Simple, easy-to-implement revenue ideas
September 8, 2015
By Ken Blum
So you’re on your lunch break, chewing on a sub between sips from a can of diet Coke, reading this Pub Aux section on revenue ideas, hoping to latch on to easy ways to bring in a couple hundred here, a few thousand there.
I have just what you seek, and you don’t even need to sell an ad or bring in a new subscription.
Keep in mind I’m assuming you run or work for a typical hometown newspaper.
If you’re at a typical paper, there’s a nearby source of at least a few thousand dollars and probably more—much more. It’s in the software used to handle the company’s financial functions.
All you need to do is print it out for perusal during your next lunch break. But you may want to bring along a glass of Alka Selzer instead of the diet Coke.
It’s the accounts receivable report. You know, the readout that shows who owes you money. For the last 30 days—60 days—90 days and, ugh, more than a few for over 120 days.
The target for total accounts receivables should be 1.5-times average monthly advertising revenue. For example, annual advertising revenue is $600,000, making the monthly average $50,000. Total accounts receivable at any time should be no more than $75,000, unless it’s an atypical month with a huge current bill out.
Unfortunately, too many community newspapers are well above that guideline.
So the bad news is you never imagined how many people owed you so much for so long.
The good news is all that cash is available if you have the fortitude to collect it.
Let’s take a look at some ways to do just that.
• Do you go over the overdue account list at least once a month?
Assuming you do, do you have a collection system in place and someone in charge of contacting these slow or non-payers? That could be the bookkeeper or the advertising representative or the publisher. But, again, you need a system and a person in charge.
• The system can include a simple reminder on the bill itself with a “!” beside the overdue balance, a personal phone call, an e-mail reminder about the overdue balance with a PDF of the bill attached, a personal visit and, as a last resort, taking the client to court.
Although it’s a relatively new strategy for collection, I’ve found the personal e-mail reminders work quite well. A justifiable nuisance, they seem to combine the power of personal contact with a feeling of “this needs attention.”
• If you contact the overdue account by phone, offer the option to pay up by credit card. You’ll be surprised at how willing many will be to “just get it out of the way” with a credit card.
• If the overdue account list is really out of hand, block out a day each week to tackle it until it’s under control again.
• By all means, cut off advertising orders from an account that’s seriously overdue—say, 90 days or more. Many papers set the cutoff at 60 days. Make sure the ad rep who handles the account gets the message.
• If all else fails, write it off as a bad debt and take it off the list.
Here are some more suggestions from readers of my monthly e-mail newsletter. (It’s free—if you would like to subscribe just drop me an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org.)
From Bruce Morrison, former chief executive officer, Jones Media Inc. Greeneville, TN
—Use a legal note (document), fill in the blanks, include periodic payments with interest, have the customer sign the note. Amount of note goes on your balance sheet (suggest it be broken out as a reminder), removes debt from accounts receivable. Make certain customers make payments.
—For difficult situations: Get copies of Small Claims Court documents from the courthouse. Fill out and put date of when you will file in Small Claims Court (perhaps in two weeks). Sign the form. Include a polite-but-firm letter asserting the form(s) will be submitted for legal service by the sheriff’s department. (In most cases, you will get quick response because the person/business does not want to be served. If this doesn’t work, be sure to have the document submitted on the date shown.)
—For I’ll-help-you situations: Make a deal with a local banker in which you go to the bank with the customer to help him/her get a loan. The friendly banker agrees, makes the loan. Then you circle back and co-sign the note without knowledge of the customer. Bank collects payments on a regular basis with interest. You get your cash up front. Note: If person fails to make all the payments, you will have to pay the balance to the bank.
Note: Some states have Small Claims Court in which no attorney is needed. Take advantage of that. In states where an attorney is needed, discuss situation with a local attorney—some will cooperate in helpful ways and not charge regular fee. (Some attorneys will send out collection letters, perhaps at a per-letter charge or a percentage collected.)
Keep the Ad Reps Up-to-date
From Gary Wood, publisher, Yankton Media, Yankton, SD
We have a system in place that notifies the ad rep every month on past due accounts (anything more than 30 days) and we are fortunate to have very little bad debt write off.
One thing I’ve found to be effective during the past 28 years in the business is to contact the client between 30-45 days and say in a very nice way: “The business office asked that I check on your account. I’m sure you mailed the check for the balance due already but can I get the date you wrote it, check number and date it was mailed so I can let the business office know?...” Generally the advertiser will tell you he or she has not paid it but you can pick up a check or he will give you a credit card for payment the same day.
Talk to the Store Manager, not the Bookkeeper
From Charles Richards, owner, Regional Publishing Corp.,
Palos Heights, IL
• Always talk to the store manager—the top person—not the bookkeeper. Then, the store manager can talk to the bookkeeper.
• If you aren’t put through to the top person, don’t say, “Have him call me.” Instead say, “I’ll call back.”
• If the assistant asks, “What is this regarding?” answer, “I’m sorry this is personal. I have to talk with the manager about our business relationship.”
• If the response is, “I will mail you a check today or tomorrow” answer, “I’ll save you the trouble of stamping an envelope and send a messenger to pick up the check. He will provide a receipt.”
• Always be nice, never get ugly, except on rare occasions.
• Someone has to call the overdue account at least once a month.
• Cut off advertising from any account with a balance over $600. Call the advertiser and ask for a “good faith” check of 20 percent to get below the $600 and continue advertising.
• No matter how good you are at keeping receivables in line, budget a 2 percent loss for bad accounts.
Thanks to Morrison, Wood and Richards for their advice.
Remember, the best way to keep those right hand columns in the A/R report as clear as a mountain stream is to check them regularly, and then use your collection system, faithfully. © Ken Blum 2015
Ken Blum is the publisher of Butterfly Publications, an advising/speaking/publishing business dedicated to improving the profitability and quality of community newspapers. He puts out a monthly free e-mail newsletter titled Black Inklings. It features nuts and bolts ideas to improve revenue and profits at hometown papers. To subscribe to the newsletter or contact Ken, e-mail him at email@example.com; or phone to 330-682-3416.