Chasing debts “like trying to get blood out of a stone”: frustrated printers

Printers have reacted positively to the Federal government's plan to reduce late payments, which they say have been getting worse.

The government unveiled its Prompt Payment Protocol last week in a bid to speed up business-to-business late payments. It has yet to offer details about the scheme, which is currently in discussion phase.

Express Print & Mail owner Wendy Chadwick said the 14-staff Queensland business would welcome the scheme if it worked.

"The bulk of small business, the biggest bugbear is cash flow, and at the moment trying to get money out of people is like trying to get blood out of a stone," she told ProPrint.

"[Late payments] have been getting worse. I've actually employed someone to come in every week to chase up people and get them to pay, because if you don't chase them, they don't pay. There are some clients that are fantastic, but the bulk of them are really slow."

Damien Burchell, chief executive of 32-staff Adelaide company Bowden Group, also said he was encouraged by the plan to reduce late payments.

"It's been getting worse, but in saying that, if you've got good processes to recover or keep on top of debts, it's minimised," he said.

"It's communicating with the client straight away. That's what we do here. We've got a dedicated person who has really strong processes to recover debts.

"We're very proactive in contacting the client about outstanding invoices. It's not so much chasing them but making them aware."

[Feature: Avoiding the bad debt domino affect]

Reducing late payments would not only boost cash flow, but also reduce a source of friction in supplier-client relationships, said Rawson Graphics director Shane Wildash.

He told ProPrint that the 52-staff Sydney printer had noticed payment terms had drifted out during the past six months. "It's getting harder to get funds," he added.

Melbourne-based Eastern Press has also found it harder to collect debts, said managing director Frank Hilliard.

"My information from most of my colleagues in the industry, if you can get paid in 60 days you're doing well, but there's a lot of 90 and 120."

Hilliard told ProPrint that the consequences of late payments got passed along the supply line and could also trigger corporate collapses.

He said the 30-staff operation would support any plan that could boost cash flow, especially with banks being less willing to lend money these days.

Prinstant owner Phil Tarrant also welcomed the Prompt Payment Protocol, although he said the four-person Canberra firm had an excellent record on debt collection.

He said most bills were settled within a month and that late payments had greatly decreased over the years.

"It used to be that people would wait until they got three calls, but today we get paid pretty much on pickup. We don't advertise it that way, but people generally expect to pay when they get their jobs," he told ProPrint.

Tarrant said the occasional late payments sometimes forced Prinstant to delay purchases of more than $2,000.

[LinkedIn: Should the industry stop operating on credit?]

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