How to Research a Business Customer’s Creditworthiness

Extending credit to business customers can be an effective way to build goodwill and nurture long-term buyers. But if you extend customer credit, it also brings sizable financial risk to your business, as cash flow could grind to a halt if these customers don’t make their payments. Even worse, they could declare bankruptcy and bow out of their obligations entirely.

For this reason, it’s critical to thoroughly research a customer’s creditworthiness before you offer any arrangement. Here are some ways to do so:

Follow up on references. When dealing with vendors and other businesses, trade references are key. As you’re likely aware, these are sources that can describe past payment experiences between a business and a vendor (or other credit user).

Contact the potential customer’s trade references to check the length of time the parties have been working together, the approximate size of the potential customer’s account and its payment record. Of course, a history of late payments is a red flag.

Check banking info. Similarly, you’ll want to follow up on the company’s bank references to determine the balances in its checking and savings accounts, as well as the amount available on its line of credit. Equally important, determine whether the business has violated any of its loan covenants. If so, the bank could withdraw its credit, making it difficult for the company to pay its bills.

Order a credit report. You may want to order a credit report on the business from one of the credit rating agencies, such as Dun & Bradstreet or Experian. Among other information, the reports describe the business’s payment history and tell whether it has filed for bankruptcy or had a lien or judgment against it.

Most credit reports can be had for a nominal amount these days. The more expensive reports, not surprisingly, contain more information. The higher price tag also may allow access to updated information on a company over an extended period.

Explore traditional and social media. After you’ve completed your financial analysis, find out what others are saying — especially if the potential customer could make up a significant portion of your sales. Search for articles in traditional media outlets such as newspapers, magazines and trade publications. Look for anything that may raise concerns, such as stories about lawsuits or plans to shut down a division.

You can also turn to social media and look at the business’s various accounts to see its public “face.” And you might read reviews of the business to see what customers are saying and how the company reacts to inevitable criticisms. Obviously, social media shouldn’t be used as a definitive source for information, but you might find some useful insights.

Although assessing a potential customer’s ability to pay its bills requires some work up front, making informed credit decisions is one key to running a successful company. Our firm can help you with this or other financially critical business practices.

Preview: For best results, start your strategic planning early

Time flies when you’re having fun — and running a business. Although it’s probably too early to start chilling a bottle of bubbly for New Year’s Eve, it’s certainly not too early for business owners to start doing some strategic planning for next year. Here are some ways to get started.

Begin with your financials

A good place to find inspiration for strategic objectives is your financial statements. They’ll tell you whether you’re excelling or struggling so you can decide how strategically ambitious or cautious to be in the coming year.

Use the numbers to look at key performance indicators such as gross profit, which tells you how much money you made after your production and selling costs were paid. It’s calculated by subtracting the cost of goods sold from your total revenue. Also calculate current ratio, which is calculated by dividing current assets by current liabilities. It helps you gauge the strength of your cash flow.

Examine other areas

Human resources is another critical area of strategic planning. What was your employee turnover rate last year? High turnover could be a sign of poor training, substandard management or low morale. Any of these problems could undercut the strategic objectives you set.

Examine sales and marketing, too. Did you meet your goals for new sales last year, as measured in both sales volume and number of new customers? Did you generate an adequate return on investment for your marketing dollars?

Finally, take a close look at your production and operations. Many companies track a metric called customer reject rate that measures the number of complete units rejected or returned by external customers. Sometimes a business must improve this rate before it moves forward with growth objectives. If yours is a service business, you should similarly track and assess customer satisfaction.

Set new objectives

With a review of your financials and key business areas complete, you can more reasonably set goals for next year under the banner of your strategic plan. On the financial side, for instance, your objective might be to boost gross profit from 20% to 30%. But how will you lower your costs or increase efficiency to make this goal a reality?

Or maybe you want to lower your employee turnover rate from 20% to 10%. What will you do differently from a training and management standpoint to keep your employees from jumping ship this year?

Act now

Don’t let year end creep any closer without reviewing your business’s recent performance. Then, use this data to set realistic goals for the coming year. We can help you choose the best metrics, crunch the numbers and put together a solid strategic plan.

 

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