What to do When a Client Won’t Pay for a Service

That old expression, ‘cashflow is king’ really is true – especially for entrepreneurs and small business owners. Cashflow reportedly kills up to a quarter of small businesses, so ensuring you get paid as and when you expect is super important.

But, what do you do if a client doesn’t seem to be paying up? You’ve sent them an invoice.
No reply.
Then a polite reminder.
No reply.

Give it a couple of weeks and the problem escalates. You’ve got bills to pay and that client is letting you down!

Your first reaction might be to take to social media and publicly shame them. But, that’s a risky approach. Your other customers will see you taking this route and could potentially see you as a risky partner. And, if you’ve made a mistake (maybe the fine print of the contract says they do 90-day payments), it could be an embarrassing approach.

So, here’s what to do when clients don’t pay

• Get someone on the phone
If you can talk directly to a client, and preferably someone in their accounts department, you’ve got a much better chance of getting paid. Explain your situation – you’re a small business, you need the payment to stay afloat. Most reasonable people will sign the money off right away

• Hire a layer to write a letter
Lawyers can be expensive, so this is generally only a worthwhile option for bigger transactions. A solicitor’s letter will signal to your client that you’re serious

• Hire a collections agency
If the client is simply refusing to play ball, a collections agency can do the talking for you. These agencies will take anywhere between 20% and 50% of what they manage to collect. It’s better than nothing, but this should be a last resort. If your client is based in a foreign country, this is often your best option

• Take them to a small claims court
Take your client to a small claims court if they refuse to pay up. The limits change depending on which US state you live in, but these courts normally only deal in sums of less than $10,000. A small claims court judge will, if you win your case, put down a court order demanding that the client pays. Most other countries have a similar system too.

Ensuring you Get Paid

Hopefully you’ll rarely – if ever – need to us the above tactics. Getting paid up front for at least a percentage of your work, either through your website booking system or via check is often the best way of avoiding the issue of non-paying clients.

For more tips on running a small service business online, read our other blogs.

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Len is a tech and business writer who covers small business and startup advice and has appeared in many print and digital publications. He lives in London, UK, where he's also a sub editor on a national newspaper. He loves to travel and has lived in France, Spain, Senegal and Rwanda.

Business Record Keeping For Entrepreneurs

No one finds accounts and business record keeping very fun. Unless you’re an accountant, record keeping will probably feel tedious, complicated and time consuming. A recent survey of small business owners found it was the second biggest time-wasting annoyance they have – after email.

But, we also know just how important it is to keep records too. If you lose key records, or don’t ever store them, it may well come back to haunt you. If you can’t prove certain expenses you might have to pay the IRS (or the tax service in your country) more in taxes, or could even end up with a fine if you fail an audit.

Record keeping is therefore sensible. So, what kinds of records do you need to keep?

Records That Entrepreneurs Should Keep

Any small business must keep the following two types of common records:

1. Income
You must keep a record of all income (profits and losses) the business generates. At the most basic, this should be kept in a spreadsheet, detailing how much the income was, what date it was logged and who the client was (there are also many accounting tools out there that make this process a lot easier).

You would also be wise to keep a record of all the invoices you’ve sent your customers, as proof of business. It’s wise to separate your invoices into separate folders for your different customers, and update these each time you complete a piece of work.

2. Receipts
You need to keep a copy of all your receipts, so you can accurately claim expenses on your annual tax return. This includes all bills related to your property, spending on equipment, goods or even lunch when you’re meeting clients to discuss business.

By keeping a record of all your income and receipts, you know that, once it comes to paying your tax, you will be able to easily access all the information you need.
At a minimum, you need to keep these records for at least three years, although in some cases it’s wise to keep them longer (read more on the IRS’s website here).

Why Should Entrepreneurs Keep Records?

Besides basic obligations for when you file your taxes, there are several other major benefits of keeping all your records. These include:

  • View business progress
    By keeping records of income, you can view the business’s financial health over time. Hopefully, you’ll be able to plot a continual upward chart of income and profits – but it will also tell you if there are any problems.
  • Identify sources of income
    The greater the variety of services you offer, and the more customers you have, it can be hard to work out where money actually comes from.
    For instance, if you have 20 products and 60 customers, it can be difficult to think strategically and decide which products or services bring you most value – and which customers are the most important. However, if you keep consistent records, you might decide that 10 of your products bring so little income that you may as well stop offering them, and focus instead on the higher paying work.
  • Remember deductible expenses
    Remember that table you bought for the office 11 months ago? Or the lunch you had with a new client last June? Many business owners short-change themselves by forgetting to state all the expenses they could claim on their tax return. Keeping all your records makes it ess likely you’ll forget, so you can claim the tax back on expenses.
  • Prove your finances to banks or investors
    If you go to a bank for a loan, they will expect to see proof of your cash flow and financial stability. Records help you prove that your business is financially sound.

How Can Your Business Track Records?

Many small businesses use some form of accounting software to log all their transactions, and this helps them work out their tax bills. Alternatively, that kind of technology might not be right for your business, and simply keeping all your financial data in a series of spreadsheets will be enough.

Whatever approach you choose, you also need to keep other documents – such as invoices – in a central place, and most firms now opt for a customer relationship manager (CRM) where they can accurately track all information they hold on customers, and all the services those customers paid for.

Once your record keeping practices are in place, you’ll be able to focus more of your attention on growing your business, and less time on paper work!

Are you pricing your online services right?

Many entrepreneurs say that one of their biggest early mistakes when launching their business was pricing their offering too low. When you’re starting out, it can be tempting to try and draw new customers in with low prices. But, this can be a deadly mistake, meaning you never earn enough to get yourself off the ground.

But when you’re selling an intangible service, it’s often very difficult to work out how much it should cost. There’s no secret formula here, but the following tips can help you make a good estimate.

Work Out Your Hourly Rate

Your hourly rate can be an effective way of charging for services. To estimate your hourly rate, you need to decide what you want the business to turn over each year.

If your target is $100,000, you need to account for all your business expenses, including salaries, overheads and tax. Then, decide how many hours you will work each week, and minus any holiday.

This calculation should help you work out roughly what your hourly rate will be. Try not to be overly optimistic here, and remember that as a solopreneur you will often spend at least a few hours every week on non-productive work, like invoicing and accounts.

Fixed Price

Charging a fixed price for your service has positives and negatives. If you end up taking longer than expected to do the work, you might be short-changed. On the other hand, as you get more experience, you will be able to complete the job a lot faster, making the business more profitable.

Competitor Prices

You shouldn’t focus too much on your competitors’ pricing (after all, you want customers to see you as unique, not low cost), but it’s worth keeping in mind roughly what others in your space charge for similar services. If, for instance, your competitors all raise their prices, you could be doing yourself a disservice by staying cheap.

Perceived Value

In the end, people will pay what they feel is a fair price. You therefore need to do some market research to get an idea of what people are really willing to pay for your kind of service and what the market can take on.