A great service to offer is credit control – i.e. chasing invoice payments. You might shudder at the thought of calling strangers to chase money, but it’s actually completely painless if you know what to say. Many small businesses and freelancers prefer to outsource this task because it creates a buffer between them and their client.
How to chase invoices for clients
Firstly, you’re probably worried that you’re going to call up and get an earful of abuse from the company you’re calling.
But this doesn’t happen.
Companies do business with each other every day, invoices go overdue all the time and, in my own personal experience, people are really nice and completely happy to help.
So don’t be scared that someone is going to be mean to you.
Before you call
Before you pick up the phone make sure you know the details of the invoice, who you’re going to speak to and what you’re going to say. You don’t want to open the call sounding like an amateur and you’ll get totally fobbed off if they smell fear or weakness – so make sure you know what you’re talking about!
What to say when you call
“Good morning, I’m calling on behalf of companyyouowemoneyto, can you put me through to your accounts department please.”
You get put through.
“Hi there, my name is Joanne Munro and I’m calling on behalf of companyyouowemoneyto, I’m chasing invoice number 1072 which was due on the third of May and I wondered if you could give me an update on the payment status please?”
They usually say yes, check their database system and tell you.
OR/AND (combine to make a script you feel comfortable with)
“Hi there, my name is Joanne Munro and I’m calling on behalf of companyyouowemoneyto. You have an invoice due for payment in a couple of days and I just want to make sure you received it ok. You’re usually very quick with payments so I want to make sure it hasn’t slipped through the net. Shall I give you the invoice number so you can check the status?”
If they say it’s been paid – ask for the payment reference, the date it was paid, a direct name and phone number then say you’ll look into it and call them back. Then let your client know.
If they say it’ll be paid on the next payment run – ask for the date of the payment run and let your client know.
If they say there’s nobody available to take the call – ask to leave a message. Tell them what company you’re calling from, give the invoice details (number and amount due) and ask for a good time to call back or just say you’ll call back again later/in the morning etc. Make it clear you’re calling back.
If they say they’ll look into it – thank them, get their name and direct number and ask when you should call back to get an update. They might want to keep fobbing you off but once they know you intend to keep calling back, it’s often easier for them to just sort it out and get you off their back.
If they plead ignorance – If you’ve given them the details of the invoice and they say they don’t have a record of it then tell them you’ll have it resent immediately. Get the direct contact details of the person you’re speaking to and who to send it to if not them. Make sure the invoice is resent with a read receipt and chase it up.
If they seem embarrassed and a bit confused – make light of it. Diffuse their embarrassment by telling them that these things happen, warmly tell them that you’ll resend the invoice and make sure you get their personal email address so you or your client can resend the invoice directly to them.
Try and make one person accountable for sorting this with you.
Invoices do sometimes get lost or not put on the right person’s desk so stay chatty and friendly. Tell them you’ll get a new invoice over asap, ask when it’s likely to be paid and tell them you’ll call back nearer the time to check it’s been added to the payment run. Then ask your client to resend an invoice that same day and make a note to follow it up.
Good things to say
“When’s the best time to call back?”
“When is it likely to be paid – do you have fixed payment run dates?”
“Can I get your direct number please?”
“So you’re happy to look into this for me?”
“So I can leave this one with you then?”
“I’ll resend the invoice again today for you, what’s the best email address to use?”
“Thank you for your help in all this, I’ll give you another call on Monday to check the status”
You should come across as confident, polite and professional. You don’t want anyone to feel embarrassed or annoyed but they do owe your client money and you need to let them know that you’re not going away and will be calling back again.
Although you need to sound professional, it’s ok to laugh with the person and make light of it all. The person you’re speaking to is probably not the person responsible for actually paying the invoice, so don’t make them feel bad about it. Just be clear, confident and make it known that you’ll be calling back repeatedly until it’s sorted.
If it starts to get a bit out of hand (they’re having issues or going out of business or someone gets arsey) then just escalate it to your client and let them deal with it if they want to take it further.
Recording the info for your client
They might already have a system, but if they don’t then set up a Google doc or Excel spreadsheet in Dropbox with these headings:
- Name of the company who owes them money
- Phone number
- Contact name
- Invoice number
- Amount due
- Date payment was due
Get the client to add all their invoices to the doc then mark in red the ones that have gone out of their payment terms (over 30 days etc), mark in orange the ones that are still within 30 days but you need to keep an eye on, and mark in green invoices that have been raised but are not due yet. Or whatever the client decides.
The doc can be as complicated as you want but basically, you need to know who owes the money, how to get hold of them, the invoice number, how much is owed and when it was due to be paid.
You then use the notes section to mark the date you called, who you spoke to and what they said. This is so you are informed for when you make further follow up calls.
The first couple of calls you make will probably feel weird and a bit scary, but once you get a patter going you’ll be fine and you’ll wonder why you were ever worried in the first place. You’ll also have a new service to offer your clients!
* If you’re going to do any type of credit control in the UK you may need to register under money laundering regulations (AML). This HMRC web page lets you check whether your Virtual Assistant business needs to register or not.