What to do When you can’t Pay

This month I want to talk about something which has been the cause of many sleepless nights and personal issues. This month’s subject is unpaid invoices. We may be in brighter times, but this last recession is still lingering around many small businesses.

Omni Local Business Tip Paying off Bills

The angle I want to come from here is whether you are in a position to pay. Believe it or not, you are probably not the only one who is suffering. When your suppliers are ringing you, chasing you, sending you letters and blunt emails, you have to take yourself out of your position and look at things from their prospective.

WHY? Firstly, all your suppliers who offer you credit should be treated with the same respect you would if they were a partner in your business, or someone who has given you money to help you get started or help you grow. After all, if you have credit, it’s because it isn’t your money!
More importantly, they are more than likely to be in the same position as you. They work hard and spend time building their business too.

Every business which is built to last, monitors their cash flow on a regular basis. When the cash flow dries up or is being run very tightly, and invoices are not paid, things get very stressful for the supplier. This is because they can’t predict where the next penny is coming from, so how can they keep their promise to pay others? If they can’t keep your promise to pay them, then their trust factor is pulled into question.

This then has a knock on effect they have with you, but the buck doesn’t stop there. If everyone didn’t pay their invoices, suppliers of suppliers are affected.

If at this point, you feel no responsibility, then quite frankly you are a crook and should not be in business. I know the old phrases, “business is business” and “Its business, nothing personal”, but I totally disagree. It is personal when you have to call the bank because you can’t pay your bills, it is personal when you can’t go on holiday because your business has no money to pay you a salary, it is personal when you can’t sleep because of work issues. Everything gets affected.

But, now, let’s bring the situation back to you! You have set up in business, you can be trusted by your supplier as someone who is considered to be honest, who will pay your invoices. You have every intention of paying your supplier. You have traded trust from your supplier, and you have then passed this credit of trust onto your client. This essentially is how business is done. Not everyone will give you trust from the start and will always ask you for money upfront or at minimum, a deposit. Until you have built up a great relationship with your supplier, this protects their interest.

Omni Local Paying off Cheques

You start trading, you get more business, you have built up the trust credit you need with your clients, and you have trust credit from your supplier, but then someone doesn’t pay you. If they have not paid you, it is because they have no intention of paying you, or they may not have been paid themselves. How would you be feeling?

Obvious isn’t it? NO, not at all really….. Because on one hand your trust has been betrayed, and on the other, you start to worry about the trust credit you have been given by your supplier and how are you going to keep them on your side.

You can only be judged on what you do when things go wrong!

So many people simply start avoiding their suppliers. They don’t return calls, they don’t respond to emails, at whatever cost, they never speak to their suppliers. This is totally the wrong thing to do! It’s wrong on so many different levels. It shows a lack of respect of the trust you have been given, it shows that you have no understanding of the fact they have helped you grow your business without the need of borrowing money from a bank or friends and family, and worse of all, it shows you have no confidence or strength to face an issue which may not be as bad as you might think. On top of this, you have now become a treat to someone else’s business.

Now I want to take you back to the perspective of your supplier who has not been paid by you. What they have done now is take time out of the business to chase you. This is where the stress really starts kicking in.

You are stressed because you have not been paid, but on top of this, you are getting phone calls every day from your supplier who needs the money as much as you did. Except one thing- only you know what is going on. Is that an equal or mutual respectful partnership?

Even if you ignore your supplier and the calls stop, what then? Are they going to give up? Most likely not.

Then threatening letters stop and a debt collection starts. Then even worse, you get a judgement made against you which then affects everything about you and your business. A total mess! If you are as good as your supplier, you will be doing the same to the person who has let you down.

Now you are back in the room!

What do you do? Find a new supplier so you can carry on? Or, speak to your existing supplier and level with them. Which do you think has the best outcome? Now this one is obvious — YES is the answer!


First and foremost, STAY FOCUSED. What’s the worst thing can happen? If you can’t pay, you can’t pay! If you are an honest business person, you are going to pay anyway. By the time anything really bad happens, you will have been honest and even paid.

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Act now… the sooner the better. Don’t wait for your supplier to call you.

Make sure you understand fully why you need to make the call and what you are going to say.

Even if it is going to be as bad as your imagination has convinced you, it’s worth a shot to change things.

Remember, every supplier has had to make this call at some point in their business life.

If your supplier has given you their trust in the first place, they will see where you are coming from.

Things happen, and it can be very personal, but this goes on all the time.

Before you speak to your supply, prepare what you want to say. How you want to say it, and be factual.

This is pretty much like a sales pitch. You need to know your supplier, and you need to have an educated guess at what they are going to say. Remember, you’ll need them on your side. Also work out if you are really a valued client or customer. Tally up the facts that you have paid on time, the regular orders you have been placing, the referrals you have offered them, the worth of your business to them. A supplier and client relationship should be a two-way partnership. This is not so you can use this in battle, but just for you to bear in mind that it’s not all bad! This is only a temporary blip, so don’t get too worked up.

Don’t just call them and say, “can’t pay, won’t pay. See you next week with my new order.” This will get you nowhere!

Speak to your supplier as you would as if you are letting a family member or friend down. Your supplier is human, just like them, and if you have always been honest, they will have empathy for you. Bear in mind they have more than likely been in your position at some point. Even if they have not, you won’t be the first person who has not been able to pay. However, not many people will call to confess or confide.

Don’t be too scared to say that you have made a misjudgement or mistake. After all, you merely pay forward the trust you were given. Be thoughtful, and if you are causing inconvenience, apologise.

Keep in mind, that the money you owe them is not your money. If you have agreed to use or pay for something, and they have done their part, then it isn’t yours to keep.

Offer a couple of solutions. This will show that you are making an attempt, or have taken their side into mind.

You can offer to pay monthly on top of what you already buy, or split the payment into 2 or 3 chunks or offer some post-dated cheques (just don’t bounce them. In some countries it is illegal to write out a cheque and bounce it in purpose).

Offer to give back stock if you have taken stock from them and arrange to pay the balance.

Offer some of your services to them as way of payment.

Ask for your account to be put on hold, if things are that bad. This needs thought. Mainly because you may still need your supplier and your supplier may need you. Just be careful not to get into deeper situation.

Omni Local Handshake for Business

There are many things you can do here, but honestly, if you are clear, honest and trustworthy, you won’t need to be looking for tricks or ways you can gain your suppliers trust or confidence.