Last year I was featured on A Current Affair.
It was an amazing experience.
Within thirty seconds of the story ending our office lines jammed with calls. It did not stop for six days. Same with the website. In the week that followed we called back every inquiry. This article is about the one thing that really hit home from that time: how long contractors are taking before doing something to recover their money.
I just could not believe what I was gearing. Contractors were calling in with debts from 2001, 2005, 2012. They had never made any formal effort to recover their money. And this was all in the age of Security of Payment. This is an ongoing issue. Every now and then on the radio I hear stories about research that show the average days that payments are held back and listen as the talk back host expresses amazement at a non-payment period of 96 days!
In the construction industry, that is a luxury. At 96 days you’re only starting to talk about payment. We see payment periods blowing out to six-eight months. That’s 180-240 days. Every week, contractors call in with debts going back 1-2 years. And they still want to ‘give him til next Friday’.
It’s just amazing.
In debt recovery, the longer a debt goes un-chased, the harder it is to recover. Contractors are not doing themselves any favours by waiting. In fact, a lot of the time they do it to do their debtor a favour. But the favour is rarely retuned by an actual payment.
Time is a payment killer.
When time passes after you have completed work, many things change that can make recovery so much harder. The appreciation your client has for your work is soon gone. Only defects are talked about. The cash available to pay you is gone, and your client are themselves beset with defects and damages set-offs. There’s no money for you anymore. The personal contacts you had are gone as people change employers. They person you knew in accounts cannot help you anymore. The site foreman who can attest to your variations is gone. There’s no one to back you up now.
Just like a murder investigation, your payment claim becomes a cold case.
In my experience there are four reasons why contractors wait so long to do anything about their payments, if at all. Awareness is the first step to ridding yourself of this problem.
There is a widespread mentality that is, ‘why bother’, ‘what’s the point’, ‘that’s how it is’, and so on. Contactors assume that once you are not paid you are best off wearing the loss and moving on. This may come from past attempts at payment that failed, or just listening to what other say. In life you tend to get what you expect and what you think about. If you think failure that’s what you’ll get. When we recover money for clients, it is amazing to see the transformation in their thinking. All of a sudden they chase their money, and – what do you know…they get it.
I strongly suggest adopting the mindset that if you’ve done the work, your entitled to payment. More than that, if you don’t get it, you’re going to do something. Many projects deliver profits to upline contractors or developers off the back of downline contractors who don’t go hard enough to get their money. Don’t you be one of them. That’s your money they’ve got.
It’s not about you:
Let’s be clear on one thing: the payments that are due for your work are money due to your business; not to you personally. That is an important distinction because all too often, contractors treat the business debts like personal debts. They are far more casual about it. That is why they wait. They think they’re being a good person by waiting, or helping their client out and so on.
That is ok if someone owes you fifty bucks and can’t pay it. But that is not the way to think about $20,000.00. That is your businesses’ money. Your business earned that money through a combination of skilled staff, materials, and physical effort. The assets of your business created the value for which it is being paid. That payment is not for you: It is for the businesses’ employees [of which you are one] your suppliers, the ATO, and the business owners. There are a lot of people who need that cash to come in. You cannot treat it like a personal debt. You cannot leave it out there uncollected as a personal favour.
The moment you regard unpaid claims as business debts, rather then personal ones, your outlook will change. You will act with more urgency.
I’ve heard this many times; ‘It’s just all too hard’. But is it really? Your non-paying client is hoping you will be thinking exactly that way. If you don’t push then they walk away with your money. I see this all the time as it shows when non-payers simply cannot explain why they are not paying for work. They have sat back hoping the debtor will think’s it’s too hard.
Like all things in life, you don’t need to do it all yourself or understand it all yourself. The contractors who take the time to investigate how they can recover their money often discover that it isn’t that hard, that obstacles assumed to be in the way are not in the way and so on. Just take the first step. Get advice on your options, talk to mercantile agents, claims preparers like my company, or solicitors. They cost a few bucks but will put you so much further ahead. You will get clarity of thought and you will see the road forward.
Now let me say that running adjudications or litigation is not easy and it is likely you cannot do it yourself. But you ought to talk to people who can help you and you’ll see that your perceptions of difficulty are not there. Your case may be far more straight-forward than you thought. Maybe those counter-arguments you were afraid of are not valid at all. And maybe it doesn’t cost anywhere near as much as you thought. The only way you can take this step is to lose your assumption that it’s too difficult. In fact, assume it’ll be easy.
Yes those full stops are intentional. This stands for False Expectations Appearing Real. This applies to those situations where you assume that your debtor will do this, or that, and he’s gonna say that, or his lawyer will do this, that, and the other, and you’ll be totally destroyed. These are all assumptions. Illusions. I get told all the time about the vicious and unbeatable blowback we’ll get when the debtor gets your claim. And what happens? Nothing. This is the time to re-read the section on ‘Perceived Difficulty’.
All those feared outcomes don’t eventuate. You have created a mirage for yourself where you are the loser. But that is rarely the case. If you are well advised and follow the well-worn paths of adjudication, debt recovery, or litigation, you’ll see that it is not that scary. In fact, in many instances it’s downright dull. And these well-worn processes restrict the kinds of antics your client can try.
There is little to fear once you decide to take action. As President Franklin D. Roosevelt said; “We have nothing to fear but fear itself”. So true.
I hope these ideas start to shift your thinking and that the days of waiting months on end doing nothing will be a thing of the past.
Think about it.