In the 30+ years that I’ve been in business I’ve encountered a myriad of problems getting my invoices paid – corporate bureaucracy, cash flow problems, bankruptcy, and just plain miscommunications.

Here are a few thoughts and examples about getting those invoices paid before you have to resort to lawyers, small claims court, or a collection agency.

First up is your attitude – once the shoot is finished and delivered I consider the unpaid invoice money to be mine. If you take this to heart –that they are holding  your money – it will make all subsequent communications that much stronger and more professional. You will be taken seriously.

Stay on top of your receivables and invoices. Do not wait beyond the due dates to ask questions and see where that check is.  Start with your direct contact(s) like the art director/editor/creative directors – did they submit the invoice to accounting? Did they get to it late? Do they prefer to handle the payment questions themselves or would they like you to deal with accounts payable directly? Get the relevant names and contact info for following up.  Put dates on your questions; when will the check be cut, when should I call back if the check does not arrive? Stick to the follow up schedule and follow up.  Confirm phone calls with emails and keep a written log and trail of your communications.  If they say the check will be cut on May 22nd see if they will have it for you at the front desk for pickup on that day.

Out of the box collecting:  If you are way overdue, show up in person to collect.  With a small/medium size firm this can work well.  I had been getting the runaround from accounting at a 10 person design firm. They were overdue by 90 days and the bookkeeper asked me to call back the following morning at 9AM to talk. I simply showed up at the office and asked to see her in person the following day.  I was paid on the spot- it was just too uncomfortable for them to ignore me.

In another instance a graphic design firm was having cash flow problems. They were upfront about their (temporary) issues and asked me to wait for payment.  I offered payment terms over a few months as an alternative (with the caveat that they write and post-date all the checks at once) which they accepted. We went on to work together with no other issues for many years.

The bottom line for your bottom line is to be professional and persistent. Do your homework, if there are serious financial problems with a client you will not be alone. People will be talking. Other vendors/colleagues will be in the same situation and it will be necessary for you to respond quickly to get paid.  Persistence + professionalism is you best chance for success.

ASMP’s online communities are a great place for asking Q’s about getting paid and sharing your problematic client tales.

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