There's no better time than the present to improve your system for settling up with late-paying clients. To assist you, we've conducted an evaluation of available how-to information about collection. Here's our thumbnail guide:

Save It
Collection Techniques for a Small Business, by Gini Graham Scott and John J. Harrison (Oasis Press, 800-228-2275, 1994, $19.95), is one book worth adding to your shelves. It offers 294 pages' worth of usable advice on key issues such as how to communicate with problem payers and motivate them to pay. For just one glimpse of this book's savvy approach, see pages 142 and 143, which deal with such thorny matters as how to respond to indignant debtors and field attempts at partial payments. Also included: excellent samples of collection letters and other valuable documents.

Credit and Collection: Letters Ready to Go! by Ed Halloran (NTC Business Books, 847-679-5500, 1998, $14.95), isn't focused on theory. Instead, this 151-page book is chock-full of sample letters, E-mail messages, and other forms that should help entrepreneurs navigate their way through every stage (and every possible problem) involved in the accounts-receivable collection process. Some, such as a sample promissory note, are downright essential, while others will be relevant only to particular business situations (such as a "We miss you" note to late payers whose patronage an owner doesn't want to jeopardize). One valuable section (pages 84 through 95) deals with foreign collection difficulties, which are almost a given for any business owner involved in overseas transactions. Our assessment: if you keep this book close at hand, you'll be prepared to take quick action to address any of a wide range of collection problems.

Skim It This site is better than much of the material about collection that's on the Web. Although the site is maintained by a trade association representing collection agencies (who clearly believe that they, not you, do the best job of bringing home the bucks), there are some good points here, including offers for freebie brochures with titles like "A Guide to Effective Collection Procedures." The site also includes recent statistics that highlight problem trends. Best of all, though, is its directory of collection agencies, should you decide that your problems are severe enough to warrant hiring an outside gunslinger.

Skip It This Web site is one you needn't seek out for collection information -- unless you want a taste of how vapid most collection advice tends to be. The site reprints several insultingly condescending articles on credit and collection matters. Too busy? Then let us reproduce one of the few tips of value: obtain full credit reports on all customers while maintaining relations with them that are "completely open and candid and disciplined."

This article was adapted from material that first appeared in Inc. magazine in April 1998.

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