The Domino Effect of Late Payments on Australian Businesses
The subject of late invoice payments has dominated the news heavily during the last 12 months. And with good reason! Many large businesses are taking advantage of smaller organisations and not paying within the terms of their agreement. This can be frustrating for businesses who are struggling with debt and limited cash flow.
Poor cash flow can limit growth
A slow cash flow can limit business growth causing major problems to both the business and the staff. Kate Carnell, the Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman, has been extremely communicative on this subject and believes that something must be done to aid small businesses around Australia.
The summary of findings from the Payment Times and Practices Inquiry states that 12% of firms lose more than 6 hours per week chasing late payments. The review also claims that based on an average 30-day payment term, one in two businesses report that 40% of their bills go beyond the invoice terms and 20% said they were paid beyond the two-month mark.
Improving your cash flow
As a small business owner, what can you do? Firstly, it is important that you negotiate the terms laid out by larger businesses. Endeavour to contact them as soon as the payment is late. Even if it is an oversight on their part, early contact can immediately rectify the issue. Effective communication will see the invoice being paid sooner rather than later. With just shy of 50% of businesses claiming that $20,000 is due in late payment, it is no small matter. Even worse, 14% of companies claim that they have at least $100,000 in late debts owing. This can be likened to putting a choker on an organisation. It can dramatically limit its future growth and potential. It can also have a run-on effect to other businesses around them.
Late payments can affect the whole chain
Unfortunately, one late payer can influence the entire supply chain, and it is the smaller fish at the bottom of the pond that suffer. Like a domino, when one business fails to pay, everyone is affected. A small business will be unable to pay their personal suppliers on time and so on and so on down the line. This knock on effect can also cause poor customer service leading to further money issues. Problematic cash flow can result in issues such as anxiety, stress and burnout. Worrying about debt is energy zapping, and late payments can adversely affect the mental well-being of all business owners.
Ensure that your communication channels are continuously open with your clients and define your payment terms at the outset. If a debtor is consistently late with their payment, then it might be worth sending them another copy of your terms as a reminder. If you are yet to put a cash flow forecast into place, then now is the time. Knowing what is coming in and going out is a timely exercise that will allow you to keep on top of those late payments.
Has the situation reached crisis point?
You cannot read a business magazine or online journal without seeing the issue discussed to some degree. It is having a detrimental effect on the Australian small business industry as a whole. In the long-term, it will only lead to closures, insolvency and bankruptcy if something is not done.
In a bid to improve the situation, the Business Council of Australia (BCA) has come up with an initiative they call the Australian Supplier Payment Code. The initiative will allow companies to sign up and show their commitment to paying their suppliers within a 30-day period. The BCA claims that the payment code will “in some cases… more than halve payment times.” This is great news for businesses nationwide and will do away with large businesses that look at smaller companies as an alternative financial loan.
While Carnell calls the voluntary code a “soft measure”, it is a step in the right direction. The code plans to focus on such issues as timely payment, clear payment procedures, better invoicing and payment practices and improved guidelines for payment disputes. A soft measure, or not, it seems that Australia needs systems like this put in place if the larger businesses are continuously going to take advantage. It is the smaller companies that are struggling with strained cash flow limiting profitability and growth. Australia – we can do better!