In our recent survey of how coronavirus had impacted Kent’s businesses, 36% of respondents had no ‘emergency’ funds set aside at all, and 29% had some but not enough. One of the reasons to not have enough in the bank is that your money is tied up in other people’s bank accounts. Definitely less than ideal!
It seems obvious to say it, but if you’ve earned the money, you should have it as soon as you’re entitled to it. Events outside of your control, like a global pandemic, can create their own restrictions, so don’t add to it by letting customers hang on a second longer than is necessary.
So here are seven ways to maximise your cash in bank
- Agreeing terms and conditions that work for both sides
- Understanding each customer’s accounts process
- Don’t have ‘an invoicing day’
- Send invoices to the accounts team, not the customer
- Make sure invoices have all the required information
- Follow up on sent invoices
- Keep an eye on your bank balance
1. Terms and conditions
We’ve all clicked ‘Agree to all terms and conditions’ on a website hundreds of times, but have you also done the same with a new customer? When you start providing services to someone new, before you sign on the dotted line, make sure you’ve done some due diligence.
In essence, if payment isn’t an immediate transaction, you’re providing credit to your customer. So do some checking upfront on their legal entity and its finances. Make sure you are comfortable that they are worthy of your trust.
Then you need to be completely clear on the payment terms. Clearly, there are some businesses that deal solely in immediate payment terms – retail to the public for example – but there are many others that are held to 30, 60 or even 90 day terms. And realising that you’re on 60 days terms or even 30 days net, when you might have hoped for immediate payment or 14 day turnaround, can be quite the shock. And damaging to your cash flow if you are unprepared.
There are certainly circumstances where there is no avoiding the 60 or even 90 day payment terms, but the beginning of a new customer relationship is where negotiation is to be expected. If they are a very large organisation used to dealing with 90 day terms, explaining that as a small supplier that wouldn’t be viable for you and asking if they have any special circumstances terms would be worth the conversation.
One thing to note is that, if you don’t agree on a payment date, the default period set by law is 60 days. Don’t get caught out by assuming a new customer will do whatever previous customers have done – particularly in a post-pandemic world where holding on to cash for as long as possible is something we’re seeing more and more of.
2. What’s their process?
As part of your early stage preparation, make sure you have absolute clarity on the customer’s accounting process.
Do you need a purchase order number? How and when are these raised? Who is the accounts team contact? What’s their phone number? When do payment runs get made? When do invoices need to be logged on the system to make the payment run?
Before even raising an invoice, you need to get your accounting processes in good shape. Knowing all the detail about how a customer’s accounts team works will save a lot of frustration and delays in the long run.
3. A monthly invoicing ‘day’
Something we see often, particularly with small firms where staff are wearing multiple hats, is the ‘invoicing day.
Once a month, all the sales details are rounded up, invoices drafted and sent off. Phew, job done, big tick off the list.
Not so much.
This approach fails to take into account individual customer accounts terms and processes which means you could miss payment runs, delaying payment. It also can mean that you’re waiting longer for payment on completed jobs than you need to be.
Try to invoice as and when, and if that isn’t going to be possible, consider whether outsourcing or automating your invoicing wouldn’t save you as much money or more than doing it all yourself.
4. Invoice the accounts department not the customer
Clearly sometimes they are one and the same.
But not always, and if there is an accounts team, you’ll get better results (by which we mean faster payment) by dealing direct with them.
If your day to day contact isn’t in the accounts team, they’ll have their own job to do. Which can mean your invoice sits in their inbox, adding more days to your process, and more days until the money lands in your account.
5. Sweat the small stuff
Getting your invoices right sounds like totally obvious advice. You would be amazed at how often key pieces of information are missing ….
- Date of dispatch
- Company names (legal entities) – yours and theirs
- Addresses – yours and theirs
- Contact names – yours and theirs
- Phone numbers – yours
- Invoice numbers – yours
- Purchase order numbers – theirs
- Service / product details – yours, include as much detail as is relevant … quantity, delivered on, etc
- Amount invoiced
- Bank and payment details – missed off surprising often
- Payment terms – agreed terms, not hopeful terms
- VAT breakdown
Using cloud based accounting platforms like Xero and Quikbooks means you are less likely to miss off crucial information, another good reason to switch to online services that make it easy to comply with Making Tax Digital.
6. Follow up after sending
Press send, sit back and wait for the cash.
DO NOT DO THIS!
Press send, then make a diary note for a couple of days from now to check-in with the accounts team to make sure the invoice was received, in order and is intended to be processed on time.
If you wait until the due date to make first contact, there is potential for accounts teams to not even put your invoice on the system if there is an error in paperwork. Meaning more days added to your payment timeline.
A quick call to say hi, check that all is in order and get an indication of expected payment date is definitely the way to go.
7. Keep a watching eye open
Now you’ve got the expected payment dates, make sure you’re keeping an eye on whether those payments are being made, and if so they’re as expected.
You might get a notification, either formally through a cloud platform or banking system or more informally via email from a client contact, that payment has been made. It’s always best to double check that this has been received into your bank account and all is well.
If payments aren’t received as expected, don’t leave these to sort out in a couple of days, get onto it quickly so that any issues can be resolved and you can be fully paid for the service or product you’ve provided.
Follow these tips and you will speed up the time it gets to be paid. Or ask yourself if, honestly, your time is best spent focused on doing your work, and investigate the options of outsourcing invoicing and cash flow management – perhaps just some Quikbooks or Xero training would help to automate the processes for you. However we can help, let us know.
Blue Rocket are Kent based accountants working with companies in all sectors including construction, cleaning, retail, consultancy, manufacturing and hospitality to help them expand their horizons and reach for the stars