Not all freelance writers are comfortable with the idea of collections — getting a little nasty if that’s what it takes to get your money. They put it off, telling themselves that if they’re hard on a client, they won’t get any repeat work. But collections are a necessary part of business, and clients who are tough as nails to get money out of the first time around won’t be any better on projects later on. Even worse, the longer a writer puts off dealing with a client who owes her money, the less likely she is to ever see a cent.
Collections can be a painful process, but it is possible to speed through it, and hopefully get your payment. The secret to easier collections is to establish a personal system of how to handle them, and follow it religiously. Mark next steps on your calendar or to do list, and check up on where any client is in the system.
I’m going to walk you through my checklist — yours may be very different, depending on what type of businesses you’re working with.
- When I get a contract for a new client, I open up the spreadsheet I use to track accounts receivable (and income, to keep things simple). I enter several variables: client’s name, project title, expected payment, expected payment date.
- When I finish the project in question, I send an invoice to the client, and mark that date on my handy dandy spreadsheet, as well. I also mark on my to do list to follow up on the date that payment is due.
- My follow up is fairly simple — I check if I have the money in hand. If I do, I should be able to tell just by looking at my spreadsheet; I should have marked the date when I received the money. If not, I send a pleasantly worded reminder note, and add a ‘to do’ to my list: check back in five business days.
- Rinse and repeat through 2 more notes, with increasing strength of language. I will often call throughout this process, especially if there is no response. It is important to both have direct contact with the client, and a paper trail of your collections process.
- If by, this point, payment is not forthcoming, there are a variety of options: you can turn a debt over to a collections agency, you can take legal action, etc. These options can be costly for you, and if at all possible, it is better to negotiate a settlement with your client personally. If it does come to any of these options, however, a paper trail of invoices and contacts is absolutely necessary.
- Personally, I also like to warn other freelancers considering taking on a deadbeat client. Methods to do so include contacting local chapters of the Better Business Bureau, or websites like Writers Weekly, that maintain a warnings section. It depends on the type of client.
No matter your approach to collections, be polite and professional throughout. Just like Gramma says, ‘you’ll catch more flies with honey than vinegar.’ Personal contact is also helpful. If you talk to someone on the phone, or you visit their office, you have a better chance of getting paid. It may not be an option, though considering the high number of writers that take on projects out of state or even out of the country.