This is a true story. Names have been changed to protect the innocent and the guilty.
A prospect contacted me interested in my company’s services. We discussed the project and came to agreement on the scope and price.
My team went right to work. To ensure the client was happy with the direction, we submitted a portion of the work. Jack asked us to modify one thing, otherwise he liked it.
At that point, he said he’d send us payment for a portion of the project.
My team continued working, applying the client’s feedback. Shortly after, we submitted half of the project.
And here’s the kicker …
The client says we’re off track. It’s not the messaging his company wanted.
I asked Jack to explain. How was it off? What was missing? He wouldn’t provide details. Just that he wasn’t happy with the deliverables.
We offered to make it right in every way we could. Clearly, Jack didn’t want to work with us. Still, he agreed to pay half of the invoice. I sent him the invoice and the required paperwork.
I contacted him again asking if he needed something from us to complete the payment. After several tries of not reaching him, I left a message.
Yes, I realized I should’ve stopped the work until he made the first payment. You see, I had been running this business for more than 15 years. I never ran into this problem.
A few weeks passed. I started to feel angry and frustrated. A pit in my stomach greeted me every morning before the alarm clock.
I decided to try one more thing because I didn’t want to part on a bad note. I emailed him offering a discount if he paid up by a certain date. That wasn’t all. The email stated that if the invoice wasn’t paid on time, then a fee will be added each month the invoice wasn’t paid.
He replied. He apologized and explained his company was struggling. Hearing from him made a world of a difference. At this point, we came very close to taking another step. More on that in a moment.
The side effects of a single unpaid accounts receivable
All of our other projects were moving along swimmingly. Still, it wasn’t enough to ease my mind.
One measly client. One small invoice. One giant headache. One burning stomach.
Yet this single unpaid invoice gnawed at me. And because of how it made me feel every morning, it affected my work and my weekends. It drained my energy. I moved slower and struggled to keep up appearances in my interactions with employees and clients.
Had it not been for the one accounts receivable, I might’ve been able to land new business. A few warm prospects awaited my call. I had to put them off until I could shake this headache and anger.
I didn’t want to bring in a lawyer. That would cost more than the invoice. Again, this was on me because I failed to stop work and push for that first payment.
All I wanted was to get paid for the work my team did. Fortunately, we weren’t dependent on this client as we maintained a healthy cash flow. There was no need for a bank loan or line of credit.
Learning about accounts receivable financing
Somehow, I heard about accounts receivable financing right at the time all this came to a head. A colleague explained that he submitted his unpaid invoices to a factor. The factor paid most of each invoice and took over collecting payments.
Talk about instant relief. He said that selling his accounts receivables to the factor and not having to contact the client about payment made a huge difference in his mood. His renewed energy allowed him to accomplish more and work on growing his business. Instead of dealing with old business and administrative tasks, he brought in new business.
Before the client finally responded, I had contacted Capital Solutions Bancorp, a financial services company that handles invoice financing. I filled the short form and received approval within a couple of days. My invoice could’ve been paid within 24 hours of getting the approval. But right after I submitted the application, I heard from the client and told the factor to hold off.
7 ways to ensure you get paid on time
Yes, I could’ve done a couple of things better. I’ve chalked up this experience to learning a valuable lesson. Plus, I now have a backup plan with accounts receivable financing if it should ever happen again.
In all these years of owning a small business, getting invoices paid had never been a problem. I’ve always taken the following actions with invoices except this time I violated one of the rules below. (No. 4.)
Here are seven ways to ensure you get paid:
- Put a payment due date on the invoices.
- Add terms for a late payment fee for overdue invoices.
- Get up front payment without letting it slide.
- Stop work when payment doesn’t come in.
- Send invoices by email, snail mail, voice mail, and in-person delivery.
- Follow up right before the due date to help client avoid the late fee.
- Provide a one-time only discount offer with strict due date. No exceptions.
How would you deal with a nonpaying client? What other steps can you take to get a client to pay the invoice?
Image credit: Cory Doctorow