Erratic paymentsOne of the first signs that your client is having financial trouble is that their payments become erratic. This doesn?t just mean they pay later and later, you may find that you start receiving only part payment of your invoices. This is usually a clear sign of cash flow problems. Your client is probably juggling their suppliers, paying what they can, when they can and often only paying the supplier who is shouting the loudest for payment! If you don?t know when payments are arriving, or if you receive less than expected, you can?t budget to pay your suppliers on time. If you?re not careful, your client?s cash flow problems can cause problems for your own cash flow too. In this situation, the more certainty you have the better. Try talking to your client and work out a payment plan that they can stick to.
Deteriorating staff moraleIf you know how your client?s staff feel about their work, you can often get a good indication of the general health of the business. If they?re unhappy, it?s a sure sign of trouble. This is where having a good working relationship with your clients pays dividends because it?s amazing what you can pick up through small talk as you?re on the phone to them. Obviously, if you find out that there are risks of redundancies or that staff benefits are being cut you know there are financial problems, but some complaints are less obvious warning signs. For example, if the staff are complaining that they are worked off their feet it could also be a sign of trouble. While it may suggest there is plenty of work coming in, it could be because staff are leaving and are not being replaced. This will make those that remain artificially busy, so don?t be afraid to delve a little deeper to find out what is behind the problems.
Falling profitsNo company can survive long term unless it?s profitable so you need to be alert to a client?s falling profits as early as possible. This can be a difficult trend to spot, especially, if you?re relying solely on Companies House data. Filed accounts are great for looking at long-term trends but they?re likely to be well out of date by the time you look at them as they?re only filed once a year. Therefore, you need to look for other clues as to what might be happening behind the scenes. For example, try to work out what the profit margin of your client?s business is likely to be and then look for other evidence of what might be happening to profits. For example, if market conditions are tough, sales are likely to be declining. If the price of raw materials is going up, costs are going to increase. Fluctuations in currency exchange rates due to political or economic uncertainty can also have a big impact on profits if there?s an international element to your client?s business. Any of these scenarios can eat into a company?s profits and tip the balance to negative cash flow, leading to financial problems.
Declining reputation and market shareHow many big names and long established businesses have we seen disappear because they struggle to adapt to a changing marketplace? It seems to be happening more and more and it?s a real risk if you?re a supplier to these businesses. The bigger the company, the easier this is to spot, but even with smaller companies there are always warning signs. Keep an eye on the press and social media to see what people are saying about a business. People can be very vocal on social media if they?re unhappy with a service, or if it?s no longer in vogue. Look out for these comments.? If you see comparisons such as ?Company X doesn?t have the same product range as Company Y? it could be a sign the business is losing touch with what its customers want. As a result, their reputations and market share can decline, leading to financial difficulties and the increased risk that they won?t be able to pay you on time.
Company becomes more contentiousIf a company is fighting for its survival, it will try to find any excuse for not paying you. You may find your client raising spurious complaints about your services or querying your invoices for no good reason at all. All they?re trying to do is delay payment, get a discount or even avoid payment all together to ease their cashflow problems. If you take a tough stance with these clients they will usually pay up because they will have more than enough on their plate to deal with. They won’t want to get involved with disputes they cannot win and which will cost them even more in the long run. To finish this article, there are three key points I would like you to keep in mind at all times:
The earlier you spot a problem, the easier it is?to deal with
Don?t let problems escalate
Keep your emotions aside
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