A good portion of our private practice collection agency business comes in from Freelancers and small to mid-sized businesses (like these). If you fall into these categories, you’ve likely realized that getting paid at all, let alone on time, can be a challenging task.
Having an interesting perspective into thousands of similar non-payment situations over the past 16 years, I can tell you that many businesses are having big problems with late and non-payers. Many times we are collecting for businesses that are in a cash crunch, against businesses that are in a cash crunch! While that is a sign of the times it's our mission to try to stop, or at least improve, this vicious cycle.
In a perfect world every business would be able to have processes in place to minimize against non-payment, to include a vetting (or credit) procedure of some kind to ensure that you are doing business with the most qualified clients possible, followed by proper documentation, invoicing, follow up, and where needed; debt collection escalation.
In this utopia every business or client you dealt with would have the funds (or cash flow) to back up the products and services they are taking advantage of, in a timely manner. Your clients would all communicate effectively and then pay as agreed.
Here are three quick tips, directly from the trenches of non-payment, for our friends in Freelancing and Small businesses.
1.) Have a signed and dated contract!
Working without a proper, enforceable, contract is dangerous! Also, depending who you are dealing with, how they are set up, and what kind of funds/assets they have behind them; even a contract doesn’t guarantee payment with or without collection help and eventual litigation (to include small claims court). Keep in mind too that Cambridge Receivable Solutions is successful in recovering debts more often than the legal avenues, even when a judgement has been awarded.
There are many ingredients a contract must have. They are specific to the type of business you do, the scope of work, payment terms, cancellation terms, and much more. A crude proposal or terms of service might cut it when the client intends to pay and does the right thing, but if you really want to minimize your potential losses you have to be thorough. Every detail is important. Communicate throughout the process and don’t start until it’s understood by both parties and the contract has been signed.
2.) Be cautious when working for startups of any kind, and/or small, un-established businesses!
Working with startups of any kind (businesses that are new or un-established) is risky! Everything may seem fine, up until it’s time to pay that is! You absolutely would not believe the situations we see and what lengths some will go to stall or avoid paying you all together if possible. Many freelancers can’t completely avoid these types of clients and I would be happy to share some more safeguards with you if you have a specific situation you’d like to contact me about.
Many situations we deal with could have easily been avoided had the client been more in tune with some simple red flags to watch out for. We see web designers, software developers, copywriters, and many more get caught in this trap when helping "companies" get set up in lieu of payment.
3.) Never judge a book by its cover…..its Linkedin page, or its shiny website!
Think a friendly voice and a verbal promise to pay is enough? It's not! We see many situations where what appears to be “reputable business people” acting in good faith quickly turn into strategic non-payers, conveniently ignoring all the facts, and discounting any rapport you have built through your hard work. Many have cash flow issues, but will never admit it. Instead they continually hide behind something being wrong with your services even when obvious proof to the contrary exists. Don’t let your payment become a hostage to unethical people who want to build a business on your back.
Never get excited about starting a new project and blindly start spending time on it UNTIL the business end is secured (See #1). LOOK before you leap. Gather details, do some research, find out who and what are behind this business. Who will be responsible for payment, and how will you reach them when the crickets start chirping after you've invoiced? Gather as much contact info as you can for your contact and their associates.
Does it feel like they have something to hide? Does anything not ad up? Listen to your gut and be honest with yourself about the risks. Do not start until all the I’s are dotted and the T’s are crossed. If you don’t get paid, you go out of business. This is the most crucial part of what you do, mind it! There are always two sides to every story, you need to be able to prove yours, and leverage it to get what you earned if necessary.
The good news is that there are best practices for being able to minimize issues with these types of problems and also to deal with them when necessary, but you must get educated about the ways to protect yourself. There are so many different factors and unique situations it’s difficult to pack all the details and advice into one article.
Once you have a set procedure in place it doesn’t take much extra effort or time to enact these safeguards throughout the project. Then, when a problem does arise, you can lean on the fact that you’ve taken the proper steps to increase the likelihood of turning that tough situation back into acceptable compensation. Even if that means getting professional assistance, it’s worth it.
Non-payment is a huge issue for the “little guys”. The stress and setbacks it can cause can be debilitating for any business owner. Help us help you by taking a pro-active approach throughout each deal. Beyond that, realize that you have an ally with deep experience, tools, and firsthand knowledge about what it takes to collect what you’re owed. We know all the laws, we know the games, we know the psychology. We’ve seen it all, and conquered it all.
Whether you have the forethought to get armed for these issues up front, have some unaddressed issues from the past, or are dealing with it now; we have cost effective solutions just for you as well as no recovery=no fee debt collection options.
Contact the Author:
President & Principal Consultant
Cambridge Receivable Solutions, LLC
Toll Free: 1-888-908-3905 Ext.101
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