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How to collect payments sooner

Small-business advice: One firm wants to cut through a constant backlog of accounts payable, improving its cash flow. Another should learn to pitch its services.

July 04, 2011|By Karen E. Klein

Dear Karen: Our business always has a backlog of payments due. How can we cut it?

Answer: Offer incentives to decrease collection time. You might try giving a 2% discount for payments received within 10 days of invoicing, said John Formento Jr., an analyst at Sageworks, a financial information company. Examine your customers' payment history and contact slow-paying customers to work out a schedule. "If necessary, decline further credit offerings to them," Formento said.

You can also free up cash flow by making your own payments on the due date, not early — unless you get a discount. "This will keep cash on the balance sheet as long as possible, while still ensuring that bills are paid," Formento said.

Another way to lower accounts payable is to procure inventory, supplies and equipment from a single vendor and arrange a volume discount.

Create a good sales pitch

Dear Karen: We find ourselves struggling to grow our customer base. What are we doing wrong?

Answer: Many small businesses fail because their founders may be great technicians, but they are averse to selling. "Craft an irresistible pitch, giving your customer a clear, concise explanation of what you do best and how it will benefit them," said Julie Steelman, a sales consultant and author of "The Effortless Yes."

Don't make the mistake of focusing on product details rather than your customer's emotions. Be honest about why you care about your customers and want to help them. "Ask a smart, intriguing question that pulls them into the conversation, and use language that appeals to your ideal customer," Steelman said.

Small-business questions? Email Karen at smallbiz@latimes.com.

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