Did you know that almost a third of small businesses wait over 30 days to get paid by their customers after a service has been rendered?
Not getting the amount due to you from a client by the required due date is a challenge that can occur in any industry—be it solo freelancers, larger companies, or a local home service business.
When this situation arises, your business must know how to ask for a payment professionally without offending the client or delaying it even further.
Keep reading to find out how to do this. Jump to a section:
How to Ask for Payments for Services Rendered When a Customer Doesn’t Pay
When a customer doesn’t pay, it’s essential to act upon it as soon as possible. The last thing you want is to damage your business cash flow by waiting on large sums of money that aren’t coming in.
To get started, follow these steps.
Step 1: Set expectations upfront
First things first: Set the expectations for payments upfront. This could mean implementing a payment policy of collecting a portion or 50% of the total payment upfront. At the very least, an upfront payment commits your client or customer to some of the payment. This might make it easier for your business to collect the rest when the service has been fully rendered.
Make sure to be extremely clear with all clients by telling them the date on which payment is due, accepted forms of payment, any penalties or late fees, and who to contact if they face any trouble. You don’t want to leave any room for ambiguity, delays, or confusion around the payment.
Step 2: Don’t jump to conclusions
Give your client the benefit of the doubt. If a client pays regularly and is suddenly running past due on a payment, it’s best not to jump to conclusions and think the worst of them. If it’s a new client you are working with, don’t assume he or she is the ‘late-paying type’ and is purposely avoiding you.
Instead, check to see if your business has covered all the bases and accurately kept track of all payments (or lack thereof):
- Check that the invoice/bill was sent and that you did not accidentally forget to bill the client.
- Ensure it was sent to the correct contact information. There can sometimes be slip-ups in the invoicing process, and you should ensure they received the invoice in the first place.
- If there were errors in the process, double-check your business’s payment tracking/invoice systems and make sure this technical error or glitch does not occur again.
- As mentioned, if it’s part of your business’s policy and payment terms, collect a partial or 50% payment upfront. This is often implemented by business owners who want to further protect their receivables.
It’s important to cross-check your invoice and make sure it includes all the essential details required. Here’s an example of a plumbing business invoice.
Step 3: Get all the details in order
So, you’ve confirmed that the invoice/bill has been sent and the customer hasn’t paid yet. Before contacting the customer for payment, gather all the facts and have the information ready at hand. Talk to your employees about the services rendered, go over your customer communications, and get the following details down:
- The date the service was provided
- The name of the employee who performed the service
- Any particulars of the service
- Any special requests made by the client/customer
- How much the service cost amounted to
- Any discounts/offers provided (if applicable)
- Whether penalties or late fees are applicable as part of the payment policy
- The invoice number, the date it was sent, and to whom
- How long the payment is overdue
Step 4: Send a friendly follow-up via text or email
Small businesses need to know how to word their payment request once they’ve collected all the information. The way your message is crafted can significantly affect how your customer responds. It’s best to send a friendly reminder or follow-up with the client via text or email.
Remember: Always keep this first reminder pleasant. Give them the option to pay how they wish, be it credit card, Venmo, or PayPal.
Here’s an example of how to word that correspondence:
Hi [Customer Name],
I hope you’re doing well! This is a kind reminder that Invoice [#xxx] was due on [date] and is currently [x] days overdue. I wanted to follow up and ensure if it was received. I’ve attached a copy of the invoice to this email just in case. You will find the date of service, the amount owed, your technician, and the service(s) performed on the invoice.
Please feel free to send payment by your preferred method. We accept [payment methods]. Let me know if you have any questions about the invoice.
Thank you very much!
[Business contact information]
Step 5: Pick up the phone
In some cases, customers may not respond to your email or follow-up text. Depending on the relationship with the client, you may want to wait a shorter or longer period before hopping on a phone call. If your business has worked with them for a long time, wait up to two weeks. But if it’s a new customer your business has not worked with before, a week is a reasonable amount of time.
When calling the customer, make sure you have the correct phone number and identify yourself at the start. Speak in a calm and polite tone as you explain you weren’t able to reach them through email or text.
If you can, try to complete the transaction while still on the line with them. At the very least, make sure you get a firm commitment from them for their full payment of the overdue invoice and confirm a date and method of payment.
Step 6: Send another email or a formal letter/notice in the mail
If even after the phone call, the customer has not paid the due amount, it’s time to send them a formal payment request letter. Formalize the language and consider sending it both via email and the post.
Here’s a sample template to follow:
Subject: Urgent: Invoice [#] is now x days overdue – Payment needed
Hi [Customer Name],
I hope you are well. Please consider this a formal reminder that your payment on invoice [#xxx] is still past due. If there’s any information you require to initiate the payment, please let me know. I’ve attached a copy of the invoice for your reference and any further details.
Multiple payment modes are available for your convenience.
As mentioned in the previous correspondences, please note a late fee may apply moving forward as the payment is more than [x] days late.
Please pay at your earliest convenience.
[Business contact information]
What to do if the Customer/Client Still Doesn’t Pay
A stressful scenario may arise where the customer still isn’t paying after all your requests. Keep calm as you consider your next, more drastic options.
- Stop all other existing services or scheduled services: It may be time to cut ties with the customer on existing or future scheduled work. Stop any work you have already begun and tell the customer that you will resume once the payment is received. For example, if you’re an electrical business, postpone the work at a customer’s house or premises. This can motivate them to pay you faster.
- Research collections agencies: If your business needs to further escalate the situation, you can hire a collection agency to secure the payment on your behalf. Consider this option carefully: Such agencies may take as much as 50% of the amount collected. Ensure you research and hire a reputable agency. You can check Better Business Bureau reviews and double-check the agency is affiliated with the Commercial Collection Agency Association.
- Review all your legal options: If nothing else works, it’s time to consider taking legal action. Refer to your contract and receive professional legal advice on the possibility of filing a lawsuit. Depending on the payment amount, you will either have to take the client to a small claims court or opt for filing a civil suit against the client. Just make sure the disputed amount is worth the time and effort of this option.
Tips on How to Avoid Having to Ask for Payment in the Future
If it’s happened once, it can happen again. How can your business avoid chasing down payments in the future? Consider these tips:
- Shift to upfront payment policies or partial upfront payments: As mentioned, protect your business’s financial interests by letting customers know at the outset how much they are expected to pay upfront. If you don’t want to ask for the payment 100% upfront, consider partial payment or an installment system.
- Know the common signs of “flaky” customers: You can identify the pattern of customers that won’t pay earlier on. They may rush the services, request payment extensions repeatedly, or deny receiving the invoice on multiple occasions. Keep alert for such signs.
- Switch to electronic payment solutions if your business hasn’t already: This is one of the most convenient payment modes, preferred by customers and companies. In fact, up to 65% of customers prefer a contactless form of payment: this might include Venmo, Zelle, PayPal, etc. Incorporate these electronic and contactless forms into your payment policy, and it’ll be well received by your customer base!
- Have an automated reminder system in place: You don’t want to be chasing after due payments all the time. Make sure you have a payment reminder system in place to keep you updated on all the payments that are pending, due, or on the horizon from your customers.
Track Payments with Signpost
Having to deal with late payments can be a nightmare, but it doesn’t have to be.
With Signpost, we can help manage your payments on your business’s behalf and get that cash flow coming in just when you need it to be. Get back to higher priority business initiatives and let Signpost help track the payments your business is rightfully owed.
Book a demo with us today to find out more!