It might be the season to be jolly for retailers and restaurateurs, but Christmas and the Holidays are a major challenge for many other businesses, especially in the B2B world.
For the rest of us, it’s essential to be prepared — not only for the head-spinning holiday productivity drain, but also for its frigid and desolate aftermath.
In retail, Christmas is really about fuelling up for the coming year. Shops rely massively on the Holiday boost to fill out the balance sheet. Often, “How was your Christmas” is the same as asking a retailer, “Are you going to make it?”
But B2B is a different world. December is rough on nearly all commercial business. Commercial customers defer orders to January, when things “ramp up” again. Sales teams focus more on pumpkin-spice lattes and fireside chats than hunkering down and writing new orders. After all, hunkering down is a January (or maybe February) thing. Christmas is for fun. And besides, customers aren’t in the mood to spend money on any purchase that can be delayed.
Consumer attitudes affect your business. You can’t control how much your customers spend, but there are actions you can take to prepare for what happens after Christmas, right now.
Here are a few ideas to stop holiday financial hangovers before they happen.
1. You are NOT Santa. Be firm and set boundaries to avoid becoming part of the debt cycle. I’m not saying you should be a furry green grouch with a heart two sizes too small and a penchant for being passive aggressive. Christmas has lots of magic, but your business is not a toy or sentimental Christmas special. The magic of the season can cloud judgment. There are times and places when exceptional generosity is warranted, even demanded, but when you don’t collect on invoices, your revenue suffers. Your own obligations don’t change, and if you delay payments, YOU become part of the debt cycle, passing overdue invoices and stress to vendors. Ho, ho, ho.
2. Christmas is a time to reconnect. Use visits or gift-drop offs to have a conversation about the business. A simple conversation with coffee and Christmas cookies can be revealing. Be open. Share how your business is doing and thank your client for their continued support. Talk about what you’re doing to address challenges in the new year. Most of all, listen carefully. It’s an opportunity to foster growth in that relationship. Grumbles about cash flow, staff pressures, or inventory issues are almost certainly signs of a business under increasing pressure. Communicating with your customers reveals whose businesses (and even business segments) might offload their problems to you.
3. Watch the bad debt clock. Christmas happens every year. Staying on top of cash flow during the holidays means no break from hawk-eying receivables. Once they’re past due, another clock starts ticking: the bad debt clock. The longer you wait to address the debt, the worse the problem gets because debt loses its recoverable value over time. (Check on your own receivables using our Debt Recovery Calculator.) Accounts receivable are your company’s revenue stream; debt is an asset that you haven’t yet received. To make sure you do receive it, automate your invoice management so receivables are flagged the moment they’re past due, and a notification is sent to the customer showing late fees. Follow up by phone to get a time commitment for the now-overdue payment—and hold the customer to it. That alone puts you miles ahead of anyone else waiting to be paid.
4. Be prepared to escalate. Ninety days is the magic number that says your outstanding receivables are in jeopardy. If you haven’t been able to collect on your own by that point, something is seriously wrong and you need professional help from a good collection agency. In many ways, outstanding debt is about the future, not the past. Having an action plan puts you in a position to manage risks to your revenue. Communicating your accounts receivable action plan is also an opportunity to let customers know there are consequences to breaking a contract. It’s not harsh. Sticking to good policies can be the difference between collection success or business failure.
The start of a new year is especially taxing on business, so consider hiring a collection agency to do the heavy lifting and recover your revenue before it fades like carolers in the night.
Enjoy the sights, smells, and sounds of the Holidays, and may your future be merry, bright, and realistic. My wish is that your 2021 balance sheet be written in nothing but black ink. And should accounts receivable challenges arise, MetCredit’s collection elves are on duty, all year long, to get things back on track. Reach out to us anytime!