Collecting cash and keeping clients


Collecting cash and keeping clients

Sep 01, 2006

"Empty your pockets. You're going to make a payment to me now." Dr. Danah Nuest, owner of Greener Pastures Veterinary Clinic in Hebron, Ind., has said this to a client before. She says she much prefers a more professional approach, but she does what she must to collect money clients owe. "I can be pretty brazen when I really need to be," says Dr. Nuest. "And the line worked: The client handed over a $50 bill on the spot."

Collecting money can be touchy, but it doesn't have to unravel you. Through trial and error, your colleagues have discovered these strategies for getting what they're due—and keeping clients happy, too.

1. Prepare clients to pay on-site

"When you bill clients, instead of collecting payment at the time of service, you're letting someone else use your money until you're paid," says Dr. James Guenther, MBA, CVPM, a consultant in Asheville, N.C., with Dallas-based Brakke Consulting Inc. "I've heard that it costs a practice $3 to $5 for every bill it sends out."

What not to do (unless you want cash-flow problems)
That estimate sounds high, but when you factor in the cost of the stamp, paper and envelope, and, most of all, the labor to send the bill and make calls about it, it's easy to see how the cost adds up. And the longer you wait to collect, the less likely you are to see your money, Dr. Guenther says.

One solution: Tell clients in advance that you expect payment upfront. When a client calls for an appointment, have receptionists inform the client about your payment policy and verify that someone will be available to make a payment. After explaining your policy, put clients' credit card numbers on file to ensure payment, Dr. Guenther suggests. "Most clients are OK with this, especially when you explain how you'll safeguard their credit card information to ensure that you don't lose or misuse it."

Dr. Nuest, who's been in business for herself for four years, got burned a few times by nonpaying clients in the early days. "I learned my lessons," she says. "Now I make all new clients pay at the time of service. I tell them upfront that I'll give an estimate, and that I expect cash, check, or a money order when I finish my service. And most clients are really good about following through."

To take the sting out of this policy, Dr. Nuest explains to hesitant clients that she needs to pay for those vaccinations she just gave their horses. "When they understand that I, personally, need to pay the pharmaceutical company for the medicine until the client pays me, they understand my policy better," she says.

Dr. Nuest also uses her practice newsletter to remind clients to pay promptly. "In my last newsletter, I mentioned that some people were taking advantage of my good nature by not paying on time," she says. The result: "Some clients who seemed to just make payments when they thought about it started making more regular payments." Dr. Nuest says that the note made some good clients, who make regular payments, "a tad nervous." She had to reassure them that she wasn't talking about them.

2. Adopt a lovable pit bull

A benevolent pit bull is a person who gets a client to pay up—while smiling, and making the client smile, through the whole process. Dr. Guenther says every practice needs one. It could be your practice manager or a receptionist who makes billing calls. Whoever it is, this person needs to be able to explain your policies, and stick to them, all while empathizing with clients.