There was a recently extended discussion on Freelance Success of troubles in getting paid by clients. I'm not going to pretend that I never have to chase payments - everyone does every now and then. But I do minimize it and reduce the amount of time to get a check with the following steps:
- Ask About Paperwork Right after geting an assignment, ask about the paperwork you'll need to provide. The company will need a W-9, unless you've worked with the client before. You may need a contract to get paid, or not. But make this part of what you ascertain when talking about pay rates, deadlines, and rights license.
- Talk To Account Payable Shortly after you start the assignment, it never hurts to talk to accounts payable, ask about what they need, which can differ from what an editor or corporate representative thinks. Particularly ask about what the company will need on an invoice. Do you need to include social security number? Is there a purchase order number that you have to include? Are there specific addresses or division names that must go onto the invoice? Get all this clear up front, because the people asking for your services may actually not know what they're supposed to do.
- Start the Clock When you submit the assignment, or any milestone part, submit the appropriate invoice. If the client wants changes, you can provide them, but maximize the chance that the receiving person must have received the invoice. If they got the work, they got the invoice, so long as you send the two in together.
- Check on Progress This can be a bit sticky. You must not be beligerant about it, because that will be off-putting, and people might delay processing your invoice out of irritation and spite. But you want to find out whether the invoice is in process and when it would be scheduled to pay. You must ask accounts payable about this. Your editor or client doesn't want to spend the time finding out, and they won't know and might lie because they are embarrassed about not knowing. The accounts payable contact might say that it isn't yet in the system, so try back in another week or two.
- When Things Go Wrong Notice that I don't say if, but when. That is because, even with the best clients, sometimes that will happen. If you hear that the invoice hasn't been received yet, you might want to talk to your business contact, mention that accounts payable didn't have it, and ask how long processing generally took, letting the person have the out of saying that accounting lost the invoice. Sometimes accounting does screw up and tries to blame others. In my experience, more often it's other people who don't do their end of the paperwork and try blaming accounting. No matter what the situation, you don't care. What you want is a check in a reasonable amount of time.
- Making Friends Notice that I keep talking about contacting accounts payable. You want to make friends with accounting, because they have the best chance of telling you where things actually are, and when the check will arrive.
- Don't Wait I've said this in a number of ways so far, but will underscore the importance of not waiting until money is running late. Until you know how a given organization runs, assume that you need to check on them - and even when you know them, keep tabs on how things are going, so you can tell when something is going wrong for whatever reason. That recently happened to me with a good client that got a bit confused over the number of invoices that had some in over a short period of time and which ones they had paid. I was able to help straighten out the situation, and they got payment out right away.
- Squeeky Wheel When things aren't going right, do not - I repeat, DO NOT - nicely go off. Be pleasant, but stay on top of the situation and be sure that you get the answers you need. If you are persistent, they will get you what you need to keep from getting another call. If you aren't getting answers, then keep calling - using whatever code you need to eliminate caller ID from telegraphing your identity - until you reach someone.
I'm not going to talk about what to do when you can't get paid, as that's a different issue. Instead, focus on how you can get others' business processes to work with your needs so most of the money you are owed comes as quickly as you can get it.
Labels: collection, payment