Tips to Collect on Unpaid Invoices from Clients

Nobody likes not getting paid, especially when you’ve put in hard work and long hours to do something. On the flip side, few people like asking for unpaid or overdue payment if it wasn’t paid as originally expected. It’s awkward and can feel like you’re being rude or too demanding.

But every employee and employer knows that at the end of the day, cash flow is important, and therefore, so is making sure that overdue and unpaid payments are addressed.

Here are a few tips for making sure payments are paid on time, and for making sure things go smoothly when they aren’t.

Picking Your Battles

It’s always important to carefully choose the work you take on. It’s tempting to take every job offered to you, but a smart businessperson knows that this isn’t wise. Something always worth doing when looking at job options is to assume that any individual job will fail, and estimate how that would affect you. If a job falling through would cause more damage than you’re willing to sustain, you should be very cautious about taking it. Though they’re rare, there will always be times when things don’t go as planned, whether it’s a client demanding a lower price than agreed on, or refusing to pay at all. These situations are always a possibility, but it’s important to try to minimize the chance of them happening in the first place.

To this end, it’s important to screen new clients. Nothing too extensive is necessary, but it’s always worth asking them if they’ve ever contracted someone in your line of work before. If they say they have, you can ask about their past experiences and find out what they liked and didn’t like, and use it to improve the experience you provide. It also means you can reach out to anyone they’ve employed before and ask them what their experience with the client was like. This is great for weeding out problem clients; if it seems like they were difficult for their last contractor, they’ll probably be difficult for you too. If the client hasn’t worked with a contractor before, then you’ll know to be especially sure to be as open and communicative as possible.

What They Don’t Know Will Hurt You

While inexperienced clients are particularly susceptible to miscommunication, it’s something to keep in mind for all clients. It’s tempting to keep clients out of the loop, especially concerning things that require specialized knowledge to understand. However, openness and transparency, though they can be difficult, will save time, effort, and money in the long run. It’s very much in your best interest to make sure that your client knows as much as humanly possible about what they’ve hired you to do. That starts with meeting with the client and establishing clear and concrete expectations on both sides; timelines, dates, costs, etc. Open a constant and reliable line of communication between yourself and the client, whether that’s simply through exchanging phone numbers to make texting and calling an option, or meeting in person at regular intervals.

Email is an option, but tends to be a little slower and more easily overlooked, so be cautious. Make a concerted effort to root out and eliminate any misunderstanding, and be sure to communicate to your client that you’d always rather them ask clarifying questions than be confused. This might seem like overkill, but it’s more than worth it to make sure you don’t end up with a client who was expecting the final cost of a project to have one fewer zeroes than was agreed upon. Finally, it’s very important to keep detailed records of everything that goes on. Digital or paper, both work, but one of the advantages of digital communication is that it tends to be easy to access all the correspondence you’ve had with a client.

Attract More Flies with Honey Than Vinegar

This might seem like a no-brainer, but building a positive relationship with clients is vital, and should always be a primary consideration whenever you take a job. This can seem difficult, since it’s tricky to balance professionalism with friendliness, but you don’t have to be all sunshine-and-smiles to form a good relationship with a client (though politeness and kindness should at any costs always be upheld). The most important thing to remember is that one should always strive for excellence in work. Though it may often not be possible, and the client may be satisfied with less, working towards excellence is always a worthwhile goal. It’s difficult to generate the drive, energy, and dedication necessary to constantly push for such high quality, but it will always be worth it.

Even if the client is rude and the job is unpleasant, at the very worst, you can come away from the transaction with the unshakable knowledge that your actions were admirable and your reputation remains intact. And at best, a commitment to excellence will result in delighted, returning, loyal customers that will spread word of your exceptional effort and dedication to everyone around them. Part of striving for excellence, of course, is to do everything in your power to make sure that the client is not only satisfied, but delighted with your work. This means checking in with clients to see if they have any feedback or additional requests, and just to make sure they are happy with the process and result that you provided. If they are, they’ll appreciate you checking in, and if they’re not, it’s even more important because then you can remedy whatever they’re not happy with, or if it’s too late, make sure it doesn’t happen with future clients.

Biting the Bullet

Even if you do everything right, screen clients, set clear expectations, maintain communication, and do everything you can to make sure the client is delighted, there will always be times when things go awry. This is never a pleasant experience, but there are many ways to minimize the stress of these occasions. Firstly, always be sure to stay professional and keep emotion out of it, no matter how frustrating that may be. If a client hasn’t paid but the deadline hasn’t yet passed, a simple, kind reminder by email or phone call reminding the client of their obligation is often the best choice. Be polite, be professional, but be clear in what you expect.

Extra incentives for customers to pay on time can come in the form of a more expensive bill if the payment deadline is passed (though it may sound better if you rephrase it as a discount on the bill if paid before a certain time). If this doesn’t work, contact the client and arrange a discussion via phone or in person to establish what the problem is. Ideally, an agreement can be reached here, but it’s more vital than ever to remember to stay professional and not let emotions get the best of you. If an agreement can’t be reached or the client isn’t responsive, an option of last resort can be to put a lien on the property. Obviously, this is an option that shouldn’t be used lightly, but it’s also important not to shy away from it if nothing else is working. You made a legal agreement to exchange services for payment, and it is well within your rights to act to ensure that agreement is upheld.

These might all seem like obvious things to do, but even the most obvious things can slip our minds. Above all, remember to be professional, communicative, and stand your ground when you aren’t paid what you’re owed.

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