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40 politely-worded templates to get invoices paid

When accounts receivable go wrong: What to do | Chaser

When accounts receivable go wrong: What to do | Chaser

In the intricate blueprint of business finance, accounts receivable is as crucial as it is complex. It’s the cycle that keeps the wheels turning in an economic engine. If the receivables process oscillates, it can lead to a downward spiral, affecting cash flow, profitability, and even the longevity of a business. 

This article aims to highlight the importance of accounts receivable, examine common issues arising in this process, and discuss what steps companies can take when things go wrong.


The importance of accounts receivable

Accounts receivable is the amount of money owed to a company by its customers for goods or services that have been provided but not yet paid for. It represents an essential source of short-term funding for businesses, allowing them to continue operating and investing in growth.

A business can quickly run into financial trouble without proper accounts receivable management. When customers delay payment, the company's cash flow can improve, leading to a supply of funds for necessary expenses and investments.

Chaser's research shows that 89% of business leaders believe late payments are stopping their business from growing, and they are right to think so. Late payments can affect cash flow and have a domino effect on the business's relationship with suppliers, employees, and customers.

With 87% of businesses reporting that their invoices get paid after the due date, it's clear that accounts receivable is a critical aspect of business operations that requires careful management and attention.


Chaser's research shows that 89% of business leaders believe late payments are stopping their business from growing 

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The unseen challenges of accounts receivable

For the uninitiated, accounts receivable might seem straightforward: you deliver a service, issue an invoice, and await payment. However, the reality is often far from that ideal.

Businesses frequently need to catch up on late payments, revenue-sapping bad debts, and the knock-on effect of diminished cash flow. These challenges can cripple even the most robust operations if they aren't managed with precision and care.

These issues are compounded by the need to allocate vital resources to collecting overdue payments, diverting precious time and energy from core business activities.

Studies by Quickbooks, one of the leading accounting software providers, found that UK small businesses waste 56.4 million hours every year chasing late payments.

Given the current global labor shortage, the need to allocate additional resources to collections can strain an already stretched workforce.


Section 1: Understanding accounts receivable

Understanding the full scope of accounts receivable is the first step in managing this vital component of your business. It's not just about sending out invoices; it's about establishing efficient processes that ensure you get paid on time, every time.


Accounts receivable as a business health indicator

Accounts receivable aren't just about money coming in; they're also a signal of your business's health and potential growth. A long outstanding balance might indicate a deeper issue, potentially pointing to poor sales, ineffective collection practices, or even dissatisfaction among your customers.

On the other hand, a healthy accounts receivable turnover ratio - the average time it takes for your business to collect payment on invoices - can indicate solid customer relationships and efficient collections processes.


Segmenting accounts receivable

While tracking overall accounts receivable is crucial, it's also essential to segment these figures. By separating customers into categories based on their credit rating, payment history, or industry, you can better understand your receivables and tailor collection strategies accordingly.

For example, high-risk customers may require frequent follow-ups and stricter credit terms, while long-standing loyal customers may require more flexible arrangements.


The invoicing process

The invoicing process begins long before an invoice is sent. It starts with setting clear payment terms and expectations and continues to the invoice delivery method. Every step is critical, and every delay is a potential risk.

Mistakes in the invoicing process, such as incorrect details or missing information, can lead to payment delays and disputes that waste time and resources.


The story each invoice tells

An oft-overlooked aspect of accounts receivable is the data within each invoice. When properly analyzed, this information can provide valuable insights into customer behavior, cash flow patterns, and areas where the billing process might need improvement. Each invoice tells a story; you must learn how to read it.


Section 2: Aging of accounts receivable

The accounts receivable aging is the yardstick for your company’s financial operations. An aging report categorizes the status of unpaid customer bills in a snapshot. Learning to understand and use this report is paramount in maintaining financial health.


The ticking clock of aging invoices

Aging invoices represent time spent waiting for payment. The longer money is unpaid, the less it's worth in terms of operational value—it cannot cover current expenses or be reinvested to grow the business. Knowing how to read and act on the accounts aging report can help you leverage time in your favor.


Prioritizing actions

Not all late invoices are created equal. Some are more critical to be paid on time than others. Prioritizing actions based on the aging report can significantly improve collections and keep cash flowing in the right direction. By first addressing the most overdue invoices, you can mitigate potential cash flow issues and reduce the number of overall aging accounts.


Section 3: The importance of aging reports

Aging reports are more than numbers on paper; they are decision-making tools, providing insights that can shape company strategy and policy. Businesses can optimize collections processes, improve cash flow, and strengthen customer relationships by thoroughly analyzing aging accounts.


Aging reports in depth

An aging report provides insights into the length of invoices outstanding and the overall status of accounts receivable. These reports are generally broken down into categories based on time, such as 0-30 days, 31-60 days, 61-90 days, and over 90 days. This categorization helps identify which customers require immediate attention and which may need more proactive collection efforts.


Identifying patterns

Aging reports offer a bird's-eye view of the company's financial status. By recognizing patterns in aged accounts, businesses can identify areas for improvement and proactively address potential issues before they become significant problems. For example, if specific customers consistently pay late, it may be an indicator of underlying problems that need to be addressed.


Forecasting cash flow

Aging reports can also help businesses forecast future cash flow. By analyzing current trends in accounts receivable, companies can anticipate any potential shortfalls and take proactive measures to address them. This allows for better financial planning and budgeting, reducing the risk of cash flow problems.


Strategic debt recovery

Debt recovery should be strategic, not haphazard. Aging reports give you the data needed to act decisively and incrementally increase the likelihood of collection over time. Instead of simply writing off overdue invoices, businesses can use the insights from aging reports to target specific customers and tailor collection efforts for maximum success. This approach not only improves cash flow but also preserves customer relationships.


Section 4: Accounts receivable as an asset

Accounts receivable are more than just a marker of potential income; they are an asset that can be leveraged to maintain business operations or even fuel growth.


Unlocking liquidity through receivables

For businesses needing short-term funding, accounts receivable can be leveraged through financing options like factoring and lines of credit. This liquidity can tide them over until payments come in.


Exploring financing without compromise

However, not all financing options are equal; some might lead to a financial bind if not managed carefully. For example, factoring involves selling outstanding invoices at a discount to a third-party company. While this can provide quick cash flow, it also means losing some of the value of those receivables.


Section 5: Dealing with bad debts

Bad debts are an unfortunate and inevitable part of any business’s accounts receivable. Learning to detect and manage these can mean the difference between profitability and loss.


Writing off losses

When a debt becomes uncollectible, it must be written off and removed from accounts receivable. This loss cannot be claimed as income, resulting in a decrease in profit. However, businesses can mitigate this impact by claiming the bad debt as a tax deduction. They can also use professional debt recovery services to increase their chances of recovering lost funds.


Managing bad debts

Managing bad debts isn’t just about recovery but also prevention. Developing stringent credit policies, accurate and timely invoicing, and responsive collection procedures are critical in minimizing losses. By regularly monitoring and analyzing aging reports, businesses can identify potential issues early on and take proactive measures to prevent bad debts from occurring.


Preventing bad debts

While it’s impossible to eliminate bad debts entirely, businesses can take steps to minimize their occurrence. These include proper credit checks and setting clear payment terms and deadlines. Building solid relationships with customers can also help prevent bad debts, as they are more likely to prioritize paying businesses they have a good relationship with.


Section 6: Determining when to write off a bad debt

Deciding when to give up the ghost and write off a bad debt balances optimism and realism.


Assessing the probability of recovery

Several factors come into play when determining if a debt is collectible. Customer financial health, business circumstances, and the legal environment all have a role in deciding whether to close the book on a debt.


The fine line between hope and reality

Hope might spring eternal, but sound business decisions are grounded in the reality of resources available and the cost-benefit analysis of pursuing a debt.


Section 7: Navigating through accounts receivable challenges

Accounts receivable face many challenges, but proactive measures and tools are available to help businesses avoid the pitfalls.


Implementing robust processes

Solid accounts receivable processes go beyond simple billing. They encompass clear credit policies, efficient invoicing, and airtight collection procedures.


Utilizing technology for efficiency

Today's technology offers tools to streamline accounts receivable, from automation to AI, that can predict payment behavior and optimize collection strategies.


Safeguarding against cash flow disruptions

The well-prepared business has contingency plans for when accounts receivable don't go to script. Whether through strategic cash reserves or standby financing, ensuring operations continue smoothly is essential.


Revitalizing your accounts receivable management

Managing accounts receivable is an ongoing challenge that requires a multifaceted approach. Businesses can secure their financial well-being by understanding the intricacies of invoicing, leveraging aging reports, and taking strategic actions to recover bad debts. It’s about preparation, persistence, and the power of making informed decisions.

The call to action is clear for business owners and financial managers who’ve navigated to the bottom of this content-rich sea. Invest in the proficiency of your accounts receivable management. Utilize the plethora of knowledge and tools, like Chaser—an advanced, user-friendly platform that takes the legwork out of chasing invoices.

Don't wait for the tide to turn against your accounts receivable. Instead, empower your business with the knowledge and resources to make informed, deliberate moves. For more information on how Chaser can help improve your accounts receivable management, book a demo or sign up for your 10-day free trial today.

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