Collecting debt has always been one of the most uncomfortable and delicate tasks in business.
In a time of crisis, it becomes infinitely more challenging.
We’re seeing it in every industry, and chances are it’s affecting your business. Previously reliable customers no longer pay on time—if at all. Even some of the best ones have stopped taking your calls and their voicemail is uncharacteristically full.
When they DO answer, it isn’t good. Apologies, but they can’t pay for an indeterminate period because of COVID-19.
Virtually all business models, both B2B and consumer-facing, healthcare providers and landlords, are in a similarly precarious situation. Often, aside from a global pandemic, there were no warning signs.
The customer in many cases has an impeccable history, making this an entirely new kind of problem. Good business is hard-won, cost of sales is premium and customer relationships are precious. Most importantly, your brand reputation is priceless.
But here you are. Even the best customers are holding out, and you have growing obligations of your own.
It’s painful, and can bring tremendous stress.
Here’s the kicker: the worst is yet to come.
The forced shutdown has only just begun to take its toll on businesses and consumers. Many are sitting on a shrinking cash stockpile, waiting for a turnaround that isn’t coming soon enough. If they owe you money, they are spending it on other things—until it the last of it runs out.
And despite the rosy flourishes being painted by optimistic politicians, the crisis is worsening. The subsidies, stimulus packages and deferrals must soon end. Buying habits and patterns have been massively disrupted, in a lot of cases for the long term—or permanently.
If your business is already struggling to collect money owed to it, it doesn’t take a master economist to envision what’s in store. And the real economists concur it will be very bad, for longer than many businesses can withstand.
So What to do?
There are 5 important steps every business owner needs to take in order to minimize risk and be as proactive as possible.
- Assess your current situation. Take a look at your accounts receivable and flag everything past due. Contact all account-holders and make them aware that for your business’ continuity you must be firm about due dates. They should respect this need and do the same for their own survival. Alert past-due accounts that collection action is imminent—give a specific date and prepare to follow through.
- Take immediate action. Send all non-responsive accounts and any that are more than 60 days past due to your collection agency (as we remind our clients, 60 is the new 90 in the critical COVID-19 era). Even in good times, the recoverability of debt drops quickly over time, and with bankruptcies on the horizon, the risks are multiplied. Our professional debt collection agents will treat your customers with respect, and establish a high payment priority for future dealings.
- Fortify business processes. The way people paid you in the past is probably not reliable enough for the new normal. Risk reduction should be top priority: sales are a dangerous liability when you can’t collect. Insist on full payment or substantial deposits—and make your credit application mandatory whenever you grant credit (which is anytime you are not paid in full upfront.) Be sure buyers understand when payment is due and acknowledge their commitment to you.
- Make it easy to pay—safely. If you are not already set up to accept credit card payments, it is time to start. There are many great choices that integrate with billing systems and have streamlined fees. It’s a small price to pay for having accelerated cash flow. If you offer to finance larger amounts, partner with a leasing or finance company that is equipped to manage the risks.
- Embrace the new normal. Forget about waiting for old habits and buying patterns to return. Some business models, such as airline travel, retail sales and buffet restaurants will surely never be the same. Instead of praying for the good old ways to come back, find ways to help customers with their new needs. And while you do it, protect your own business’ future.
This is a hard reset, not a speed bump. It is an opportunity to become better, more efficient, and eventually more profitable than ever.
Many, many businesses are going to fail. The ones that survive to rebuild the new economy will be the ones whose leaders are smart, bold, innovative and proactive.
I hope the latter group includes yours. Get energized, call upon your most inventive self, and take action!
Need more help? Reach out to me or one of my helpful debt collection experts.
Be safe and healthy—and the same goes for your business!