- Doing due diligence before extending credit
- Improving your payment terms
- Being prepared for opportunities
Offering credit to your customers may improve their experience of doing business with you, but it’s important to prepare for the risks with a resilient cash flow plan.
These seven steps can help you strengthen your cash flow, plan effectively for the future, and eliminate debt problems before they occur.
1. Consider whether you need to offer credit at all
Depending on the type of business you run, you may be able to reduce the number of credit accounts you offer and if possible, avoid extending credit during uncertain times, or at all.
Getting payment at the point of sale improves your cash flow and eliminates the possibility of having to chase people for payment. Accepting credit cards can be a straightforward way to offer your customers credit.
Extending credit to customers can reduce your cash cycle - a key component of a successful business.
2. Require an application form before extending credit
If you're going to extend credit, your customers should complete a credit application.
Ask a supplier if you can use their form as a guide or get a free sample from a local debt collection agency. Include your terms of trade and ask your lawyer and accountant to suggest improvements.
Check credit referees to make sure the customer has paid promptly in the past. If the customer refuses any of your terms, it’s your business decision whether to take the risk of supplying on credit.
If in any doubt, ask a credit agency for a credit check on a prospective customer.
3. Revise your payment terms
Customers won’t pay until they’ve been invoiced, so invoice as soon as you've made the sale.
There’s no need to stick to the tradition of ‘payment by the 20th of the month following invoice date.' Changing your payment terms to 'payment within x days' may help improve cash flow.
You don’t want to wait any longer than necessary before you know there’s a problem. In the meantime, the customer may have bought more from you, adding to their debt.
4. Reconsider statements
Repeated end of month statements simply summarise what the customer owes.
This extra administrative step costs time and money, so why not eliminate it by stating at the bottom of your invoices in bold: ‘Please pay on this invoice as no statement will be sent.'
Some customers – typically larger ones who receive multiple invoices from you – may try to insist on end of month statements, but most will happily pay against an invoice.
5. Don’t be afraid to cut off credit
Adopt a consistent policy of refusing to supply customers who are seriously overdue and who haven’t responded to your follow-up. Insist that the outstanding debt be settled first before you choose to supply more goods.
Putting a black and white policy in place will be best for your business in the long term.
6. Be prepared for large orders
If you commit significant resources to fulfilling a large order and payment is delayed, your business may be at substantial risk. Ensure you’ve carried out credit checks and received guarantees.
If possible, ask for a deposit or arrange for progress payments. This will improve cash flow and reduce your exposure.
7. Avoid the danger of a single customer
If your business is dependent on very few customers, make customer diversification a top priority. It’s much better to spread your risk over ten smaller ones than being reliant on just one large customer.
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