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11 Tips for Handling Late-Paying Customers
January 17, 2023

For small businesses, one late-paying customer could mean the difference between success and failure. How rampant is the problem of late-paying customers? Consider these numbers from a Fundbox survey of how unpaid invoices affect small business growth.

  • If small businesses were paid for all of their unpaid invoices, they could hire 2.1 million employees.
  • If small businesses were paid for all of their unpaid invoices, business owners could pay themselves an incremental $31K on average.
  • 79 percent of small business owners cut their own pay when customer payments are slow.
  • 17 percent of small businesses cut spending on inventory when customer payments are slow.

Not only are late payments a big problem for small business, but the problem is getting worse.

According to data from Creditsafe, the average DBT (days beyond terms) payment period for B2B companies has increased in all 50 states over the past year.

To prevent and handle late payments, try these tips.

  1. Create a contract or statement of work detailing payment terms. That includes when payment is due and how many ways you accept payment (check, PayPal, ACH, etc.).
  2. If your client outsources their receivables to an online accounting solution business, make sure you have all that information before it’s time to invoice. Some online services have a lengthy registration and approval process, and starting immediately will reduce delays.
  3. The company may require specific information on your invoices such as a PO# or line item descriptions. Find out this information ahead of time.
  4. Send invoices as soon as a project is completed. Most customers and clients prefer to get invoices by email, which is faster and gives you a digital record of when the invoice is sent.
  5. Use language such as “Payment due” instead of “Net 30” to be as clear as possible.
  6. Indicate on the invoice at what point customers will be charged a late fee and the percentage or dollar amount of that fee.
  7. Consider offering an incentive for early payments and/or cash on delivery.
  8. Keep on top of late payers. Your accounting system will show you the average pay time for each customer, so you can see which customers continually pay late. Accounting software lets you easily generate an income statement, balance sheet and cash flow statement. Use these tools to stay on top of your financial picture, and pinpoint potential problems early.
  9. If a payment is late, don’t wait to follow up. Send a quick email, or make a friendly call to find out why payment is delayed. Customers will pay the company demanding payment before they’ll pay companies that do nothing.
  10. Find out why your customer can’t pay on time, and find a solution beneficial to both of you. If you need to work out a payment schedule, don’t drag it out too long. Keep records of all correspondence, invoices, contracts and attempts to obtain payment. Detailed documentation will help you in case you need to go to court.
  11. Consider requiring partial payment upfront if you choose to work with a late paying customer again.

Most clients and customers will accept a C.O.D. payment relationship until a steady payment history is established. If you find a business is regularly late with payments, either stop providing services or sending products until paid in full, or stop doing business with them altogether. 

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Funded, in part, through a Cooperative Agreement with the U.S. Small Business Administration. All opinions, and/or recommendations expressed herein are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of the SBA.

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