The occasional bad debt is just part of doing business, and probably always has been. The trick is to realize who is not going to pay you as quickly as possible so you can begin taking steps – but of course, deadbeats look like normal people. You might even have come to like one! But at some point you’ll just have to face the fact that you’re never, ever going to be paid. Here are seven clear signs that your debtor isn’t going to settle their bill.
1. They claim you never billed them.
You know you sent an invoice. You have a copy in your files. They say it never arrived – could you send it again? Sure, accidents happen, and neither email or the postal service is infallible, but this should immediately get you to wondering because it’s basically chapter one of the Deadbeat Bible – delay, delay, delay.
2. They claim they did pay you.
Cheque is in the mail! Sure, sure. Again, this is a classic delaying tactic. If they say the cheque has been posted, check the standard delivery times with the postal service and keep track of it. Then follow up – immediately. If they say they want to mail out a second cheque, offer to send someone round to pick it up. Their reaction to this suggestion will be telling.
3. They suddenly find reasons to criticize your work.
All through the process things were rosy. They loved your work, praised your bedside manner, and repeatedly told you they would recommend you to anyone. Now that the sordid topic of coin has come up, suddenly they have a laundry list of unhappiness. This is a clear sign they have no intention of paying you what they owe. Don’t fall for it.
4. Radio silence.
The clearest sign, probably – you get no response at all. If repeated attempts at contact get no response, move the debt into the problem file immediately.
5. They ignore the invoice, but order more work.
You invoice, wait, and send a friendly reminder. Then your customer contacts you, but ignores the debt and instead initiates more work. Don’t fall for it. Otherwise you’ll just end up with twice the bad debt you had before, plus a helping of self-loathing.
6. Bouncing addresses.
This one should be obvious: Your invoice, followup, and everything else comes back to you. Your debtor is a ghost. Might as well write this one off, or give it to your commercial debt recovery service if you have one.
7. Some other business or individual contacts you asking if you have any info about the debtor.
Oh boy. If another person contacts you saying they’re owed money as well, wondering if you’ve had any success tracking down the deadbeat, you might as well invite them out for a pint and drown your mutual sorrows – because both of these debts are never getting paid.
While knowing in your heart that a debt will never be paid is not the same thing as knowing how to get your money, it can at least spare you days or weeks of confused worry. If you see any of these tell-tale signs, immediately stop being nice and start proceedings. You’ll feel better, even if you never actually recover your debt.
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