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How to Overcome the Problem of Late Payments

When your company is facing yet another cash flow crisis caused by late paying customers, it can be hard to believe there might be a solution.

But there are steps you can take to overcome the problems delinquent payments cause and to avoid them happening again.

Late payments are something that hundreds of thousands of SMEs experience. Of the 1.7 million SMEs in the UK 640,000 say they have to wait beyond the agreed terms for payments, according to Bacs Payment Schemes.

Nearly 40% of them spend up to four hours a week chasing late payers and 12% employ someone specifically to pursue outstanding invoices.

Late payments can threaten SME’s ability to trade, and stifle appetite for growth and recruitment, says Ian Cole, Head of Invoice Finance at Siemens Financial Services. In worst cases, it can lead to insolvency. Mike Cherry, National Chairman at the Federation of Small Businesses, said if payments were made promptly, 50,000 business deaths could be avoided every year.

So too could the problems that late payments cause. Of those SMEs facing late payments, 16% struggle to pay their staff on time, while 28% of company directors reduce their own salaries to keep essential working capital inside their businesses. A quarter (25%) rely on bank overdrafts to make essential payments, and 15% find it difficult to pay business bills like energy, rates, and rent when they’re due.

Late payments take an emotional toll on business owners and CEOs too.

Over a quarter (29%) of UK SME owners struggle with depression, anxiety, increased stress, and other serious mental health related issues caused by the worry of late payments, according to research commissioned by The Prompt Payment Directory (PPD).

The survey polled 1,000 UK small to mid-sized company owners who all suffer from poor cashflow due to late or outstanding invoice payments.

More than a third (34%) regularly lose sleep over poor cash flow caused by clients paying late and 7% even claim to have lost their hair because of the anxiety, the PPD revealed.

Nearly a quarter (21%) struggle to pay their mortgage or rent or have been forced to sell the family home. The consequence of these late payment pressures is also destroying people’s marriage, family, and social lives.

The amount of time SMEs are kept waiting beyond their previously agreed payment terms is a big issue. Almost a third of companies face delays of at least a month beyond their terms and nearly 20% are having to wait more than 60 days before being paid.

UK businesses with turnovers of under £1million wait an average of 72 days for payment of invoices, according to the Asset Based Finance Association, the body representing the asset based finance industry in the UK and the Republic of Ireland. By comparison, businesses with an annual turnover of between £1 million and £10 million wait about 53 days and businesses with £500 million-plus turnovers wait about 47 days.

Solutions

Fortunately, there are measures you can take to protect your company from the worst effects of late payments and to ensure you are paid promptly in future.

Research prospective clients

Before accepting a new client, carry out a credit check and find out if the company has a reputation for paying on time.

Agree prompt payment terms

Get clients to sign a contract or agree to terms and conditions that specify when they must pay your invoice and late or overdue fees. Include your payment terms on every invoice.

Send invoices promptly

Don’t delay in sending out invoices. Check that the details are correct to avoid delays.

Offer a range of payment options

Make it easy for customers to pay you by offering them a variety of payment options such as Direct Debit, PayPal, and credit card. If your clients are based in a different country, accept payment in their currency.

Use invoice finance

Invoice finance will give you essential working capital (90% of the approved total invoice) while you wait for the outstanding invoice to be paid. You’ll receive the remaining 10% when your client pays your invoice.

Use an invoice tracker system

You’ll receive an alert when invoices are overdue.

Keep to a schedule

Invoice on the same date every month so that your clients known when to expect your invoices.

Set up internal invoice reviews

Hold regular weekly or monthly internal finance meetings to review your invoices.

Don’t back down

If you have late fees for overdue invoices then make sure you follow through and charge them. By law, you can claim interest and debt recovery costs if another business is late paying for goods or a service.

If you haven’t already agreed when the money will be paid, the law says the payment is late after 30 days for public authorities and business transactions after either:

  • the customer gets the invoice
  • you deliver the goods or provide the service (if this is later)

You can agree a longer period for payments from one business to another—but if it’s longer than 60 days it must be fair to both businesses.

Hire a part-time CFO

For a fraction of the cost of a full-time CFO, the CFO Centre will provide you with a highly experienced senior CFO. Your part-time CFO will assess your company’s cash flow position and take the following steps:

  • Identify and address all the immediate threats to your business. It might involve chasing late paying customers, using invoice financing to give the business an immediate cash injection, or arranging short-term loans or overdraft facilities with your bank.
  • Determine where improvements and savings can be made.
  • Instigate the use of regular cash flow forecasts. This way you’ll know in advance if your company is going to face a cash shortfall and can make arrangements for extra borrowing, or take other action.

End your late payment and cash flow problems now by calling the CFO Centre today. To book your free one-to-one call with one of our part-time CFOs, call +65 9776 0969 or just click here.

A True Toy Story: LEGO’s Incredible Turnaround Tale

The story of how LEGO, the family-owned toy company went from teetering on the brink of disaster and hemorrhaging cash to delivering the highest revenues in its entire history and being voted the 2017 Most Powerful Brand in the World makes for a truly inspirational tale…

 

Fourteen years ago, LEGO’s Head of Strategic Development Jørgen Vig Knudstorp delivered the kind of assessment that most managers would gladly superglue their own ears shut to avoid hearing.

“We are on a burning platform, losing money with negative cash flow and a real risk of debt default which could lead to a break-up of the company,” warned Knudstorp at that meeting.

He’d discovered during six months of examining the company that there was a lack of profitable innovation, according to David C. Robertson, author of ‘Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote The Rules Of Innovation And Conquered The Global Toy Industry’.

“LEGO had plumped up its top line, but its bottom line had grown anorexic. All the creativity of the previous few years had generated a wealth of new products, but only a few were actually making money,” wrote Robertson. “To make matters worse, the LEGO Group’s management organisation and systems, shaped by decades of success, were poorly equipped to handle a downturn.”

The company’s management team—twelve senior vice presidents who oversaw six market regions as well as such traditional functions as the direct-to-consumer business and the global supply chain—didn’t collaborate but instead operated in their own silos.

The result was that the LEGO Group was expected to suffer a thirty percent fall in sales with £193 million in operating costs. It had a negative cash flow of more than £124 million.

By the end of the year, it was likely to default on its outstanding debt of nearly £620 million. Its net losses were likely to double the following year.

Knudstorp’s stark assessment should have come as no surprise. Something was going badly wrong at LEGO HQ Denmark: in the years from 1932 through to 1998, the company had never made a loss but from then on, the losses had increased year by year. First there had been a little loss in 1998 but by 2003—the year of Knudstorp’s no-holds barred assessment—that had grown to something deeply worrying.

Much worse results followed a year later when the company recorded its biggest ever loss of about £217 million. By then, Knudstorp had been appointed CEO.

“In 2003, we pretty much lost thirty percent of our turnover in one year,” he told Diana Milne in ‘Business Management Magazine’.

In 2004, the company had a further ten percent fall in turnover. “So, one year into the job, the company had lost forty percent of its sales. We were producing record losses and cash flows were negative. My job was how to stop the bleeding.

“We had to stabilise sales and cut costs dramatically to deal with the new reality of selling forty percent less than we had done two years earlier. We had too much capacity, too much stock. It was sitting in the wrong countries. The retailers were very unhappy.”

Knudstorp, a former McKinsey analyst, told James Delingpole of the ‘Daily Mail’, “We had a dress rehearsal of the world financial crisis: a strong decline in sales and a massive increase in our indebtedness.”

The losses were partly a result of the company’s attempt to diversify in the late 1990s, in the belief its brightly coloured building bricks were losing appeal and were under threat from computer games and the internet.

It was coming under pressure from other toy manufacturers since the last of its plastic toy brick design patents had run out in 1988 and the monopoly it had enjoyed for so long in the plastic toy brick market had begun to erode.

LEGO’s diversification saw it expand the number of theme parks it owned in a bid to help increase visibility of the LEGO brand across key markets. This was despite it having little hospitality experience. Unfortunately, these capital-intensive developments didn’t provide anywhere near the expected returns.

And the company had dramatically expanded the number of products in its portfolio, according to the ‘Brick By Brick’ author. In the years 1994 through to 1998, it had tripled the number of new toys it produced.

“In theory that was a good thing: experimentation is the prelude to real progress,” wrote Robertson. … “Problem was, the LEGO Group’s once-famous discipline eroded as quickly as its products proliferated.

“Production costs soared but sales plateaued, increasing by a measly five percent over four years,” Robertson said.

The company had little idea which products were making money and which were failing to produce an adequate return on the sometimes-heavy tooling investment, according to a case study from John Ashcroft and Company.

LEGO had even created its own lifestyle clothing range and brand shops and launched its own TV series, DVDs and video games.

So, by the time Knudstorp delivered his assessment, the company was in serious trouble.

The Turnaround Begins…

Which is why with the help of Finance Director, Jesper Oveson (former Chief Financial Officer of one of the largest banks in Scandinavia, the Danske Bank), Knudstorp began to make sweeping changes.

Oveson discovered there was an inadequate degree of financial analysis within the company. While there was a profit and loss account by country, there wasn’t product analysis or line profitability, according to John Ashcroft and Company. In other words, the company didn’t know where they made or lost money. Likewise, the theme parks were a massive cash drain but no-one knew why.

The two men decided on a short-term life-saving action plan rather than a long-term strategy for LEGO, which would involve managing the business for cash rather than sales growth. Key moves included:

  • Setting financial targets. Ovesen introduced a near-term, measurable goal of 13.5% return on sales benchmark and established a financial tracking system—the Consumer Product Profitability system. It measured the return on sales of individual products and markets so the company could track where it was making and losing money. Every existing or proposed product had to demonstrate it could meet or surpass that benchmark.
  • Cost-cutting (including cutting 1,000 jobs)
  • Improving processes (many processes were outsourced which meant employee numbers could be cut by another 3,500)
  • Managing cash flow
  • Introducing performance-related pay
  • Reducing the product-to-market time.
  • Selling the theme parks and slowing retail expansion.
  • Cutting the number of components from almost 7,000 down to about 3,000.

The result of these and other changes was that LEGO recovered and went on to become the most profitable and fastest-growing toy company in the world. During the worst of the recession in the years 2007 through to 2011, for example, LEGO’s pre-tax profits quadrupled. Its profits grew faster than Apple’s in the years 2008 through to 2010.

LEGO the Super-Brand

LEGO’s success has continued. Earlier this year, LEGO (now being run by Bali Padda as Knudstorp has moved into a role where he can expand the brand globally) announced its highest ever revenue in the company’s 85-year history.

And it overtook Ferrari and Apple to be voted the world’s most powerful brand. Each year, Brand Finance, a leading brand valuation and strategy consultancy, puts thousands of the top brands around the globe to the test to find the most powerful and most valuable of them all. This year, LEGO won.

“LEGO is the world’s most powerful brand,” it announced. “It scores highly on a wide variety of measures on Brand Finance’s Brand Strength Index such as familiarity, loyalty, staff satisfaction and corporate reputation.”

Its appeal to children and adults in this tech-centred world also garnered praise from Brand Finance.

It continued, “The LEGO movie perfectly captured this cross-generational appeal. It was a critical and commercial success, taking nearly $500 million [£338 million] since its release a year ago. It has helped propel LEGO from a well-loved, strong brand to the worlds most powerful.”

Which goes to show that even when disaster seems certain, it is possible to revive an ailing company. Of course, it helps to have a top-level financial advisor working with you to ensure the changes you’re making are the right ones.

What To Do If Your Company Is Suffering A Cash Flow Crisis

If your company is in dire straits, take action now—don’t imagine you can wish the crisis away or continue to do whatever you’ve been doing in the hope things will get better. They won’t.

Until you identify and fix your cash flow problems then put systems in place for managing cash flow, your company is at a very grave risk of insolvency.

Without well-defined and well-managed strategies to avoid running into cash flow problems and a plan to improve cash flow if such problems should arise, your company will continue to flounder.

Fortunately, you don’t have to do it alone. The CFO Centre will provide you with a highly experienced part-time CFO with ‘big business experience’ for a fraction of the cost of a full-time CFO.

He or she will assess your company’s cash flow position and take the following steps:

Identify and address all the immediate threats to your business

Prevent cash flow problems from recurring and

Instigate the use of regular cash flow forecasts.

Having control of your company’s cash flow will allow you to operate within your means, and move away from a ‘feast and famine’ situation that plagues even the largest companies.

Having the right cash flow management processes in place and being able to spot peaks and troughs in trading to improve cash flow is one of the most critical components of any finance function.

Put an end to your cash flow problems now by calling the CFO Centre today. To book your free one-to-one call with one of our part-time CFOs, just click here.

 

 

Sources

Brick by Brick: How LEGO Rewrote The Rules Of Innovation And Conquered The Global Toy Industry’, David C. Robertson & Bill Breen, Crown Business, 2013

How LEGO Became The Apple Of Toys’, Jonathan Ringen, ‘Fast Company’, August 1, 2015

How LEGO clicked: the super-brand that reinvented itself’, Johnny Davis, ‘The Observer’ magazine, June 3, 2017

LEGO Annual Report 2016’, www.LEGO.com

‘The LEGO Case Study 2014’, John Ashcroft and Company

‘When LEGO lost its head- and how this toy story got its happy ending, James Delingpole, ‘The Daily Mail’, December 18, 2009

How to Seduce Your Bank Manager

Given that the bankers are often ranked in the top 10 of the world’s most hated professions, the prospect of seducing your bank manager is probably not high on your bucket list.

It’s fair to say that you’ve probably never thought about doing it. But if you want your company to grow then it’s something you not only need to think about but act on.

Unfortunately, seduction, in this case, will rely almost entirely on the allure of your company’s numbers rather than your ability to deliver snappy one-liners, a bunch of hothouse flowers or the promise of a candle-lit dinner. That’s because the average bank manager is a risk-averse creature who will demand far more from you than the average romantic date!

And it will be down to you to do the running—because if you need to fund your working capital or if you’re looking to fund investment in the business and to grab an opportunity, you’re likely to need external funding.

In other words, you need your bank manager far more than he or she needs you. That’s because access to finance will be a key determinant in your company’s growth and if you’re like the vast majority of SMEs, you’ll approach traditional banks for funding (in the form of an overdraft or loan) before looking at other funding options. So you’ve got to be at your persuasive, most charming best.

And it will take preparation—masses of it. Think weeks, even months of preparation.

That new finance might be for working capital/cash flow or capital expenditure such as investing in new machinery or property or improving existing buildings. Or you might need it to enter new markets, develop new products/service or even to refinance the business.

Whatever your reasons for seeking external finance, if you’re going to approach a bank, you need to know the best ways to win over your bank manager. You also need to know what approach is going to trigger an immediate slap-down (an outright ‘No’) or the offer of a substantially smaller amount than you’ve requested. To download our full report on how to get the best out of the relationship with your bank manager click here

Why do bank managers rebuff applications?

Banks won’t always provide you with the reasons they’ve turned down your loan or overdraft application. But here are some of the reasons they’ve offered companies in the past few years:

  • The company is experiencing declining sales/profitability
  • The company is over-leveraged
  • The bank has changed its lending policy. A new feature of the new ‘normal’ financial environment means there’s been a reduction in the availability of longer-term debt (for loans with terms stretching over five years), according to the CBI.
  • The company has insufficient security
  • The company has no experience in the new product/service or market
  • The bank considers the company’s business sector or trading environment too risky
  • The bank is not prepared to lend the full amount
  • The company has a weak balance sheet.

How to boost your chances of a ‘Yes’ response

So how do you get your risk-averse bank manager to happily rubber-stamp your loan or overdraft application?

Be prepared

Your bank manager is likely to demand you provide fully audited accounts, financial cash-flow projections, security information and guarantees and full business plan details. You might also be asked to provide evidence from order books.

Companies who’ve gone through the application process in the post-recession years have noticed that it’s become a lot more stringent. They found there was a higher level of due diligence, sales and market reporting, security and guarantees and that the process took longer than was expected. This was particularly the case when they approached banks with which they’d had no previous dealings.

Improve your credit rating

As well as having all the required paperwork in place, managing and making efforts to improve your company’s credit rating will help your chances of getting a ‘Yes’ response from your bank manager.

That means making payments on time, maintaining regular contact with creditors and banks and ensuring you offer maximum financial transparency.

Enhance your internal resources

Hire an experienced Chief Financial Officer who has experience with accessing various forms of bank debt finance and can put together, for now, the business plans and financial projections the bank will want to see. Here’s the thing: you can now hire a part-time highly experienced Chief Financial Officer for less than you’d pay a full-time junior staff member. You can find out more here

 

Conclusion

Seducing your bank manager is going to take time and lots of effort but if you’re successful, it will provide your company with the financial fuel it needs to grow and reach its full potential.

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