The warm-hearted debt collector: how a smile can bring in millions

In 2003, Lisa Millar had a big problem. The company she’d recently joined had accumulated over two million dollars in written-off debt and it was her job to collect that missing cash. Now, you know that the collection of invoices is paramount to a healthy bottom line. So as a business person, what values should you maintain while collecting money owed?

Harking back to Lisa’s comment about strategy, and moving forward to the theme of communication – her story isn’t one of harassment. Instead, the answer to her problem of collecting outstanding fees lay in her core mindset toward working with others. She valued the relationship above all, and acting from this place of connection helped navigate the awkward path of ‘we need the bill paid.’

Let’s read about it in her own words:

“Most of the money owed was from existing clients, and the downfall had been in the two accounting systems – the accounts payable on the client’s side and the accounts receivables on our side, and it was just left.

The key thing for that, because they were still our client, was relationship working. We came out of that – I came out of that, with really good strong relationships with my counterparts in those companies. [The relationship] had to be strong enough that those counterparts weren’t nagged to death, so that they wouldn’t go to the client and say, ‘these people are driving me crazy’. The relationship was key.”

More than once Lisa told me how coaching has really strengthened her ability to communicate, and this is another instance where communication becomes essential, because how do you ask for money while honouring the client relationship?

“It sounds funny, but when you call a client and you want some money, you can ask how you can help them. It’s just that simple. These clients have a lot of money and they are known to pay their bills. So there is communication – we look at the miscommunication, and we don’t do anything rebuking, and we keep our relationship.”

Your take away: Ask how you can help your client. If you haven’t received a payment, assume there has been some miscommunication before letting frustration overtake your relationship.

And as Lisa has mentioned, “we have a natural strategy to cope,” as coaching has shown her over the years. So what was her strategy in this instance? “My other rule was just ten minutes a day. Sometimes, you know, it ends up being more than that, sometimes it is just a couple of minutes, but if I chipped away ten minutes a day, I got a lot done. It was kinda systematic.”

Your take away: If you are overwhelmed by a challenge at hand, develop a plan that suits your best coping strategy. Your coach can help identify what strategies work best for you, which can then be applied across both your professional and personal life.


So there you have it, how to collect millions of dollars in debt without hurting your relationships.


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