In small businesses, being paid for ones work, being only partially paid, or having to expand energy and money to collect an account is a huge detriment to ones bottom line. In an effort to minimize your difficulties Courtney Aarbo Barristers and Solicitors (www.aflawyers.ca) is pleased to provide you with;
10 Tips for account Collection
If your business is not being ‘paid up front’, then you are in the business of extending credit and you should try to think a bit like your bank.
If your business is extending significant credit, have the customer fill out a credit application, which will hopefully contain information about the customer’s address, place of employment, and bank. All this information way be invaluable in later trying to chase the customer for payment.
If possible obtain a credit card number with an authorization to use it to pay for the services once completed.
If worried about a customer’s credit worthiness do some basic checks on him or her. For example our office or a registry shop can order a ‘Personal Property Registry Search’ at a cost of only a few dollars. This search will show what creditors are registered against the customer and against his or her assets. It will also show registered writs of enforcement by other creditors who have obtained Court Judgments. Obviously doing business with a poor credit risk is to be avoided.
If possible prepare a contract with the customer and make sure it is properly signed. The contract should specify the ‘terms of payment’ and what interest is to be paid on overdue accounts. Note: Simply putting an interest rate on the bottom of an invoice (for example 2% per month) is not legally enforceable. An interest rate must be agreed to in writing in a contract in advance of the contract’s performance.
Make sure any contract contains a term that the customer will repay to the business any and all costs of collecting an account, including lawyer’s fees and disbursements on a solicitor/ client basis. Hopefully if you need to hire a lawyer to collect an account, the cost can be added to the claim.
Be sure to clearly and carefully document on invoices the services which have been done or provided and the charges and credits on the account. Too often unclear accounting results in a customer not paying on a timely basis, or at all.
Be sure that any changes to the work being done or product provided is carefully documented, preferably with the customer acknowledging the change in writing. Surprise changes in a final accounting often result in payment problems. If an account has to be sued on to collect an improperly documented change, a judgment may not be awarded by a judge.
Keep a complete file reflecting what has been done for the customer. For example memos of important conversations or copies of emails confirming important events provide a good record. This documentation will be very useful in settlement discussions or court proceedings.
Sit down with a customer to discuss in a calm straightforward manner any difficulties he or she has with the services or the accounting. Often misunderstandings can be worked through before positions harden on payment. Often a small compromise on an account is much better than a dragged out fight with a customer, sapping your time and energy, and possibly incurring legal bills.
The above points deal largely with account collection before the need to come into a lawyers office. Frankly the most positive outcome for a business is not to have to hire a lawyer for account collection. While we are happy to provide legal services for this purpose, we would prefer to see accounts all paid on time leaving business to retain our services for more positive purposes.