Dammit, it’s enough to make your blood boil. You deliver quality product in a timely fashion, then send an invoice — to no avail. Followed by a few more. Followed by phone calls and e-mails demanding payment — and, still, the cheque is not in the mail.
Don’t give up hope. Doug Cannon, who calls himself Canada’s “financial bounty hunter,” has learned a few tricks in the decades he’s spent tracking down debtors, and he’s willing to share them — just as a shaky economy portends more delinquent accounts across the business spectrum.
The secret to debt recovery, says Cannon, founder of Brampton, Ont.-based Cando Credit Consulting, boils down to being a pest. Consider the time Cannon scored an invitation to a private golf club for the sole purpose of approaching one debtor’s foursome. Brandishing a megaphone, he went into broadcast mode, shouting “Did you pay your caddy yet, or are you going to stiff him like you stiffed my client?” The mortified debtor soon settled his account.
Amplified golf-course ambushes are extreme, but Cannon’s other tactics can work for entrepreneurs who have run out of options — and who possess a substantial amount of chutzpah.
Threaten their image
Find out where the debtor lives and pay a visit. Simply knock on the door and ask, “Where’s my money?” Tell the debtor you plan on contacting everyone he’s associated with — from customers to friends and relatives — to ask if they have been stiffed as well. Many debtors will pay up simply to avoid a public relations black eye.
Get others to hassle them
Once you’ve found out where the debtor lives, use the “reverse lookup” function in an online phone directory such as Canada411 to retrieve the phone numbers of his neighbours. Phone them in an apologetic way, explaining you’ve tried with little success to get in touch with the debtor regarding “an urgent matter.” Ask the neighbour if he or she would be so kind to call or visit the debtor to pass along a message to call. “By the time the fourth or fifth neighbour drops by,” says Cannon, “the debtor will be pissed and might be ready to settle.”
Generate embarrassing publicity
Cannon recommends distributing flyers summarizing the debtor’s misdeeds near his or her workplace or residence. Don’t go on private property; rather, put flyers under the windshield wipers of cars parked on public roads and on hydro poles. Print flyers on bright yellow paper festooned with dollar signs. Keep the message civil, factual and brief, such as: “Dear X: Please pay the outstanding debt.”
File a small claims lawsuit
Even if you have no intention of pursuing the matter in court, spend $75 to file a claim, then serve the statement of claim to the debtor at his business or — gulp — his place of worship. This may seem offensive to some, but isn’t running out on the tab — which amounts to stealing from you — an equal offense? The tactic will serve two purposes: it will indicate you’re serious about pursuing the matter, and it will cause the debtor to suffer “loss of face” amongst his peers.
Call the spouse
A debtor’s spouse is often clueless about the outstanding debts, and a polite phone call can pay dividends. In Cannon’s experience, the spouse is often “embarrassed and angry” when he or she finds out, and in many cases, will demand that the matter be resolved. Better yet, a spouse can do what you can’t: nag the debtor 24/7.
Contact the debtor’s suppliers
Try to find out who the debtor’s suppliers are and tell them your tale. In addition to a blemished reputation, the debtor might just find that his suppliers aren’t too gung-ho to extend credit anymore. He may decide to settle before you start calling additional suppliers.
Yes, there are some potential downsides to all these measures. The debtor can try to charge you with trespassing or slander; avoid the latter by being completely honest. Or, he could have a lawyer send you a cease-and-desist letter. If you receive one, stop pestering the debtor — but you can still speak to his neighbours.
And if you’re worried about looking like a jerk while exposing the client? The key is being polite to people in the debtor’s circle. Most people are sympathetic to hear of someone getting stiffed.