When you’re owed money by a customer who has missed the deadline for payment, you naturally want to ensure that they pay you as soon as possible. As long as there is no reason for them to withhold payment based on the level of service you have provided and they have signed a contract, you should be paid on time and in full – it’s as simple as that.

However, there will always be customers who don’t pay on time, whether they’re trying to get away without paying you, don’t have the money to do so or even that they’ve completely forgotten about it. This naturally affects your business operations, so you have to manage each situation in which you haven’t been paid to ensure that you eventually are.

It’s important to have a contract or payment agreement signed by every customer so you have paperwork to back you up in the case of a dispute. Maintain a neutral, non-accusatory tone in every communication you have with the customer – you don’t want to risk alienating them, especially if they’re a long-term client whom you have a good relationship with.

Don’t assume non-payment is deliberate

It’s important to remember that people often have legitimate issues that prevent them from paying on time. They might be waiting for a payment from one of their own customers that will go towards your fee, for example – if you don’t know for a fact that they have deliberately withheld payment, you cannot accuse them of doing so. Find out what the problem is and work with them to resolve it. If you feel that it would be beneficial to give them credit, by all means do so, but make sure they are aware that this is a one-off favour, not the norm.

Work out a plan

Unless the amount you’re owed is so small that it isn’t worth pursuing, you not getting paid is not an option. It sends out the wrong message to other businesses – namely that you can be pushed around and you won’t do anything about it – and you’ll lose out on profit that could send your business into the financial red zone. Work out a plan with the customer about how you’re going to get paid. Instalments, reductions (to be paid with the next order if the transaction is regular) or a trade of another kind could all be considered in this instance.

Escalate the issue

If you have the name and contact details of somebody higher up in the organisation, try getting in touch with them to see if they can speed the process up, or at least let you know when you can expect to be paid. This may jolt the original contact into making the payment – they might be embarrassed that their boss now knows that they haven’t done their job properly, or they might simply be given an instruction to make the payment immediately. If you are unsuccessful in speeding the payment process up, there may be something more serious going on within the client’s organisation and you may have to take the case to court.

There is no set process for managing customers who don’t pay on time – the course of action you take will depend on the specific case. However, you should always do what you can to keep the situation amicable but be prepared to take further steps (including legal action) to ensure you get your money.