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Sooner or later, I suppose, we all run into “that” client – the one who leaves your invoice unpaid and ignores your calls and emails. There are precautions, of course, that can reduce the risk of taking on an unreliable client, but, unless you’re in a position to pick and choose your work, you’ll have to go out on a limb sometimes.

I’ve been reasonably lucky. In general, I have excellent clients who tend to pay within a day or two, and even the odd “delayed” payment isn’t longer than a couple of weeks, which is no big deal. I’ve had one client who, after eight or nine months, still hasn’t paid me, but it’s a small enough sum to chalk up to experience.

Still, one of these days I’m going to find myself with a substantial hole in my finances from a payment default, and it’s as well to have some ideas of both the problem and the options. I’m anything but an expert, but I’m lucky to have learnt a little from those who are.

In general, I’d say that defaulters tend to be of three kinds:

1.The ones who really intended to pay but, through imprudence or bad luck, find themselves without the funds.
2.The ones who never intended to pay in the first place.
3.The ones (usually large companies) who have better things to occupy their time than pay the “little people”.

They’re likely to need different approaches to have the best chance of getting your money, but the thing essential for them all, even the first category, is pressure. And, if they don’t respond to your own pressure, you can always get in touch with a debt collection agency.

Now, a year ago the phrase “debt collection agency” would have conjured up the vision of a couple of heavies coming round to the front door, probably with a Rottweiler in tow. Since then, though, I’ve had the privilege to get to know Stanley Silver of SJ Collections, who’s about as far from that image as you could imagine. Stanley, and others like him, certainly know how to put pressure on debtors, but in an ethical way, by knowing the law and procedures inside-out. Also by knowing when to negotiate and when to insist.

A court case to recover a debt can be daunting, and recent government measures are making it more expensive, but the good news is that around 90% of cases get settled without troubling the courts. For those who won’t pay, the threat of court action is usually enough to change their minds, while those who can’t pay, perhaps because they’re owed money in turn, are often motivated to negotiate a time-frame for payment. Perhaps they could use the same agency to solve their problem.

We all hope it won’t happen. Then again, we hope we won’t have a car-crash, but we still wear seat-belts. Knowing what you’re going to do if you find yourself with a bad debtor means you don’t need to have nightmares about it before it happens.

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