Is It OK To Chase Payments During Covid-19?

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It’s a difficult time for everyone at the moment, especially when it comes to money. I’ve had a number of conversations with clients, friends and other business owners about the delicate matter of how to approach outstanding invoices, or current payment requirements.  

Is it OK or even moral to ask for payment during the current pandemic?

YES! Yes is absolutely the answer, but it’s how you go about it that’s important.

My thoughts are; there are 3 different types of scenarios, and 1 exception. Your customer:

1. is still able to trade – marginally or fully

2. has been forced to close their business for a period 

3. no longer has work due to their customers being forced to close

4. has sadly had to close for good (the exception)

I appreciate there are other influencing aspects here too, such as childcare, home schooling, vulnerabilities, supply and demand etc. Fundamentally though, these can all be factored somewhere into the above. 

So. Let’s look at each of these scenarios individually. 

Your customer is still able to trade: The first one is the simplest. In this instance we would assume that if they are using your services in any capacity, it is because they have a forward need and therefore an income off the back of that. In this circumstance, you can treat your credit control processes in the same way you always have. (I am assuming here that you have always followed the golden rules around building good relationships and providing excellent customer service. Check out our Credit Control advice HERE.

However, that being said, at the moment during this Coronavirus crisis it won’t always be that cut and dry. Another complication here is your customer’s customer. Whilst your customer might be trading fully, their customers might only be partially open or not at all. So the difficulty comes with them receiving payment also. The best way to understand this is to speak with your customers regularly to see how they are being affected and have open discussions around payment plans before you supply your goods. That way, everyone knows and agrees how it will work before you get started and you can mitigate any nasty surprises. In addition to this, when sending your invoice, add a new line or paragraph to your email that shows your understanding of the current climate and reiterates your newly agreed terms. 

If payment is not received and your invoice becomes overdue, you should still feel comfortable following it up – after all, you did agree considered terms in the first place. Keep in mind that things may have changed for your customer, be flexible, but make sure the outcome is fair and reasonable for you both.

Moving on to scenarios 2 & 3, these can be treated the same.

Your customer’s business is closed for a period: If your customer has been forced to close their business due to Covid-19 Government regulations or a lack of custom themselves, this requires a little more understanding and tact, but it is still absolutely OK to discuss payments.

I’ve used the word ‘chase’ in the title of this blog, and we all tend to use it in general. I do however prefer to use the term ‘follow up’. So I’m going to use that here for now, as I feel it better reflects the difficult times we are in, especially when it comes to cash flow!

Whilst businesses have had to close for various reasons, that won’t automatically always mean they are cash poor. The key here is to have open conversations with each of your customers to establish their current financial position, and move forward following up invoices with that in mind. Some customers will need more understanding and leeway than others, but regardless of the outcome of these conversations, you must remember that you have provided a service and as you understand your obligations to pay at some point, so will your customer.

It’s not about showing a lack of empathy or ‘losing your moral compass’. It’s about maintaining good relationships and staying engaged with your customer. Cashflow is the life blood of all businesses, and if you’re going to survive during these harsh times, knowing your income position and the difficulties your customers are up against is the key.

Finally, let’s talk about ‘the exception’.

Your customer’s business is closed for good: This is terribly sad all round. The impact of Covid-19 on some businesses is that they have had to make the difficult decision to shut down completely. Worse, the impact to you is that you have lost income and a good professional relationship (assuming again you have nurtured one with all your customers). 

If this has happened to you, or happens to you, it is likely to be extremely difficult to get outstanding payments for invoices. In rare cases, your customer may have taken the decision to close based on other factors than monies in the bank. If this is the case, you will likely be aware and again can follow the steps detailed above – open discussions, empathy, payment plans etc. Unfortunately, it isn’t very likely, and so depending on the total value you have outstanding, you may wish to seek legal advice to understand your rights and position.  

Regardless of any of the scenarios I have detailed and explained here, the significant element of chasing or following up payments with your customers is the relationship you have with them in the first place. If you get that right you shouldn’t ever be afraid to discuss remuneration for your services. It isn’t a shock that you expect to be paid, but the way you approach it is what makes all the difference!

If you’d like to chat through your specific circumstances when it comes to chasing payments, please don’t hesitate to get in touch. You can call 01903 688789 or email makeithappen@mbsmih.com

If you’d like to talk to me specifically, I also run ‘Open Door Q&A Sessions’ on a Thursday afternoon from 2-4pm, where we can chat for 15 minutes about anything at all business related. Book your free slot HERE.

I look forward to speaking with you soon.

– Mikki

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