How to build a watertight accounts receivable process

There’s one way to stay in business – you have to get paid. That’s why a good accounts receivable process is critical.

An invoice and cash

What is an accounts receivable (or trade debtors) process?

The job of accounts receivable is to get money in the door. There are a lot of steps to that. You need to find customers that pay, bill them correctly, communicate clearly, and lay out enforceable consequences for slow payment.

Here’s your small business guide to accounts receivable management.

1. Don’t do business with just anybody

If you work for businesses, you already know that some are good at paying and some aren’t. It doesn’t have to be a lottery. Do some research before taking them on:

  • Run a credit check to find out if they’re regarded as good payers (which you can do through your accounting software).
  • Or call someone else who supplies them, and ask if they get paid on time. You’re required to get consent from your prospective customer to do this.

2. Put payment terms in writing (before you start)

Spell out when you’ll be billing your customer, and how much time they’ll have to pay. Point out the consequences of late payment – such as interest, fees or legal action. Get the payment terms signed off before starting work. Don’t leave any room for misunderstandings.

3. Get a personal guarantee

If you’re dealing with a fellow small business, ask the owner to sign a personal guarantee. That gives you the option of suing them or the business for unpaid debts. Just be aware that some business owners may take exception to this move.

4. Send your invoice quickly

Send your bill straight after the work’s done. It’ll take time for your customer to approve it and pay it, so why not start those wheels turning as soon as you can.

If your business or government customer is registered to receive eInvoices you can have those wheels turning even faster. Your invoices will be delivered straight into their accounting or finance software for their approval and payment. And you don’t even need to be using the same software as them

5. Make it easy for customers to pay you

Invoices get paid faster when customers are offered convenient payment options like debit card, credit card, services like PayPal, or direct debit.

6. Watch obsessively for payment

Keep a list of all your invoices and check your bank account regularly for payment. Invoices should stay on your watchlist until they’re paid in full. Knowing what has and hasn’t been paid is absolutely critical to managing your accounts receivable.

7. Have a plan for stragglers in your accounts receivable process

Decide what actions you’ll take when invoices go past due:

  • When will you email a reminder? When will you call?
  • Will you send a past due invoice or a statement of accounts?
  • When will you involve a debt collector?

Learn how to deal with unpaid invoices and write up your own plan of action for overdue accounts. Stick to your policy unless you have a really good reason to be lenient.

8. Make the big calls

Don’t try to handle all your accounts receivable by email. There will be times when you simply have to call. Check they’re happy with the products supplied or work done, let them know they’re overdue, and ask when you can expect payment. Make these types of calls part of your plan for overdue accounts.

9. Make the even bigger calls

Check the payment history of your customers (which should be simple to do on your accounting software). Are some of them always late paying you? Maybe it’s time for a chat. Ask if they’d prefer another payment method. Or change their payment terms so you’re extending them less credit. You could start asking them for upfront payments, for example. If that doesn’t work, consider letting them go. Picking and choosing good customers is a big part of accounts receivable management.

The number one rule of accounts receivable management

Make sure you have a plan for your debtors. Don't treat invoices on a case by case basis. Do the same things on the same days for everyone that owes you money. A consistent accounts receivable process will help keep you in business so make sure you have one that:

  • makes new customers aware of their obligations to you
  • gets invoices out the door as soon as a job is complete, or billing cycle comes around
  • sets out the specific actions you’ll take if an invoice is overdue

If you need more tips on getting paid, check out our guide to invoicing.

Online invoicing with Xero

Work smarter, not harder with Xero’s intuitive invoicing software. With Xero online accounting, you can send invoices, automate reminders and so much more from the comfort of your desktop or mobile app. Finish your invoice admin at a time that works for you and your small business.

Learn more about invoicing with Xero
A person using Xero accounting software on their device.


Xero does not provide accounting, tax, business or legal advice. This guide has been provided for information purposes only. You should consult your own professional advisors for advice directly relating to your business or before taking action in relation to any of the content provided.

Start using Xero for free

Access Xero features for 30 days, then decide which plan best suits your business.