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Best Practices to Avoid Payment Delays for Your Contracting Business?

Kristen Frisa
May 18, 2023
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Well-managed construction projects are like finely tuned machines. Cashflow is the grease that keeps all those gears in working order. For many contractors, disaster strikes when late payments fudge up business cash flow, causing delays in project progress. How can you avoid late construction payments that jam up your cash flow and cause project delays?

Here we'll discuss best practices contractors can use to avoid payment delays and keep projects running smoothly.

The state of things – what is the typical payment pattern in construction?

Construction has a problem with payment timelines. Many contractors report waiting over 60 days for payment on a submitted invoice. Without the funds to pay for laborers, contractors, equipment, and other costs, these payment delays could put the brakes on project progress.

What's the hold-up on payments in the construction industry? 

A few potential trouble spots can hold up the payment process during a typical payment pattern in construction.

Contractor invoices can be a nightmare to put together – an office team may have to assemble payment applications from numerous data sets to come up with the information needed to create an invoice. Tracking all that information can lead to late, inaccurate, or incomplete invoices that an owner or general contractor refuses to pay.

Construction contracts often operate on a "pay when paid" clause. Pay when paid means that a general will hold off payment to subs and suppliers until it receives compensation from an owner. This clause can protect generals from shouldering all costs for a project out of their cash flow, but can cause a cascading effect leading to further delays down the payment chain.

Outcomes get even worse when general contractors lack an adequate cash flow plan. Even when the owner pays quickly, a general contractor who lacks the bank balance to cover its invoices can create delays that hold up all the payments.

Although late payments are common in the industry, they are not a foregone conclusion. Here are some ways to avoid payment delays and keep your project moving.

How to avoid payment delays in your contracting business

1. Create a winning contract

Get smart about the construction contracts you sign. Contracts, and the payments they prescribe, can vary, and some may be better for your business than others. Set payment terms that work for you, including whether you're entitled to monthly progress or milestone payments. Understand the protocols for requesting and receiving payments right from the outset.

2. Invoice well

Payments don't just fall from the sky unbidden. To expect compensation, a contractor must first ask in specific terms soon after the work's completion. Invoices should include key information like an invoice number, the full name and address of the sender and recipient of the funds, a description of work done, and a date.

Read the contract carefully to understand if you need to complete a pay application by gathering supporting documents to submit with an invoice to get paid.

3. Follow up

Sending swift and specific invoices is an excellent first step in getting paid, but it may not be enough. You may have to send a series of polite but direct reminders to get your payment moving. Overdue invoices are likely to cost more to collect, and the odds of receiving payment dwindle as time goes by.

4. Make payment easy

A timely, detailed invoice will go a long way in making it easy for your clients to make a payment. But it can be even easier. Look at the barriers that may be in place that keep your client from paying your invoice.

They may have to haul out the checkbook, write the check and get it signed, stick a stamp on it, and send it in the mail.

The work to pay the bill may be prohibitive for your customers and cause further delay. Make it easy by adding a Truss payment link into the invoice you send to your client via email. The checkout link takes customers to your custom-branded payment portal that shows all their past payments and outstanding amounts. 

Customers can log in with their bank or credit union to pay the invoice straight from their account. That's it. They don't need a Truss account, and as soon as they complete payment, the funds are available in your account.

How to cushion cash flow when payments are late

The tips above are mainly ideas to help prevent delays in incoming payments. The following tip is to help keep your outgoing payments moving smoothly, too. Projects can suffer huge losses if they lack a solid cash flow plan. When the money runs out, contractors can't pay laborers, subs, suppliers, or equipment rentals, and all work grinds to a halt. This situation costs everybody big time.

A cash flow plan details when money is coming in and when it's due to go out. Managers can strategize to avoid trouble-causing cash crunches by laying it all out.

1. Pay bills strategically

Before paying an invoice, look at your cash flow management document for any big expenses that may be coming soon. Pay the bill when you have the liquidity to cover upcoming project costs.

2. Pay subs only for the work they've done

Subs sometimes try to jump the gun, requesting payment for work they still need to complete. Check all the details on the payment request, and keep open communication with field teams, so you're sure of what's completed before paying the bill

3. Make a contingency plan

Plan what will happen if you're out of cash when a big project expense comes up. Even with the best plans in place, this can happen. Whether it's liquidating an asset, using credit, or taking cash out of your personal funds, you should have a plan in place for what to do to salvage your ongoing project.

Best practices to avoid payment delays

In a perfect world, each of your clients would pay you on time, every time, with little effort from you. In reality, you may have to take steps to ensure the invoices you send get paid, and you pay your invoices just as quickly.

By sending complete, detailed, and timely invoices, making it easy for clients to pay you, and protecting your cash flow, you can do your part to avoid payment delays in your construction business.

Are you ready to set yourself up for fast, pain-free payments? Sign up with Truss for free!

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