Running a small business is difficult enough without having to chase up payments or worry about contract terms. Years ago, as the owner of a publishing business, Colin Porter experienced first-hand just how vital debtor management was to the cash flow of his company.
“Cash flow is the number one element in any business,” he says. “You don’t need to be a profitable business to survive, but you may not survive if you don’t have good cash flow.
“As a business owner, it wasn’t just organisations defaulting that impacted me, but businesses paying me [late]. Apart from getting on the phone and chasing companies when they don’t want to pay, it’s very difficult to enforce.”
The experience prompted Porter to look into the business credit reporting market. This is where credit bureaus provide information to businesses about customers that have defaulted on payments or been slow at paying their bills. It’s similar to the credit check your lender does on you when you apply for a home loan – but the credit check is done on the business instead.
From his research, Porter found that the only credit bureaus in Australia were marketed and priced for large corporates. This, despite 98% of businesses being small and medium enterprises. Without access to a credit bureau, small companies were vulnerable to bad debtors and slow payments.
Porter decided to do something about it – and CreditorWatch was born. “CreditorWatch helps businesses get paid faster and improves their cash flow,” he says. “Many also recover outstanding debts that they presumed were defaults.”
It’s a powerful tool for any small business and is deceptively simple to use. “We’ve taken the very complicated process of performing credit checks, registering defaults and using debt collection tools and made it easy. When you join CreditorWatch, you add all your customers to the watch list. If another organisation is dealing with one of your customers and they register a default, you will get an alert,” explains Porter.
“This may prompt you to call your customer and ask them what’s happening in their business. When the customer pays the invoice, it’s marked as settled, but the default remains on their credit file for five years. It’s a similar process if you default on your home loan. The default can only be removed from your credit file if it was registered in error or there is a genuine dispute.
Porter speaks to a lot of small business owners and knows that cash flow isn’t the only issue they face. For many, funding the growth of their business can be difficult, particularly when cash flow doesn’t keep up with business growth. This can also affect small business owners personally when they try to access a home loan or other forms of credit.
Porter credits part of the rapid growth of CreditorWatch to good planning. Over the past 18 months, he has developed a business planning process that he calls ‘Business on a Page’, which essentially sets out what he wants to achieve in the next three months, 12 months and three years.
Many business owners focus on a long-term goal – wanting to get to 50,000 customers in three years, for example – only to get halfway through and find the business has changed dramatically. Business on a Page sets a goal for the company, then breaks that goal down into five deliverables that are achievable in three months.
“I used to only do 12-month targets but I’d get halfway through the year and the business had already changed. Running three-monthly targets alongside 12-month and three-year goals has been a beneficial tool,” he says.
With robust planning in place, CreditorWatch is now set to grow even further. “We’re only at about 10% of our business opportunity in this market now. In the next three years, we have a target of 100,000 customers, new, complementary products and different types of information that we can provide to customers.”
To help the company achieve these plans, Porter decided to sell CreditorWatch to InfoTrack last year. Reflecting on the sale, Porter says, “It was a great fit and an opportune time to partner with another business. InfoTrack has allowed us to use all of their business acumen and skills. It’s a great working relationship.”
CreditorWatch continues to operate as a standalone business but is now backed by the resources of a larger organisation. With a solid business plan and good partners in place, CreditorWatch is set to continue helping small businesses manage their cash flow and grow.
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