“Where’s my money?!”
That’s a phrase that I used to scream at my monitor whenever difficult clients would skip payments for weeks at a time or, worse, if they would skip paying completely.
Many things have changed since then, and my experience with such clients early in my web working career has made me savvy to such escape tactics. In the end, only one client was successful in evading me. I didn’t let him get out scot-free, either – I reported his company to the Better Business Bureau.
When it comes to money, I believe that prevention is better than cure. Having a mutually signed-contract is the first step you need to take to ensure that the client will be taking your agreement seriously. I also find that a ‘layman’s version’ of the contract can help clients better understand what they’re signing if the legalese gets in the way. However, don’t forget to add a disclaimer that the layman’s version in no way replaces the actual contract.
Sometimes, this stage can be a litmus test to see if the client will have payment problems later on. Red flags go up when potential clients are reluctant to sign a contract because “It’s only a couple of weeks’ work anyway”. But if the deal pulls through, there are other things you can do to ensure that you get paid on time.
Have a clear schedule of deliverables. It’s important to write a list of deliverables for both you and your client – including the payment. Note the following example for an ebook writing project:
August 28 – Client sends materials and initial deposit.
August 30 – You send your proposed outline to the client.
September 2 – Client sends you comments/suggestions for outline.
September 3 – You send the finalized outline to the client.
September 15 – You send the first chapter of the ebook to the client.
September 20 – Client makes second payment, and sends additional comments.
Also, when you send each invoice, don’t forget to note the payment due date. While some clients won’t need reminders, be mindful of which clients tend to be too busy to forget the due date so that you can send them a reminder the day before.
Find a way to make early payments beneficial to the client. One of the things we’ve decided to implement is to give a client a 5% discount if they pay the invoice within 24 hours from the time it was sent. Another alternative you might want to try is giving a discount or promo coupon for the client’s next order.
Have template emails ready. To save yourself some time and the stress of composing payment reminder emails, it helps to have ready templates. I make templates for payment reminders the day after the due date, the week after, and two weeks after. I just adjust the details of the letter to the situation.
Call the client. Emails are easy to delete and prone to misunderstandings, which is why for clients who make delinquent payments, it’s important to call them if you aren’t paid after two weeks – especially if they haven’t replied to your emails. There could be a completely valid reason behind this, but it’s important to hear it from your client directly.
Make yourself indispensable. I had a client who, even after signing the contract and getting satisfactory work from us, decided to leave us hanging when it came to his final payment. The above methods didn’t seem to work – until he needed us to make a minor change on his website. Of course, we only made the changes he requested when he paid the remaining balance. Sometimes, being indispensable can be good insurance that a client won’t run off without paying you for your work.
However, once you realize that a client has this kind of habit, it’s best to stop working with them. You don’t want to risk being left unpaid for a project should they decide one day that they don’t need you anymore.
Don’t be a fool. If a client is notorious for making excuses and avoiding you during payment time, it makes no sense to trust them for succeeding projects. Use your instinct, and if you think chasing them for your fees isn’t worth it, suggest that they find someone else (to annoy).
Have you ever had problematic clients who left you unpaid? How did you try to get your money?