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Patterns in late payment of invoices

June 13, 2017


moneyBack in 2013 I wrote a blog post about the challenges of cashflow in a small business, noting that “my cashflow is difficult to predict due to influences outside my control”.  I almost always invoice following agreed outputs and request standard 30 day terms of payment, but “when an invoice is paid is entirely at the whim of the client.”

Having now submitted seven tax returns I thought I might revisit this and see what the patterns are in payment of invoices over time.

During that period I have submitted 152 invoices, and I’m very pleased to say all of these have been paid in full.  Phew.

For these 152 invoices, the average number of days between invoice and payment is 23.2 – so very generally I’m usually paid around three weeks after invoicing.

This has varied a bit by year though.

Days to payment

I can’t really define any clear pattern by year.  All I could speculate is that the greater proportion of repeat business I’ve had, the faster payment I’ve had.

As I mentioned earlier my terms are “payment within 30 days” so that means anything from 0 – 30 days is acceptable.  However, the range in days to payment varies considerably.


11 of the invoices were payed within 24 hours, hurray!


44 of the 152 invoices were paid beyond their 30 day terms, which means that 29% of my invoices were paid late.

27 were paid more than a week late.

4 were paid more than a month late (72, 92, 113 and 122 days after invoice).

Calculated instead by value of invoice, 35% of my income was paid late.

And remember, this is with me invoicing at a time explicitly agreed with the client following satisfactory completion of work some time previously.

I’d like to say there are patterns in the type of invoice that is paid late, or who pays late, or the time of year that this happens.  But no.  All I can say is that often the issue is out of the control of my clients too and generally either relates to complex procurement rules at their end holding things up, or that they are required to make all payments as late as possible to manage their own cashflow. I get that, I’ve worked for charities myself.  Very occasionally they simply forget to pay until I remind them.  That’s OK, we’re all human.

However, this issue does make my cashflow difficult to manage as it means that I genuinely can’t guess who will pay what, and when. Which means there isn’t an awful lot I can do about this, other than just suck it up and expect to wait for (and indeed actively chase) a third of my income. I would feel unable to continue to be self employed if I was single or the sole breadwinner in my family.

So I’ll say again as I said before: Please please please, wherever you can support small business by paying your bills on time.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. June 21, 2017 2:28 pm

    The other theory you neglect to mention is the time of month that the invoice was raised. It may be that the invoice gets paid “after payday” – when a grant or significant other regular income is received by your client. So an invoice you raise on the 1st would only get paid on the 21st (20 days later) but raised on the 20th would also get paid on the 21st (1 day later) – much like your credit card bill.

    • June 21, 2017 3:00 pm

      Good point, thanks! Also some of the smaller charities won’t have full time finance support so I’d get paid when their finance person is next in, or maybe they only do bills fortnightly, or whatever their routine is – which I may not know about.

      What I would say though is that almost all of the time they are the ones that tell me when to send the invoice.


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