We run a long-standing family business which imports produce which we resell to businesses – our customer base is largely garden centers and independent shops, but we also have independent traders who also buy from us.
One of these independent traders owes us over £15,000. We have established payment terms of 30 days, but this has been going on for over a year, with various excuses given to us for non-payment.
Frustratingly, this company has a large following on social media – including over 100,000 on Instagram – and often posts photos of celebrity homes brightened up with our products. If only these celebrities knew how they treated our business.
If we go the legal route, it’s likely the fee will erase what’s owed. I messaged on Instagram, and they said they basically couldn’t afford to pay — but they keep posting glossy photos with their celebrity clients.
What would you do under the circumstances? Is it rude to start leaving messages on their social media posts?
We just want them to understand that we too are a small business that cannot afford to get away with this.
Customer owed me £15,000 for over a year and now says he can’t pay me back
Dave Fishwick, This Is Money’s business physician responds: I can understand your frustration.
it’s been hard enough for small businesses in recent years: the pandemic, rising prices and supply chain disruptions have forced many businesses to adapt or close.
I tell all my businesses to pay their bills immediately, a small business that waits 30, 60, 90 or even 120 days or more could go bankrupt just waiting for what is owed to them.
Small business cash flow is like oxygen, and you need it to survive. I encourage all other companies that can afford it to follow my lead.
Legal fees can run into huge sums if you end up in a protracted legal dispute that doesn’t go your way. If you are successful, the costs should be awarded to you by them if they can afford to pay.
There are ways to use the law to get the money back, which shouldn’t be prohibitive. The mere threat of legal action may be enough to get them to pay what they owe.
They might just try it, hoping you’ll clear the debt out of convenience. If they know you’re not just going to lie down and you intend to take action against them, they may decide it’s easier to pay than to end up in court.
If they really can’t pay, they may have to close the business and you’re unlikely to get your funds back.
If, however, they could pay it, but just decided they’d rather keep the money, then I think there’s a good chance they’ll pay it. If they are really going through a hard time, they should be willing to pay the debt in installments.
I suggest you send a final demand letter giving them 14 days to pay. If they still don’t pay, I recommend sending another letter before taking action, giving them seven days to pay, or legal action will begin.
I would also suggest going through the online money claim, which for a debt of £15,000 will cost 5% of the claim (£750). This would then be dealt with through the courts and, if successful, a county court judgment would be entered against the debtor.
If they still don’t pay, then this can be sent to the bailiffs if the debt is unregulated. If it is simply an unpaid bill, it could be passed on to the High Court Bailiffs, who have far more power than the County Bailiffs.
All costs associated with the request for money will be added to the debtors debt.
I don’t think shaming them on social media is the way to go in this situation.
Aside from the risk of falling under libel laws if you say anything other than the absolute provable truth, I don’t think it would reflect very well on your own company’s image to be involved in a take of public beak.
You may end up in an online argument, and I don’t recommend you do it, no matter how frustrating and unfair your current situation may be.
Even if, of course, it does not help you with this client, I am sure that this case will force you to tighten your procedures for offering credit terms.
There is a balance to be struck here, as providing payment terms will help new customers grow and ultimately buy more from you in the future. But this inevitably puts your business at risk, especially when economic conditions are already tough.
The best approach going forward is to start by offering limited amounts of credit to new customers.
You must also provide goods with invoicing terms and conditions which state that all goods remain your property until fully paid for. This will give you better legal status to recover the goods if payment is not made.
You can also explore the costs of purchasing insurance against unpaid bills.
I wish you well in recovering the money owed to you and hope this does not affect the continued success of your business.
Ask Dave Fishwick a question about business or career advice
Millionaire and self-made entrepreneur Dave Fishwick is our newest columnist answering your business and career questions.
Dave has a hugely successful minibus and vehicle business based in Lancashire and rose to fame with his BAFTA-winning TV series, Bank of Dave, which saw him battle the big banks.
He’s ready to answer your questions, whether you own a business, are thinking of starting one, or have general career questions.
In his spare time, he enjoys giving talks to inspire people to do their best.
A Netflix film about Bank of Dave is set to air late this year/early 2023 and he’s been a friend of This is Money for a decade. He now wishes to impart some of his wisdom and advice to our readers.
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