It seems to happen to all of us once and awhile. We do a piece of writing or editing work for a client, send out an invoice, and nothing happens. There’s no check in the mail and no word on why, when, or even if.
First Review, Then Call
First of all, review the contract or letter of agreement you have with your client. If you don’t have one, vow to never again put a word on paper for a client without some sort of written agreement. An email is fine as long as it spells out the details clearly.
Next, review your copy of invoice you sent; if you didn’t send one do so right now. Double-check the address and the date. If all is in order, pick up the phone and call your client.
Yes, it’s better to call even though it’s easier to write or email. You know why; you’re more likely to get a real answer when you’re actually talking with someone. Telephone calls are, by their very nature, more personal and more urgent than written communications.
Your Calling Approach
Your goal, in this first call, is of course to get paid. Your approach, however, is to make sure the invoice was received. Keep it simple. Something like this often works:
“Hi (client name), this is (your name). I realized I hadn’t gotten payment from you and wanted to be sure you got my invoice.”
Now, shut up and listen! Even if the silence grows, wait it out. Your client will say something and that will tell you what your next step should be. Here are some possible scenarios. The first three are easy:
- “I’m sorry, no, I didn’t get your invoice.” Agree to send it again and say you’ll call in five days to be sure it arrived. Double check the address, say thanks and hang up.
- “I’m sorry, yes, I meant to send a check, but…” Smile, say you understand and ask when the check will be sent. Write down the date for follow-up .
- You get an answering machine. I usually just ask the client to call me back, without giving a reason because I want to talk with them. If they don’t call, on my second or third try I’ll leave a message asking if they got the invoice.
More difficult is the situation where the client says something like, “Yes, I got your invoice, but I can’t pay you until (some distant date.) Your response depends on your relationship with your client. Sometimes we have to cut good client’s some slack, but it’s not a good idea. I like responding with something like “I’m sorry, that won’t work for me.” If you take this route, again, shut up and wait; the silence will force your client to say more and usually what they say will tell you what to do next. Keep in mind that you have the right to be paid on time for your work.
There are, of course, times when it makes sense to take payments rather than insist on a lump sum even if that’s what was agreed to. Just be careful you don’t put yourself in a position where you can’t collect.
When It Stops Being Friendly
The worst case is when it becomes obvious the client has no intention of paying you. It’s rare they will say this directly to you. More often, you’ll just not get any response at all. Here are some options:
- Resend the invoice, marked: Second Invoice – 5% late fee added if not paid by (10 days later.) Some successful writers add this automatically to every invoice. You’re entitled to charge a late fee.
- If you’re working for an organization, call the accounts payable and make sure they at least have your invoice. It’s amazing how often editors and others fail to forward payables to the right department. Then, assuming they do, find out what they have to say. It may be accounting will get you paid even when editorial said it was impossible.
- Send a third invoice and add a note saying you will send this to collection if it’s not paid in 10 days. This will often get at least a phone call from the client.
When all else fails, consider either a collection service or a suit for payment. Neither is fun, and both can be costly. Collection agencies charge an arm and a leg, usually at least 50% of what they collect; court cases cost and take time. You probably won’t want to do this for small amounts, but if you’re owed a thousand or more, it may well be worth it.
Whatever you do, don’t work for that client again unless they pre-pay you. Even better, let that client go and find a new one.
You may also want to read: When Do I Ask For Payment? Ask Anne The Pro Writer
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