7 Ways better billing practices lead to better billings.
Jun 24 2015
Work in any field long enough, and you’ll encounter a client who’s slow, or even fails to pay. Wondering if the new client you’ve just accepted will be one of those jobs, can be nerve-wracking … and in a business where maintaining a calm, relaxed manner is a large component of your livelihood, that’s not a good mental state to be in.
Most often by far, payments are not a problem. You’ll be paid on time, or sometimes a bit late but at least eventually. Here are some suggestions for making your collections situation as calm as you are at the mic.
First, let us reiterate. Most clients are as professional as you are. They pay their electric bill, they pay their taxes, and they’ll pay you. But it’s often hard to tell before taking on a new client whether or not they’ll be an exception. Even an existing client might become slow to pay you if their financial or cash-flow circumstances change. The less time you spend hassling over such situations, the more time you’ll have for landing new clients and doing more work.
So, the 7 tips:
1. Try to be paid in advance, or at least, on delivery. Many clients, especially small or entrepreneurial ones, are willing. (And at Voices.com, it’s even required – clients pay Voices.com upon engagement, and the amount is held in escrow until you deliver.) This is no time to have stage fright. Simply state that it is your policy, or at least it’s your policy with any new client. The worst that can happen is, either they will tell you what their payment policy is (and you can decide if that’s acceptable), or they will not hire you (in which case they may not have been a serious or reliable client anyway).
2. Accept payment by credit card, or by PayPal. This enables you to get paid now, while the client pays the bill later, maybe even over time, and the percentage you pay for the service may be well worth the peace of mind. For many companies, paying via PayPal is standard procedure, and outside the US, it’s common practice to pay via card rather than check. If you prefer to take credit cards directly, there are too many options to get into here, but suffice it to say there are two approaches: a) You get the client’s card information and run it through your merchant account, or b) You use a reputable processing service that accepts their information securely online and confirms to you that you’ve been paid. The latter may involve setup complication and an added commission, but it assures your client that their card data is secure – you never learn it.
Having a PayPal account also enables you to send clients invoices directly from PayPal, or send them “Request for Payment” emails. Virtually all they have to do is answer it! If they pay you by some other means, you can still mark the job as paid within your PayPal records.
3. If it’s a large company, understand at the outset how payments are processed. If they use purchase orders, request one, return it promptly and confirm with your client that the required information is complete and correct in their eyes. When sending your invoice, send a copy to the person you deal with, but also learn who they must deal with. Suppose your contact person departs, or is just a poor administrator, and you don’t know how to reach the Accounts Payable department, let alone who to talk to? (We know of one case where “Accounts Payable” as such wasn’t even in the company phone directory!)
4. Read and heed our article “What Goes on Your Voice Over Invoice!” at https://www.voiceoverxtra.com/article.htm?id=7ugelwu3 In particular, note that you should ask the client for their Job Number when you get the assignment, and include your own Invoice Number on your bill. If you have to call about late payment, the Accounts Payable department is going to want it, and don’t expect a Creative Director to quickly look up the number of a job he closed out months ago. As for your own number, rather than number all your invoices sequentially, you might want to assign a unique number series to each client – it’s nobody’s business how many jobs you billed this month.
5. Also review our article Why Some Folks Don’t Get Hired! at http://www.edgestudio.com/archive/why-some-folks-dont-get-hired It will guide you in maintaining a high, professional level of service, helping you to command respect when it’s time to be paid.
6. Get that pesky invoice paperwork done in “real time” not long after the fact – especially handy if you must include a timesheet (e.g., for production services, etc.): Create a template invoice/timesheet for each of your most active clients, and bookmark it on your desktop, or add it to your computer’s menu. (You could even tell your operating system to pop-up a reminder every hour, so you’ll remember to fill out that time sheet … except after awhile, the pop-up tends to get mindlessly clicked, closed and ignored.)
Some companies process payments only once a week, or biweekly or even monthly. So getting your invoice in a day earlier could get you paid two weeks sooner!
7. If a client simply doesn’t pay, and you can’t camp out in their office (or you’ve tried and it hasn’t worked), don’t blithely expect to take them to court. First, whether you win or lose, and for better or worse, you can kiss that relationship goodbye. Second, in any court but Small Claims, you’re likely to need a lawyer, costing probably more than your job. (Even an attorney’s threatening letter might break your piggybank, and may be ignored by an experienced deadbeat.) Third, even if you win, that’s no assurance the judgment will be paid. Fourth, although you might hint that you’ll badmouth the former client, realize that you are just as vulnerable. In a service field based on artistic performance, it becomes a game of who should third parties believe? You might be the more vulnerable party. And unless you have clear proof of dereliction, the client might even accuse you of slander. (Which is why some advise simply saying, “I’d never work for that company again,” without saying why – if asked, reply “Oh, it’s just too painful to talk about.”)
The vast majority of talent go their entire careers without encountering such a nasty situation, but it happens. Our point here is that it’s easier to avoid the path to it, by following the tips above.