Why late payments are an epidemic for small businesses

Here, Gary Turner, UK managing director and co-founder of Xero, tells us why small businesses are more affected by late payments than large businesses.

In light of recent news that Britain’s third largest supermarket chain Asda is set to enact 90 day payment terms on its clothing suppliers, the ongoing issue of late payments has come to the forefront once more.

It’s an eternally pressing concern for businesses everywhere – our research last year found that a fifth of small businesses across the UK and the US pointed to overdue invoices as their biggest time waster, and UK business owners have admitted to spending 10 per cent of their working day chasing late payments, the equivalent of one and a half days per month.

For retail giants like Asda these longer payment terms simply mean, as The Guardian aptly phrased it, financial breathing space. But, for the small businesses who act as suppliers, longer payment terms bring with them far more serious implications. At an increase of 50 per cent longer to receive payment, Asda’s suppliers may now be forced to walk a fine line between bankruptcy and survival.

Indeed, the knock on effect from a supplier being dealt difficult payment terms is far reaching – in turn, their employees may have to wait for their pay and their suppliers must also must wait longer for payment. As the businesses gets smaller further along the supply chain, the increased delay in payment time inversely means harsher and larger consequences.

But what do the suppliers think? Xero’s Make or Break Report finds small business confidence to be high, with 75 per cent remaining confident about the future despite the economic uncertainty brought on by Brexit.

However, there can be no doubt this confidence will take a hammering if big businesses like Asda continue to make decisions like this based on Brexit consequences – in this case, the decision to lengthen payment terms was attributed to the falling pound. The report found that despite this confidence, chasing payments is still the biggest time waster for small businesses in both the UK and US.

When over half of business owners in the UK admit to being constantly worried about cash flow due to unpaid invoices, and another third blaming these outstanding payments for a reduction in productivity, it’s clear changes must be made.

While there is not a simple answer to this ongoing tug-of-war, it is worth big businesses taking into consideration how their decisions will impact their suppliers and remembering that thousands of businesses in the UK fail each year due to late payments.

Top five tips for chasing payments

Invoice promptly

The sooner you invoice, the sooner you will receive payment. It is vital to get your invoicing process right from the start so that it is efficient and pain-free.

Establish a relationship

Introducing yourself to the people in the accounts departments of the companies you are invoicing can often make a difference. At the same time, ask them to include your invoice number as a reference with every payment they make, to help you determine which invoice is being paid.

Keep accurate records

Keep track of the time and materials expended on a client’s project and make sure you invoice for everything. If you record the work done as you go, it saves you trying to remember the details at a later date.

Define your payment terms

Consider shortening your invoice payment period to encourage your customers to pay sooner, even to one or two weeks. If you make your best efforts to supply your products and services to your clients’ deadlines, there is no reason why they should not try their best to pay you just as quickly.

Offer easy payment methods

As a general rule, when you make it easier for your customers to pay, they will pay sooner. Some accounting software offers a ‘pay now’ button on online invoices, which means you can send customers invoices online with an option of getting paid instantly.

Written by Gary Turner who is UK managing director and co-founder of Xero.

Further reading on late payments

Owen Gough, SmallBusiness UK

Owen Gough

Owen was a reporter for Bonhill Group plc writing across the Smallbusiness.co.uk and Growthbusiness.co.uk titles before moving on to be a Digital Technology reporter for the Express.co.uk.

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