How to Make Sure You Get Paid (Part 2)

In Part 1 of this series, I explained what to do up front to make sure you get paid promptly for the copywriting work you do. If you follow those tips, you'll find that your check will be "in the mail" (or the digital equivalent of that happy event) much more often.

But no matter how careful you are, there may be instances when a client is frustratingly slow to pay your invoice or, worse, refuses to pay at all.

Not a pleasant experience.

So, in those circumstances, how do you get your money?

Here are some tips that will help.

  1. Follow Up the First Day Your Invoice Is Overdue

    This is a repeat from Part 1 of this article, but it's worth mentioning again here …

    As soon as your invoice is due – say, 31 days after you've sent it – call your client or the accounts payable contact. Ask about the status of the invoice and when you can expect to receive payment.

    And don't settle for vague assurances like, "A check will be cut in a couple of weeks." Get an exact date.

  2. Don't Settle for Excuses.

    When you follow up on an overdue invoice, your client may cite an internal problem as the reason why payment has not been sent. For example:

    "We're having a temporary cash flow problem."

    "We can't pay you yet because our client hasn't paid us."

    "We've installed new accounting software and are experiencing some technical glitches."

    The excuse may be valid. Or it may be a stalling tactic. Regardless, you have a right to know when your invoice will be paid. So don't reply meekly with, "Oh, I'm sorry to hear that. I'll call back in a couple of weeks." Instead, say confidently, "I understand how that might delay payment a few days. Can I expect to receive a check by next Tuesday?"

  3. Collect the Check in Person

    When an invoice is seriously overdue, arrange to pick up the check in person. That sends two important messages to your client. One, that you're serious about getting paid. And, two, that they need to have your check ready when you arrive.

    You can put it to your client this way: "The check will be cut next Friday? That's great. I'll stop by and pick it up. 3:00 p.m. okay with you?"

    Or use this variation if the client is not local: "The check will be cut next Friday? That's great. I'll arrange for FedEx to pick it up that afternoon after 3:00 p.m. Okay with you?"

  4. When the Client Doesn't Respond

    In some cases, you might find that your calls and emails are ignored by your client. Not a good sign.

    If your client is local, drop by and enquire about the overdue invoice personally. This tactic almost always gets a response. It's difficult to ignore you when you're standing in the lobby.

    If the client is not local, send a letter by courier or registered mail.

    Either way, ask politely but firmly exactly when your overdue invoice will be paid. Then arrange to pick up the check on that day.

  5. When All Else Fails

    What do you do when the worst happens? Months and months go by, and despite your best efforts, the client still hasn't paid your invoice?

    You have a couple of options: A collections agency or small claims court.

    A collections agency will attempt to collect on the overdue invoice on your behalf – usually for a 50% fee. So the most you can expect to get is half the money you were owed. But that's infinitely better than nothing.

    Another option is small claims court. It's designed for the do-it-yourselfer, so you can usually file a claim without a lawyer. The process, however, can be long and time-consuming. Still, it's satisfying to get your "day in court" and, if your claim is justified, you stand a good chance of getting a judgment against your client for the full amount owed.

So those are some good ideas for collecting on an overdue invoice. But your best strategy for getting paid is to make sure you do the right things up front, as described in Part 1 of this series. You'll save yourself a lot of grief. And you'll sleep better, too.

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Published: March 4, 2011

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