My wife and I run a small business providing large format digital ink-jet printing for Fortune 500 companies. We've been in business 11 years.
Our biggest problem is getting paid. We have one particular client that currently is 60 days overdue on $6,000. It is not uncommon for them to go 60 to 90 days over. What can we do as a small business to get payment faster? This is not the only client that does this and it puts a real cramp in our cash flow. At their request we set-up to take credit cards only to find their card has a $500 limit. In many instances we deal with graphics departments within the corporations who bill various departments. Do we have any way to get payment faster without jeopardizing our account?
--Frustrated on payment
Your problem isn't unusual. One of the dirty little secrets of small business ownership is how easy it is to have more than enough work coming in and not enough cash. When you have to pay your own bills in 30 days (and your employees in less time) but have to wait 60, 90 or even 120 days for your customers to pay you, it's easy to get into a big hole.
Fortunately, there are some ways to remedy the situation.
First, do a credit check before you extend credit. If credit card companies are limiting a customer's credit, you should consider doing the same. For big orders, ask for payment up front, or get a large deposit to cover your out-of-pocket costs.
Ask your late-paying customers if there is anything you can do to speed payment. Do you have all the information they need on your invoice? Should you send the invoice to someone other than the individual in the department for whom you're doing the work? Do you need to send out invoices sooner to get them in sync with the companies' billing cycles? (Large corporations typically will cut checks for all vendors at one time.. If your invoice arrives after they cut checks, you'll have to wait until the next time the company cuts checks to be paid.) You could try offering a discount for payment within 10 days, too, but your invoices may not be big enough to make the companies process them any sooner.
If those strategies don't help, consider a using a line of credit or invoice financing (factoring) to ease the cash crunch..
Since you have been in business for 11 years, you may be able to get a line of credit from either your bank or from one of the business credit cards that are being offered to small businesses now. The credit line on charge cards can run as high as $30,000 to $50,000, and is accessible by wire transfer or by check (or you can just charge equipment and supplies on the card.). Compare all rates and fees before making your decision which way to go.
If your business has left your credit a little shaky and you have difficulty getting a line of credit, factoring may be a good alternative. With factoring, the factor buys your receivable from you (at a discount), and then collects from your client. You get cash now without incurring debt.
Once you solve the immediate cash crunch, look for ways to minimize future cash flow problems by cutting operating costs, raising your prices, or finding customers who will pay sooner.