Nobody likes asking for money, even if it’s money that’s owed to you. But as a small business owner, you’ll probably end up in a situation where you’ll have to collect a debt from a client. It’s just part of doing business. 

It can seem like a bit of a balancing act. You need to recover the debt, but you also want to maintain a healthy relationship with your clients. In this guide, we’ll outline a series of steps you can take to politely ask your clients to repay their debts while maintaining a strong professional relationship. The steps we’ll cover are:

  • Talk to them in person. 
  • Send a series of email reminders. 
  • Mediation. 
  • Contact a debt collection agency.
  • Send a letter before action (LBA)
  • Statutory demand for payment.
  • Take it to court. 
  • Court enforcement

Talk to them in person

Your first option is the preferred one for both parties; talk to them in person. Make sure you have all the facts and figures in front of you when you call, then politely and firmly ask them for an update on their debt. 

A few things might happen when you call:

  • They may have just forgotten.
  • They may be unable to pay you at the current moment and need to rearrange payment terms. This is a decent option that will hopefully get you paid without involving any other parties. That said, only let your clients do this once. Otherwise, they could keep doing it indefinitely. 
  • They may be completely unable to pay you back or ignore you. Let them know you’ll be pursuing the debt through other means if this happens. 

A conversation is always the best place to start, no matter the outcome. Speaking to them personally shows you value the relationship. 

Send a series of email reminders

Following your conversation, the next step is to start sending written reminders. 

Recap what you’ve discussed in person, whether it’s an alternative payment or a refusal to pay altogether, and outline the next step you’ll take if the debt goes unpaid. 

The next step is usually legal action, so mention a deadline before taking that route. The emails should still be polite, but it’s really there to apply some gentle pressure before you’re forced to take extra measures. 

Writing these emails can be difficult and a little uncomfortable. If you need some help, try our other article, “6 overdue invoice email templates to get paid faster”. It includes email templates for each stage of the debt collection process that will give you the best chance of getting paid. 

Mediation

A mediator should help you and the client meet an agreement without having to go to court. They act as a referee for professional disputes like debt repayments. 

Appointing a mediator usually costs money, but it’s cheaper than a solicitor, so you should save money in the long run. Also, if you do end up taking legal action, the court will look more kindly on you if you’ve tried mediation first. 

Contact a debt collection agency

While they don’t have any official power, debt collectors might be able to put some pressure on the clients to pay without having to take legal action. Some services charge a fixed amount, while others take a percentage of the debt if it’s collected. 

Send a letter before action (LBA)

An LBA is like a final warning before legal action. You can ask your solicitor to send the debtor a letter explaining that you’ll have to take them to court if they don’t pay by a specified date. 

The good news is that this is often enough to shock some slow-paying clients into action. 

Statutory demand for payment

Making a statutory demand gives the client 21 days to repay the debt. If they continue to ignore you or can’t repay the debt, you can take the case to court. 

Taking somebody to court can be an expensive process, and there’s no guarantee you’ll be paid in the end, so it’s best to talk to a solicitor about this option.

Take it to court

When you take your case to the county court, sometimes called the small claims court, one of two things might happen:

  •  If the debtor decides to defend themselves, a court date is set, and the judge will consider both sides of the argument.
  • If your statutory claim is ignored entirely, the court will issue the judgment against the debtor. The judgement will remain on the debtor’s credit record for the next six years. 

Court enforcement

After the judgement, if the client still won’t pay, you can try to recover your money by:

  • Using bailiff services and High Court Enforcement Officers.
  • Getting a charging order against their property. You’ll receive payments from any profits they make from sales of property. 
  • Starting an attachment of earnings. You’ll receive payments from their employee salary. 

What if the client doesn’t have the money?

Sometimes the client won’t have the money to pay you back at all. If this happens, these are your options: 

  • Register your claim so that you’ll get your share of any available money. 
  • Make them bankrupt. You can only do this you’re owed £5000 or more by an individual (like a sole trader or partner).
  • Force a limited company to wind up (go into liquidation). You can only do this if you’re owed £750 or more. 

Same time on financial management with a simple app

Collecting debts might be a lengthy process, and financial management can already be stressful and time-consuming when you’re self-employed. That’s why thousands of business owners use the Countingup app to make their financial admin easier. 

Countingup is the business current account with built-in accounting software that allows you to manage all your financial data in one place. With features like automatic expense categorisation, invoicing on the go, receipt capture tools, tax estimates, and cash flow insights, you can confidently keep on top of your business finances wherever you are. 

You can also share your bookkeeping with your accountant instantly without worrying about duplication errors, data lags or inaccuracies. Seamless, simple, and straightforward! 

Find out more here and start your 3 month free trial today. 

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