How do you chase unpaid invoices? When you’ve completed work that the client is happy with, they should then pay for your services within a reasonable timeframe. That is how the wheels of commerce turn. 

The problems come when it’s two weeks past your usual 30-day payment term and you still haven’t received the payment. From here on in, the client is now wasting your time by making you chase a payment that should be sat in your account.

Unfortunately, this problem is far from unique. Despite the introduction of the Prompt Payment Code in 2014, 23 percent of Britain’s small and medium-sized businesses are still pushed to the brink of insolvency as a result of late payments.

Having a healthy cashflow is central to your business’s survival and success, so it’s essential you know how to tackle late payers when this frustrating problem arises. Here are some simple strategies you can employ to get payments in on time while maintaining good relationships with your clients.

A Guide to Chasing Unpaid Invoices1. You’re not being rude

As you become more experienced in business, you come to understand that chasing invoices is all part of the course. In the early days, it can feel rude to contact a client to ask for payment. It’s not. You’ve done the work and the client is happy, so you’re entitled to be paid on time. By not abiding by the payment terms, it’s the client who is being rude.

2. Set expectations early

No one likes to talk about money, but setting the client’s expectations by discussing your payment terms early on can prevent problems further down the line. Explain when you will invoice the client and what the payment terms will be. Most small companies tend to opt for a 30-day payment term, while larger companies might be happy with 60. Some companies also ask for a proportion of the cost to be paid upfront.

3. Warn your clients about interest charges on late payments

Government legislation has been introduced that allows small businesses to charge up to 8 percent interest plus the Bank of England base rate on late payments. They can also pass any debt recovery costs onto the client.

If you haven’t already agreed when the money will be paid, the law says the payment becomes late 30 days after either:

• The customer receives the invoice; or
• The goods or services are delivered.

If you’re not sure what level of interest to charge, you can set your own terms as long as they’re within the government’s guidelines. Some people choose to charge 2 percent interest on payments made after 30 days, rising to 3 percent after 60 days. However, you should warn your clients from the off that interest will be charged if your invoices are not paid on time.

4. Don’t work yourself up

When a payment is not made on time, the temptation is to think the worst and assume the client is trying to get away without paying. This is rarely the case. In most instances, the client will have simply forgotten to pay, or have a prescheduled date when their payments are made. Instead, we advise you to wait a couple of days after the payment was due before sending a polite reminder.

5. Send them a letter or reminder

Your initial payment reminder should be polite and written in the right way. Simply stating that the payment is now overdue is often enough to prompt a payment. Something as simple as the following is fine:

‘Hi Karen,

Just to let you know that invoice 155 is now due for payment. I’d really appreciate if you could settle at your earliest opportunity. I’ve re-attached the invoice for your reference.

Many thanks,
Nick’

If you’d like to use our Unpaid Invoice Letter Template, you can find it here.

6. Send a statement

If no payment is forthcoming and you do not receive a response from the client asking for an extension, you should then send another email. This time, explain that the invoice is now overdue and include a statement of the outstanding cost. The email should still be friendly and polite in its tone.

At this point, you might also want to think about reprioritising your workload. If you still have outstanding work for the client you should put it at the bottom of your to-do list. After all, it’s counterproductive to complete more work you might not get paid for.

7. Give them a call

It’ a lot easier to ignore an email than it is to dismiss a request for payment made over the phone. If you’ve followed the advice above and still haven’t received the money, you need to speak to the client to ask if there’s any issue with the payment. It may be that the client is experiencing cashflow problems of their own and wants additional time to pay. However, putting the client on the spot in this way should give you a clearer idea of their intentions, and help you decide what course of action to take next.

8. What if they still don’t pay?

If the client still doesn’t pay then you need to continue to chase. Don’t let it consume your life or take too much time out of your working day, but make sure the client knows you are not willing to let it lie. If payment is promised, ask for the date it will be made by. You should also cease all work for the client until the invoice has been paid.

9. Should I consider legal action for unpaid invoices?

You may need to consider more drastic action like taking County Court action. A County Court Judgement against a company can adversely affect the credit rating of a company for 6 years. Often the threat of a CCJ will get the desired response within the processes 28 day period.

10. Know Your Legal Rights 

Before you do engage a certified debt collector you may want to consider a Statutory Demand. A Statutory Demand gives 18 days to resolve the issue and if not the debtor must pay in full within a further 3 days (21 days in total). Once this time period is up you can wind the offending company up (compulsory liquidate) to try and get what is owed.     

How can we help?

If your cash-flow has been affected as a result of late payments, we can help you consider alternative finance options such as invoice discounting, factoring and asset-based lending. This can unlock the cash you need. You can read everything there is to know about invoice finance here or compare what is available in the UK now.