The art and psychology of collecting your money: practical tips to ensure you get paid

Learn how understanding the basics of human psychology can lead to practical insights and strategies ensuring you receive what's owed.

The art and psychology of collecting your money: practical tips to ensure you get paid

In the exciting world of running a small business, cash flow is the rhythm that keeps everything in sync. While profit might be the ultimate goal, maintaining positive cash flow ensures the day-to-day operations don't skip a beat. And a significant part of this effort involves managing your debtors—the individuals or entities that owe your business money.

The human element behind collecting your money

If your business operates on credit terms, managing debtors becomes crucial. Timely collections ensure you have the necessary cash at hand to pay suppliers, employees, and other operational costs. Efficient debtor management can also minimize the risks of bad debts, where you end up never receiving the money owed to you. But how can you be more proactive about this?

When we talk about managing debtors, we're essentially dealing with people and their intrinsic behaviors. The way someone responds to financial obligations often reflects their perceptions, values, and even past experiences. So, the key to efficient debtor management is understanding these psychological underpinnings.

Strategies infused with psychological insight

  1. Set clear credit terms upfront:

    The psychology: By setting boundaries, you establish a sense of security and expectation. Humans, by nature, find comfort in clarity.

    Example: A small catering business changed its invoicing strategy to tackle the issue of late payments. When partnering with a fresh client, the company implemented clear payment guidelines, requiring a 30% deposit in advance and the remaining balance to be settled within 7 days following the event. This modification led to a dramatic reduction in overdue accounts, plummeting from 15% to a mere 2%.

  2. Screen new customers:

    The psychology: Trust, but verify. This age-old adage aligns with the valid suggestion to trust those with a track record of reliability. People generally have a tendency to exhibit repeated patterns in their actions.

    Example: A wholesale electronics company decided to check the credit score of a new retailer before supplying goods on credit. Finding the retailer had a history of late payments, they opted for a shorter credit duration to avoid straining their own cash flows.

  3. Send invoices promptly:

    The psychology: Immediate actions trigger immediate reactions. This is in line with the cognitive bias known as the recency effect, which indicates that events that have happened recently are more likely to be recalled, and thus reacted upon.

    Example: A creative design studio made it a general practice to send invoices within 24 hours of completing a project. Their promptness resulted in significantly faster payments, thus improving their overall cash flow.

  4. Offer early payment discounts:

    The psychology: Everyone loves a reward. The release of dopamine, a neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward, can be triggered by incentives such as discounts, thereby encouraging more prompt actions.

    Example: An auto parts store started giving a 2% discount to customers who settle their bills within 10 days. This led to 60% of their clients paying well before the standard 30-day period.

  5. Implement a reminder system:

    The psychology: We're creatures of habit, and the use of reminders can help in establishing a consistent routine. By doing so, reminders lessen the mental effort required to keep track of important due dates, making life simpler and more organized.

    Example: A landscaping bureau decided to set up automatic reminders that notify clients three days before their bill is due. This boosted the share of timely payments by 60% and reduced the time spent on administrative follow-ups.

  6. Consider flexible payment plans:

    The psychology: Empathy fosters loyalty. By recognizing and accommodating someone's temporary challenges, not only do you provide immediate relief but you also lay the foundation for a more enduring and mutually beneficial business relationship.

    Example: When a loyal client of interior decor studio hit a rough patch, they offered a three-month installment plan. Not only was the full amount eventually collected, but the client's loyalty to the business deepened, which subsequently resulted in additional projects and increased revenue.

  7. Maintain open communication:

    The psychology: Personal connections matter. Direct communication in a form of a phone call or a face-to-face meeting appeals to our inherent need for social connections and understanding.

    Example: An apparel producer noticed one of their long-term retailers was consistently late with payments. A direct conversation revealed the retailer was facing supply chain issues. By understanding the root cause, they offered a temporary extended credit period, preserving a valuable business relationship.

  8. Review debtors regularly:

    The psychology: Consistency is the key. Regular check-ins not only keep finances in order but also show consistent care towards business relationships. Analyze your list of debtors to identify patterns or clients who are consistently late. This can help in preempting potential bad debts.

    Example: A logistics startup conducts monthly reviews of all outstanding payments. By identifying habitual late-payers, they shorten the future credit terms or move to prepayment based cooperation with those clients.

These seemingly small shifts in approach, grounded in empathy and understanding, can significantly impact not just payment timelines but also the overall quality of business relationships. In an era where connections and trust play pivotal roles in the success of any venture, leveraging both business acumen and human psychology in debtors management can be a game-changer. After all, a holistic approach that values the human touch is what sets outstanding businesses apart in today's competitive landscape.