Last month I made some changes in my business which were based on some pretty negative experiences in 2023 around late payment and refusal to pay legitimate bills.
The reaction I have had to that and to various posts, I wrote about it has been staggering.
Overwhelmingly I’ve been supported by business owners I don’t know who are facing the same problems. Only this week, I met a fellow business owner in a totally different field to me who had had to take action ten times in one year against those who hadn’t paid their bills!
A LinkedIn post I wrote about it has had almost 116,000 impressions – by far the most viral post I’ve ever written.
Also I’ve been told – by a business coach – that I’m being too blunt, and too harsh and that will put people off working with me. I countered this saying ‘which people?’, will it put off those who know they are very late in paying their bills? Frankly that’s a good outcome for me.
Late payment or non-payment of agreed invoices can kill a small business and although I have strict terms and conditions in my contract, this last year I’ve had to enforce them several times and it’s not an easy thing to do.
I also have had very honest clients talk to me about delayed payments to payment plans because they are waiting on payments from others. In two cases, they’ve almost gone bust and some of these late payers are household names. The truth is a bad payer is a bad payer no matter how ‘big’ the business.
We don’t empower and inspire others by going under ourselves.
In 2024 any new retained clients who come to me will be asked to pay their monthly fee upfront before any work commences and they will still be bound by the terms of the contract. This will not apply to existing and trusted clients where we have an established relationship.
Here are some examples of what I’ve had personally to deal with during 2023 and it’s exhausting, time-consuming and stressful:
- A client going bust out of the blue who was connected to many in my circle and owing over £70,000 and a number of us had to write off debt we were owed and pay others to get us out of a black hole because we had to find new providers of his service really quickly.
- I had a client who sent me a message to say he was finishing with me – to be transparent – on a certain date with no reference whatsoever to the contract we’d agreed. When I pointed this out he admitted to not having read the contract. He had to pay my termination fee.
- I had one client who was clearly having cashflow issues and she said ‘let’s call it quits’ with no regard to my termination fee and complained about me – no complaints were made beforehand. I told her she could leave but had to pay my termination fee. She objected to this, I suspect took legal advice, and then paid. If she’d called me to discuss her cashflow issues then the result would have been very different. She made it about me and my team, rather than admitting it was really about her.
- I had another client who gave me notice. I set out what the final payment would be and she replied ‘thanks’. Until the final invoice arrived when she started making complaints about me – none of which stacked up or had been mentioned before. During the time we’ve worked together, I’ve probably secured national publicity for her worth around £100,000. I told her I was putting the issue into the hands of my credit control partner and within a few hours she’d paid up.
I have a freelance team, some of whom rely on me as a major part of their income. So I’m going to be very clear now on what is going to happen if a client turns out to be unethical around money. Putting it bluntly – money makes people funny and I won’t be tolerating this any more.
None of this relates to my historic clients who know me well. I have no problem when a client calls me and says they have cashflow issues and they need time to pay. I’ll not work for them while a debt is being cleared, work will begin again when we’re all straight. In any given year this will happen a few times and in most cases it’s something we can resolve so that both businesses are respected.
Also I’m fine when a client comes to a natural end with me – the end of a project, they feel they want to try working on something else or with someone else and they do this with proper notice (as set out in my t&cs with them). That’s fine. I’ll just say thank you for the business and we’ll all move on. I’ve found in this case that some of those clients have, over time, come back either for a long time or for project work. This can happen when a client grows and wants to take PR inhouse and employ someone to cover this aspect of their business.
Next week, I’ll share more details of how I intend to deal with any bad payers who do pop up in 2024 and beyond.