Get paid faster, with active escalation on Accounts Receivable

Written by: Karl Sakas

An agency owner was having an Accounts Receivable problem—several clients weren’t paying on-time.

As her coach, I asked what happened. She emailed: “Majority is still due to outstanding invoices going unpaid.”

I notice she used passive voice—”invoices going unpaid.” That’s likely an underlying factor behind the financial issues she’s experiencing—and that you may experience, too.

If your agency isn’t paid on-time—every time—it’s time to actively escalate your Accounts Receivable.

This means outlining payment terms (and consequences) up front, and then consistently enforcing those terms unless there’s a good reason to deviate.

When it comes to agency A/R, the squeakiest wheel gets paid. If you no longer handle accounting yourself, share this article with your finance team.

Recognizing the Control You Have

Drop the passive voice—you always have at least some control when it comes to clients and payments. For example, you or your accounting team can:

1. Monitor payments daily (or several times a week).

2. Escalate your reminders to past-due clients. (See all of my articles on collections.)

3. Choose to withhold services when past-due. (This should be in your standard client agreement.)

4. Require larger up-front deposits, or (this is unusual for agencies but possible) require a “first and last payment” up front.

5. Say “no” to clients who seem financially tenuous.

You’ll adjust those based on your business confidence—sometimes you’ll intentionally choose to relax your standards because you need the money. Your agency is important to your future—”intentional” is different from “accidental.”

Adding Escalated A/R Followups to Your Routine

Tactically, part of this is adding financial reviews to your weekly process—once you’ve made the sale and delivered the service, Accounts Receivable (A/R) is the lifeblood of any agency.

Collecting the payment is the “last mile” of running your agency profitability. It’s the final step in my Agency Value Chain framework.

I’m in my company’s QuickBooks Online (QBO) a few times a week, so I can immediately see the dashboard reminder if someone is past-due.

Escalation Steps: Email, Email, Phone

Here’s how I escalate my [rare] collections issues at Sakas & Company:

1. I send the invoice email (via QBO), with a copy to myself.

2. I immediately Boomerang the email back to myself 2-3 days later, so I can email the client (or their accounting contact) to confirm receipt.

3. The day it’s due (or the day after, depending on the client’s payment history), I’m emailing another reminder.

4. Once it’s past-due, I’m sending regular followups—by email, and then escalating to phone.

You don’t need to be mean about it. And reminding someone they owe you money—that’s not mean. It’s just business. (And another reason not to provide services to your family members.)

My mindset is that people are going to pay. They may currently be overwhelmed; it’s my job to help them make paying me a priority.

Consider when to accept installments. Perhaps they can pay half now and half later. Half now is better than nothing now—take the payment, and ask their ETA on the rest.

Auto-Pay: No More Waiting

You can bypass the “waiting for an invoice” completing by putting clients on auto-bill (especially for retainers). Since doing that for coaching, I never wonder if someone is going to pay.

Most of my clients pay via credit card (~3% fee) but you can also do ACH eCheck debits. To me, that 3% is worth it because it gets me paid faster, with fewer headaches, and with less uncertainty. (Here’s more on why you should accept credit cards.)

In the occasional situation where someone is past-due (I have a client with a disorganized internal Accounts Payable process… they’re now on auto-pay), I’m not shy about [gently] following up. They owe me money for services I’ve already delivered, and there’s absolutely nothing wrong about my pressing them to fulfill their side of the obligation.

The key is to actively escalate, rather than overreact… or ignore.

What About Automated Reminders?

Your accounting software likely lets you automate some of the invoice reminders. Should you send automated reminders? Probably, because they’ll go out even if you forget.

But you still need to be actively monitoring things. Why? Clients are more likely to ignore an automated email and less likely to ignore an email or call from their account manager.

If They’ve Gone Out of Business

If your past-due client has gone out of business, your chances of collecting are low—but not impossible, on at least a partial basis.

How so? Sometimes people feel guilty and they want to send you some money to feel less guilty—you should probably take it! And don’t be scarce: The squeaky wheel gets paid first.

If they formally declare bankruptcy, it’s more complicated, and you’ll want to get help from your accountant and/or attorney.

All the more reason to stay on top of this—the longer they’re late, the higher the chances you won’t get paid at all.

Set a Goal for Yourself

Another coaching client shared he had a sizable past-due Accounts Receivable balance. I asked how that came about. He said he just hadn’t focused on it amidst other priorities in running the agency.

I challenged him to dedicate time each week to A/R collections—both for him and his account managers.

The result? He and his team collected 20% in the first two weeks, and they’re continuing to collect!

Imagine what you could collect if you made Accounts Receivable a priority.

Reflecting: Root Causes for Your A/R Issues

Think about your situation. From what I’ve described:

  1. What do you think are the root causes for your not being paid promptly?
  2. What’s your reaction to realizing this?
  3. What do you want to change in the future?

Question: What’s your next step, on getting paid faster for your agency’s Accounts Receivable?

Book Cover: "Work Less, Earn More" by Karl Sakas

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