• Finance

4 tips for chasing payment

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Chasing payment is a key survival skill for writers and other freelance professionals. Here are 4 tips for chasing payment, based on my two decades of freelance writing experience:

Be "pleasantly persistent."

You can be a nice person who cares for others, and still be successful chasing payment from clients. In your initial efforts to collect payment, say when payment is a few days overdue, do not assume bad faith on the client’s side. Never begin by believing that the client is "trying to screw you over," even if you eventually find they are. Act as if the client simply forgot to pay you and ask them to correct their oversight.

Be nice to people, treat them as human beings (not faceless bureaucrats), and ask (nicely) that they do what they promised to do -- pay you.

Develop human relationships with the people who pay you.

I have zero problem calling a huge organization and asking the accounts payable manager about the status of my payment. When you are nice and pleasant to these people, simply presenting the non-payment issue as a problem you both want to solve, you'd be surprised at how effective you'll be in getting paid.

I have become friends with people in various accounts payable roles over the years. I know the names of their kids, what they like to do over the weekend, the kind of food they like. Am I being overly friendly, a Mr. Softie? No, in fact, I am making sure I get paid. When you have a real human relationship with someone in A/P, when they know you and you know them, that helps you get paid. Never be a faceless vendor with a P.O. number who calls a faceless A/P person who doesn't care about you. Be a human talking to a human -- and yes, have your invoice and P.O. number ready.

People in A/P get yelled at by vendors, suppliers, bosses all day long, so when you treat them with respect and professionalism, they reciprocate. They'll go above and beyond to help resolve your payment issues, if you go above and beyond for them. Have I written recommendation letters for A/P people who've helped me? Have I called their bosses and described how professional and helpful and wonderful they are? You're darned right I have, many times! To get paid, you’ll need to invest in building human relationships.

Make the "pleasant" phone call first and attempt to negotiate payment before you threaten legal action or other negative consequences.

Try to work things out informally, always. If you can't, send that threatening letter or email only as a last resort. And when you do send that email or letter as a last resort, mean what you say and do what you say. If you threaten to file a case against someone in small claims court, then do that. This is about your integrity. But continue trying to work things out and compromise. The email or letter may give you more leverage or lead to an "escalation" of your payment issue up the ladder. This can help you get paid. But never become an a**hole to people. No amount of money is worth that.

Don't work with clients who consistently can't figure out how to pay you on time.

You are a writer or other professional freelancer, not a consultant helping your clients figure out how to develop a better payroll/Accounts Payable system. Have I acted as an informal consultant to my client's A/P people? Yes, because if I need to help them figure out how to get me paid on time, I will do that. But if they continually botch payment, I tend to lose patience and then "lose" the client. Not paying me tends to damage our long-term relationship -- not being competent with your A/P is a huge turnoff from clients, in my opinion.

Yes, it's tough to get these administrative details done well, but how can a client expect me to focus on details and quality outcomes when they don’t? If a client needs my help in paying me, I'll help them every time. But you want to work with clients who have their house in order, or can at least learn to get it in order.

It never pays to become a jerk when chasing payment. Be pleasant, give A/P the benefit of the doubt, and most of all, persist. Do you have tips for collecting payment, dear reader?

Boston-based Chuck Leddy is a business writer and brand storyteller for B2B brands such as General Electric, ADP, Office Depot, Cintas, the National Center for the Middle Market, and many more. He's also been published in print publications such as the Boston Globe and San Francisco Chronicle.