if a customer has questions, they've got your number right there in front of them and can easily call you. If they don't have that information they're likely to forget to call you about it later, which can result in late payment. Capitalize on that moment when the customer is looking at and studying your invoice.
Accept other payment methods
Paying in cash can be a real hassle for large jobs, and customers can be nervous about paying by bank transfer because it's so easy to mistype an account number. Everyone's different when it comes to how they pay for things, and offering a bunch of different options will help make all of your customers feel comfortable.
The most obvious extra payment method to take is EFTPOS. Mobile EFTPOS terminals which you can take with you right to the job site aren't too expensive, and are a great way of taking payment from customers who are nervous about cash or bank transfers.
There are other, more unusual options as well. Let's say you've got time available later this week to do a job, but the customer isn't going to have the money for another month. You could do the work anyway and take payment later, but then you're out of pocket for the materials and labour for the next month—and you're taking on risk that the customer won't actually end up paying! Doing that for everyone isn't sustainable unless you're running a really big operation.
"Buy now pay later" (BNPL) schemes like Afterpay let you receive the cash for the job now, while the other company takes on the risk of collecting from the customer. While the processing fees for BNPL schemes are generally a lot higher than, say, processing cards, they can seriously boost your business by enabling you to take on jobs that you'd otherwise need to let go due to cashflow reasons.
Send out reminders
When customers haven't paid their invoice and it's coming close to the due date, send out a quick reminder to let them know. Oftentimes an unpaid invoice doesn't happen because the customer wants to do you wrong; it's just that they forgot! A simple reminder text can go a long way and save you a ton of grief later on down the line.
We hope this article has been helpful and given you some ideas to think about. Cashflow is a key aspect of your business that you need to stay on top of if you want to be sustainable and competitive. No cashflow means you can't afford to pay the bills, get new equipment, or scale up and hire staff.
Make taking payments a priority so that cash hits your bank as soon as possible so you can keep trucking along.