Get Paid!

Many times, it's relatively easy to find out details about a particular client's past payment history by using fantastic tools such as Payment Practices. However, those rating services largely focus on translation agencies. We work almost exclusively with direct clients, which makes it difficult to obtain readily available information about their payment practices.

We have thus far had almost overwhelmingly positive experiences in terms of payment, even by individuals (not backed by a corporation) who would be difficult to find should they choose to default on their payment. Unfortunately, in the last few weeks, we have had to follow-up on some outstanding invoices.

What we learned:
  • State your payment terms clearly on your invoice. Ours are payable upon receipt, but as is customary, we give a 30-day grace period.
  • After 45 days, we send a friendly follow-up e-mail, pointing out that we had been reviewing our accounts receivable list and had noticed an outstanding payment. We then politely inquire about the status of the payment. This is usually a short, friendly e-mail.
  • After 60 days (and perhaps sooner), we send another e-mail message, referencing the previous e-mail. A good way to phrase it is to say "We have noticed that the invoice for our services (invoice number XYZ) from date (XYZ) is still outstanding. In our previous communication, you had indicated that you would be kind enough to look into this matter. Could you please tell us when we can expect payment? Thanks for your business".
  • Call the accounting department. Once you realize that your contact person is either not following up, not being responsive, or perhaps embarrassed to admit the oversight of the payment, you might have to go up the chain of command. We recently had to do that for the very first time and called the client's accounts payable department(part of a very large organization). Turns out they had no record of our invoice at all; which means that the department manager who hired us never submitted our paperwork. We successfully worked with accounts payable to get this issue resolved.
If you have any suggestions/experiences concerning outstanding payment and how to handle the process of collection your invoice, please share them by leaving a comment. Have you ever had a complete non-payment experience? Which steps did you take and how did you deal with the situation?


Corinne on February 2, 2009 at 9:39 AM said...

Great post, as always! I agree with all of your tips; also I think that the more questions you ask the client up front ("just to confirm, my payment terms are net 30 from the date of the invoice, payment is by check to my company name, etc."), the more you drive home the point that (for lack of a nicer way to put it!) they've picked the wrong person to try to stiff. I always ask for the accounts payable person's contact information when I submit my invoice and if it's the first time I've worked for the client, I drop the AP person a short e-mail to introduce myself, confirm payment terms and method, etc. I also think it's fair to ask for payment references from other contractors who work for the company.

On the other hand, I think that sometimes you have to accept that just like stores get shoplifted despite all of their precautions, sometimes you just have to chalk a nonpayment experience up to, well, experience. This year I had my first out-and-out nonpayment experience and it came of out nowhere; the client was a referral from a translator who had worked for them for 5+ years, we had a number of very cordial phone conversations, then the check never arrived. I tried all of the tools in my bag of tricks and the client simply did nothing. Never answered the phone or returned my calls, never answered e-mails, even refused to sign for the certified letter that I sent. So in the end, I just think that sometimes, it happens!

Judy and Dagmar Jenner on February 3, 2009 at 2:37 AM said...

Excellent idea about asking for the contact information of the person in charge of account payable -- we had not thought of that. Thanks for sharing. This is just one reason we really enjoy blogging: the exchange of information is fantastic.

We agree on just having to write off some losses that turn out to be impossible to recoup. Unfortunately, it's the cost of doing business. I am stunned that your client was so unresponsive; but you are right: after you try all your tricks, sometimes you just have to write the uncollected amount off.

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