7 Tips to Make Sure You Get Paid by Clients

istock_pastdueYou’ve put in the time, produced the work and delivered to the client. Well done! It’s time to reap the financial rewards of your efforts.

The problem? The money never arrives.

Collecting payment can be a concern in a web world. It’s very easy for clients to just stop responding to emails, not pick up the phone or even walk off into the sunset and use the work you created without even owning it yet.

Seriously. Who’s going to stop them? What are you going to do?

Luckily, there are many ways to avoid holding an empty bag. Here are a few tips and tricks to help make sure you get paid for your hard work:

Establish your Terms

Decide if you prefer to work with deposits, milestone payments or retainers. While some people feel uncomfortable asking for partial payments up front, it makes sense. Deposits are a show of good faith on both parties’ behalf. The client shows faith that he’s serious about his project and trusts you not to walk off with his money. You show faith that you’ll do the work, deliver, and trust the client to pay the balance.

The Speed of Time

In the ‘real’ world, many businesses who invoice clients have payment terms of 30 or 60 days. But be careful – the virtual world tends to skew our sense of time badly. One hour feels like a day, three days feels like a week, and two weeks is… well, a decade ago. If you work on the web, avoid lengthy payment terms to make sure people don’t forget you need to be paid.

Don’t Assume and Be Clear

Before you begin working for anyone, clearly state your business and payment terms and make sure to put them in writing so that you and the client can refer back to them if necessary. Don’t assume you’re your payment terms are standard, and make sure clients know what you expect from them. Be detailed, too, to avoid misunderstandings.

Be Proactive with Reminders

When you deliver to your client, gently remind them of the terms of payment without being stiff or pushy. You could write, “If you’re happy with the work and it meets your approval, feel free to make payment to our PayPal account within 5 days.” Stay light and make sure the tone you use conveys friendliness. You’re just reminding customers at this point, not demanding payment.

Be Helpful with Paperwork

PayPal generates plenty of paperwork that the government requires for tax reporting. Some clients still prefer to have a traditional invoice to match with their PayPal receipt. You can be proactive by asking if the client needs an invoice when you deliver the work or simply attaching the invoice to your delivery.

Follow Up Before It’s Too Late

No payment? Follow up before payment comes due with a polite reminder (and we recommend within seven days). When you do follow up with a customer who hasn’t paid, always assume the best. People forget, people get busy and people don’t generally mean to screw you over. Sometimes all it takes to be paid is just a friendly, “Did you receive this? I haven’t received payment yet so I wasn’t sure and wanted to follow up with you. Could you let me know?”

Stay On Top of the Ball

Still no answer? Start to follow up with your client more frequently, about every three or four days. Continue to assume the best intentions to pay, though. Maybe the person is on vacation or had a family emergency. If you’d like, you can gently increase a firm tone with each new email, but always write in a positive, open manner to maintain a good impression.

Some examples of follow-up letters include:

Day 10: “Dear Client, I wanted to check in regarding payment for the work I sent over on January 12. I’m a little concerned, as I haven’t heard back yet. Could you let me know if there is a problem with the work or making payment?

Day 14: “Dear Client, I haven’t received payment yet for the work I sent over on January 19. I hope that there isn’t a problem, but if there is, please let me know so that we can discuss the matter or work out arrangements. I’d also like to remind you that I retain copyright to the work until payment is made, which means the work cannot be used elsewhere until that time.”

Day 17: “Dear Client, I haven’t received a response to my email of February 4 requesting payment for the work I submitted on January 12. I just wanted to remind you that payment was due several weeks ago and the account is now overdue. I have to ask that you please make payment within 3 days to avoid penalties or extra fees.”

Bonus Tip: Broke and Ashamed

Be careful with communications. You may think the client is sitting in Tahiti laughing at you while profiting from the free work he stole. That may be true, but there’s a good chance that isn’t the reality at all. Financial situations change, and some people might find themselves with bills they can’t afford to pay. They feel embarrassed or ashamed, and they may have a hard time admitting the truth. (Wouldn’t you?)

There comes a point, though, when enough is enough. The person isn’t trying to work out arrangements, and it doesn’t look like payment is forthcoming. Expending your energy and stressing out while chasing money down becomes futile.

We have one more great tip for you, so stay tuned for Wednesday’s post, where we share ways to make a last-ditch effort at getting paid – and how to cut your losses and walk away with a clear conscience if you don’t.

Do you have any more tips you can share? Have you ever run into a problem with collections? How did you resolve it? Did you get paid?

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.