Government and companies must prioritise prompt payment as businesses face a cashflow crisis brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic, an online event has heard.
The Access to Finance webinar, hosted by the Institute of Directors Northern Ireland (IoD NI), Northern Ireland Chamber of Commerce and Industry, and business advisory firm EY, drew 500 businesspeople.
The UK Small Business Commissioner Philip King told those listening that responding to the crisis was about "collaboration not confrontation".
He urged all struggling, to enter talks and negotiations with creditors. "The one thing that small businesses shouldn't do is bury their heads in the sand and hope this will go away," he said.
"We want businesses to do the right thing and we want businesses to treat their supply chains responsibly.
"We need businesses of all sizes to recognise the human element of what are often seen as transactional relationships.
"It's not about waiting for the due date but making prompt payments.
"Conversations are absolutely key. If you are unable to make a payment, then have that conversation."
Kirsty McManus, national director of the IoD NI, said: "The fact that 500 business leaders participated in the Access to Finance webinar illustrates how deep worries around cash and finance continue to go."
She said cashflow was a number one concern for firms, even with government help. Rates relief and the option of furloughing staff were welcome, she added.
"However, for the many companies whose income has literally disappeared overnight, they simply cannot survive without additional assistance," she said.