Accounts receivable (AR) is what people owe you. For anyone who has written an invoice or had difficulty getting a client to pay you for your work, you know how awkward and stressful it is wait for the money. Checking your email, mailbox and bank account to see in clients have paid their bills. Frustrating. Why don’t they #$%^@ pay?
- AR is a reflection of how much work you have done recently
- AR is a reflection of the quality of the clients you have
- AR is the lifeblood of your business, your cash still sitting in your client’s pocket
Watch your cashflow. As I wrote in a previous post, just because you are profitable (revenue – expenses = profits) does not mean you are successful. You may be making a 30% net profit, but unless you collect from your client – you are doing free work.
No surprise, business is tough. There are a number of potential issues you could run into which can easily bankrupt the business:
- Too much inventory (wrong type, level, timing of consultant hires)
- Lagging sales (no new consulting projects)
- Slow collections (projects in-flight that are delayed)
- Slow cash conversation (clients who are slow to pay)
They say that most businesses fail because of poor cash flow management, which completely makes sense to me. There is a lot of timing needed to find the right “rhythm of business” so that you don’t have too much money going out (accounts payable) before you have the money coming in (accounts receivable). Yes, the wheel of money starts with you investing in the business, getting people, getting projects, getting started, but unless you finish the wheel – get paid – your business is dead.
So what can we, as consultants do, to prevent this receivables problem?
Before the project:
- Create clear statements of work and proposals that outline the deliverables
- Negotiate up-front with the client what is included and not included
- Set expectations as you go, explaining what has been done, and what is left
- Be careful with contingency or fee-at-risk work; set a clear baseline and measure. Don’t get caught up in a “no that is not what I meant” later in the project
- If possible, build a business around trust and referrals. The more you are working with the type of clients you want, is a sign that you business is on track
During the project
- Structure interim deliverables for partial payment; don’t wait until the end
- SEND OUT THE BILL on time; remember most payment terms are 30-60 days AFTER sending out the invoice. Send out the invoice NOW.
- Demonstrate results; it’s hard to argue with the bill when you like the work
End of the project
- Keep the projects rolling; every company has problems – find more problems for you to fix, and get those projects started too; be a sticky consultant, stick around
Consultants – what else are you doing to make sure clients pay their bills?