Times still are tough out there for most business owners and their customers. You may have customers who never had problems paying you in the past, but who have developed slow-pay habits over the past couple of years, or worse, stopped paying you altogether. How can you help these formerly good payers continue to pay you?
If you don’t already offer payment plans, then you should consider it. Sometimes this is the only way you’ll get paid at all, although it will take longer. You want to keep your customers, so make it possible (and comfortable) for them to pay you, even in small amounts.
The first thing to consider is how you are going to approach a slow-paying or non-paying customer. Being polite, reasonable and fair is a good start. No one likes to be yelled at or intimidated, and taking a strong “take no prisoners” stance will just lead to your customers hiding from you, avoiding phone calls, and stalling.
Have a conversation with your customer that begins with asking questions about what’s going on with them. You will learn why they aren’t paying you, and what might be reasonable for them going forward. After this discovery process, make a clear request for specific amounts at specific times. Don’t make the mistake of asking the customer how much he can pay, keep control
of the conversation. Agree on a payment plan together.
Follow up the conversation with a letter that details the arrangement. You can start with a sentence like “Here’s a recap of our conversation today (date) regarding the (specific dollar amount) still owed from the previous (specific time period).
Then detail the terms agreed on, the number of payments and their dates, and any other details. Be very clear about everything, and include a stamped payment envelope for extra emphasis. Be sure to include a sentence or two about how much you appreciate this customer working to make this debt good, and how you look forward to working with them in the future.
Marcia Bagnall is Director of the Chemeketa Small Business Development Center and instructor of Small Business Management Program. The Small-Business Adviser column is produced by the center and appears each
Sunday. Questions can be submitted to SBDC@chemeketa.edu
. Visit the SBDC at 626 High Street NE. in downtown Salem or call (503) 399-5088.