As builders excavated for the foundations of the new Bloomberg building in the city of London recently, they came across a remarkable find.
A collection of wooden tablets dating from Roman Britain was preserved in the mud. Back in AD60 this was the way you took notes or sent a message. Each wooden tablet has a recess into which molten beeswax was poured. Once this was set, the writer could scrape their message into the wax with a metal stylus. Although the wax is long-gone, sometimes the writer would leave scratch marks in the wood, and it is from these that archaeologists have been able to decipher some of the messages from the past.
While the press has been preoccupied with a text that holds the earliest ever mention of London, the message from the distant past that caught our eye at My Credit Controllers was demanding repayment of a debt for 36 denarii:
- “I ask you by bread and salt that you send as soon as possible the 26 denarii in Victoriati and the 10 denarii of Paterio.”
And another advising a friend to work harder to collect money that he was owed:
- “… because they are boasting through the whole market that you have lent them money. Therefore I ask you in your own interest not to appear shabby … you will not thus favour your own affairs.”
So, disappointingly, it seems that late payment is about as old as trade itself. If your customers are constantly finding excuses to not pay you, then perhaps you could take some comfort from this fact. Or better still you could take some action to get those overdue invoices in.
Having a properly written invoice with all the information needed (more on this here), and sending regular statements to customers are two examples of simple steps that will increase your chances of getting paid on time, as will calling their accounts payable even before the invoice is due (to check that the invoice was received and is scheduled for payment).
But as our Roman messages demonstrate, there’s always going to be some customers that will try to take advantage of suppliers that are not on their case about collecting payments.
If you are one of the many small business managers that find it difficult to find the time or indeed the enthusiasm to make the calls needed, then perhaps it’s time to look for outside help. Perhaps you worry that hassling customers for payment could spoil your chances of winning new business. Using an outsourced credit control service will separate your sales relationship from collections. What could be more businesslike and professional than looking after your business finances properly and holding customers to the terms they agreed? After all, no one wants to “appear shabby before the whole market”!
Samantha White is CEO of My Credit Controllers, offering business debt recovery and outsourced credit control services.