Dear Thea;

How can I collect during the holidays without sounding like the Grinch who Stole Christmas?

Staying Angelic in Albuquerque

Dear Angelic;

Are you sure you’re in credit? I ask this because no one has ever referred to me as a credit angel. I’ve seen a few flying things for sure—usually thrown at me—but I digress. This time of year is a challenge. While the rest of the humanity is celebrating, enjoying the cheer of the holidays, we’re stressing out about how to keep cash flowing without offending our customers. Nothing says happy holidays like a lawsuit.

Making collection calls at ho-ho-ho time may sound lame, cold, and heartless, but if a customer’s orders are shipping as usual despite the holidays, why shouldn’t the payments do the same?  “Oh Thea, I am sorry, we aren’t cutting checks until after the holiday.” “That’s OK, we aren’t shipping you until then, either.”

I’m not saying that you have to be nasty about enforcing collections. I love declaring Happy Thanksgiving, Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, and Happy New Year before asking: Where is my money? I also have a game plan.

Make slight adjustments to your collection routine, adjusting the timing of your calls in accordance to when the holidays occur. If the special day falls on a Thursday, call a few days before, verify the payment is going out prior to the holiday.

This time of year also is a great time to convert customers to ACH payments. For those of you unfamiliar with ACH, it stands for Automated Clearing House. Simply put, it’s a network between banks to transfer funds electronically. Your customer can email or fax the form over and you have payment in-house. This completely eliminates mail time; there’s no wondering, hoping, or guessing that the promised check is actually in transit.

Call and ask your customers if they have a holiday pay schedule. Do invoices need to be sent by a certain day? Keep track of those cut-off date so customers don’t get an opportunity to cut off you.

Many companies have one person wearing many hats. When that one person is out, nothing but the bare minimum gets done. Know that person’s schedule. Be bold in your approach but not overbearing. Chances are the payables person is also the receivables person and knows exactly what your are doing since that company is doing it as well. If you have been consistent in your collection practices, your customers know what to expect from you. If you are planning on holding orders, be upfront about it. They will appreciate you directness.

During the holidays I am like a fat kid on a cupcake in regard to my aging account: Lots of calls and emails go out. Then I use the week between Christmas and New Years for general clean up since reaching anyone at that time is like playing roulette. A little planning will pay off and you can avoid holiday bloat.