Thursday, October 20, 2005

Getting paid!

In business now for ten years, without even so much as a business course in high school or college, I've learned all my tricks the hard way. But, I haven't been "stiffed" by a client in years and I recently had an opportunity to think back on how and why that is... here is my advice for making sure it doesn't happen to you.

Use a contract. Always. Doesn't matter how cozy you feel with the new customer. A lot of soloists worry that they will seem "too hard" if they have one and I say PHOOEY... it's simply good business. Even if it says "this is what you pay, this is what you get, this is when you get it, this is when I get paid, this is what we do when we dissolve our relationship, this is what you own when we're done," get it in writing. It doesn't have to be in legalese... but everyone should read it, sign it, and expect to abide by it.

Schedule payments. Make sure it is agreed up front when you are to get paid. Define your deliverables, and stagger them according to payment. I might take payment in thirds - but the payment comes BEFORE the work I'm doing, and I will stop all work until that payment comes. Sometimes, rarely, something decides mid project to stop work and in those cases, I've had at least 50% down. It might be half of what I expected, but at least I didn't do the second half while they figured out what they wanted to do. And they didn't feel like they paid for more than they got.

Get a merchant account to process credit cards. Make it easy for people to pay you - usually people want to pay but they have their own cash flow issues. But, they're honest and would put it on a credit card if they could. I have an OUTSTANDING service I use which lets me take credit cards by phone and process online.

Pre-Approve Credit. However you do it - taking credit cards allows you to get paid up front, and to authorize (but not charge) a card in advance. So - you don't work until you have an authorized card and an understanding that you can take a check but if they stiff you, they can expect to be charged.

Incentivize people to pay you FIRST. For example, I offer a ten percent discount on any design project over $1,000 which pays
in full with the contract. You might consider something similar. Package services so that it makes sense for people to pay up front. People LOVE a discount - and it could be the best thing you ever do for your cash flow.

All of this requires a tremendous amount of trust. How do you create that? Well, everything you do in business builds your reputation, certainly. Having top notch testimonials on your marketing material helps reassure people. I take it a step further and invite prospects to contact anyone on my web site portfolio directly if they wish. That way, they can be sure it's not staged and authentic.

On occasion, I do work for proven, long term clients without money up front and I've never been disappointed. I have found, that having such solid rules of engagement as I've described is a top notch way to weed out the people who are a bad bet in the first place.

Since implementing all of these strategies, I've never needed a collection agent beyond the first few years I floundered around learning all these things :) So, keep that cash flowing... the future success of your business depends on it.