Every sale counts in keeping your doors open. And with the fallout from COVID-19 hitting small businesses harder than most, it’s never been more important to make sure you get paid.
That’s why we’ve rounded up some helpful pointers on how to encourage your customers to reply to those outstanding invoices. These best practices are vital during this uncertain time and will also serve you well long after it’s behind us!
1. Make payment as convenient as possible.
Welcome to the age of self-service. If you don’t offer your clients a way to pay online, you could be overlooking a truly valuable tool for faster payments.
Whether you set up a payment portal on your website or use an online payment service (more on this later), it’s a good way to get your invoices closed more quickly. Plus, your clients will appreciate the chance to close out their balance with their smartphone, instead of reading their credit card number over the phone or cutting and mailing a check.
The easier you make things for people today, the more likely they are to stick around. And that means more business for you in the future!
2. Create easy-to-read invoices.
Not all invoices are created equal. If you want yours to stand out, try following these helpful guidelines and see if they pay off:
Make the terms clear.
How many days do they have to pay? Decide on a reasonable number and put it in black and white on the invoice (“Please pay within 30 days of invoice date”). It’s also a good idea to let new customers know upfront about the usual lead time on invoices, as well as any potential late fees, so they’re prepared when the bill arrives.
Date your invoices.
Seems obvious, right? But we had to say it. Dating invoices is good for your internal records and to help customers know how long they have to pay.
Pro-tip: If you’re billing via email, put the invoice date right in the subject line. That way, if customers pin your message to read later, they’ll see that date and know the clock is ticking.
Number your invoices to streamline communication.
Assigning each invoice a number in chronological order is great for organization on your end, and it gives your customer service team and your customers a shared language for referencing their bills. That way, everyone is clear which service or sale you’re talking about when a customer calls.
Spell out the due date.
You’ve been clear upfront about the payment window of 30, 60, or 90 days. Now’s the time to get specific!
Call out the exact due date for their service in bold on each invoice. This allows your customers to save the day in their calendar so they don’t incur late fees, and lets you to track overdue payments more accurately.
Make the amount due loud and clear.
Change to a larger font, highlight it yellow, or write it in bold: do something that makes the amount due easy to read and hard to forget!
Include a payment link in the invoice.
These days, the bills that get paid first are the ones that make it easiest. If you send out PDF invoices via email, put your bill pay link right in the document, so customers can click directly from their invoice to payment and cross an item off their to-do list.
A sample of a clean, easy-to-read invoice template from PayPal
3. Think about prepayment.
Are you in an industry that can reasonably ask for deposits or down payments? If so, this might be a smart bet for your business.
Requiring upfront payment on services can reduce the amount of time you spend chasing down overdue invoices. And if you go the deposit/down payment route, that splits the total amount into two smaller, more manageable payments for your customers, which might be a real help for them.
4. Invoice your customers ASAP.
As soon as a job is completed, get that invoice in the mail (or email). This ensures that the project is still top of mind when your customer gets the bill.
Make time for invoicing in your schedule just like you make time for working on projects and outreach for new business. Even better: get an online payment service (got a few recommendations for you in step 6) that’ll automatically send invoices with the click of a button to save even more time.
5. Think about incentives for early payment…and penalties for late payments.
Lead with positive reinforcement! What would be a great incentive for your customers who pay on time or early? Would a discount on future service make sense? What about creating a “VIP Club” for your best customers, which offers them first dibs on upcoming products or new promotions? Get creative and think of ways to reward folks who are prompt with payments.
On the flip side: it might also be time to look into late fees, though they’re not something we’d lead with in big, bold letters. If anything, decide on clear rules about fees with your team, and clearly and politely communicate these decisions to your customers new and old—right off the bat if you can, so it’s not a surprise to them.
Whatever choices you make…stick with them. Reward your customers promptly, and if you say you’ll charge late fees, be sure to follow through and be consistent with every customer.
6. Follow up using online payment services.
Technology can be the BFF of small businesses, especially when it comes to invoicing. With online payment services, you can automate invoices and send your customers reminders to pay their bills ahead of the due date.
You can even set up alerts that will notify you any time a bill becomes overdue. And today, most of these services are optimized for mobile, so your customers can get that bill paid without putting down their phone.
Save yourself some headaches and hours of awkward emails and calls with customers begging them to pay you. There are lots of payment app options out there now—here are just a few to get you started:
- Invoice2Go. Send invoices and estimates! Agile, affordable, and made for small businesses:
- PayPal. A standard now for easy online payments. You can also use PayPal in person for walk-ins, much like ApplePay.
- Intuit QuickBooks Payments. Syncs with QuickBooks, of course. Great way to streamline and mobilize your invoice tracking:
- WePay. This service really touts its customizations, which allow you to seamlessly embed their technology in your website without disrupting the look and feel of your brand.
- ApplePay. A clean, simple app that’s great if you use Apple products to take payments:
7. “Thank you” goes a long way.
Never underestimate the power of gratitude! Thank your clients for their business on every single invoice and in each email or phone conversation, and instill this level of customer appreciation in your customer service team. As a small business owner, you know these little touches can really make a difference.
Need to get paid?
We know times are tough, especially as you try to keep your business on track with no clear path ahead in the short run.
If you’re looking for more resources for funding, check out this guide to the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) to see if your small business qualifies for this loan.