Solo PR Pros put a lot of work into winning new clients. In addition to the hours and expense of business development to cultivate new opportunities, new business discussions and proposals require time and effort. If you travel to meet with prospective clients, it is an additional out-of-pocket expense. You are making an investment in your business and the prospect before work even begins. This is why it is vital to make sure that you take every step possible to ensure that you will be compensated when a prospect becomes a client. Below are five proactive steps to take with clients so that you get paid.
- Pre-qualify all potential clients. This is a critical step that can help you uncover any red flags. In addition to ensuring that the client has a defined budget for the project, you can learn more about their expectations and working style.
- Conduct research. Do some research to ensure that your potential client has a good reputation. If they are known not to pay or have questionable practices then they have left a trail that you can uncover with a little work. Search Google, Glassdoor and ask trusted colleagues what they know about the company.
- Get a signed agreement prior to starting work. Never neglect putting all terms in writing and getting it signed. Even if you are doing business with someone you know well, get it in writing. A signed agreement protects both parties by documenting terms and expectations. If there is ever a conflict, you can refer back to the document that you both signed.
- Include clear terms for payment, including the steps you will take when payments are late (such as charge a late fee). Many solos clearly articulate that if payment is not received within a specified time period, work will stop.
- Get an up front payment. If you are working on retainer, get the first month up front. If it is a project or hourly engagement, ask for a deposit. The contract and payment should be in place before you begin work. You can call these “housekeeping details” and allow time to put them in place before the official launch.Beware of clients that have an emergency and need to start right away, even if they are prepared to make the first payment. Many of these clients have ended up making that one payment and being a nightmare to manage.
Most clients pay their bills without any issues. However, even when you have taken all the right steps you may be faced with a slow or non-paying client.
- Address the issue immediately. Do not wait until a client is 30 or 45 days past due. Often, the issue can be quickly resolved. Make your client contact aware of it and ask what you need to do to expedite payment.
- Talk to accounting. Companies may have specific dates that they cut checks or may need additional paperwork or approvals. Working with accounting directly can help you work through their system and make necessary adjustments to get paid timely.
- Offer payment options. If the client is to pay by check, let them know that they can use a credit card. For some clients, this is an easy, quick option and for a few dollars you can be assured of getting paid.
- If the payment is not resolved, send a demand letter. You can have your attorney send the letter or you can use sites such as LegalZoom, RocketLawyer or Nolo to prepare one on your own.
- Stop work. If you do not get paid, stop work. Let your client know that you will have to pause work until the invoice is paid.
- Be persistent. On the rare occasion, you will have to be the proverbial squeaky wheel and persist until resolution. In these cases a single email or phone call will not do the trick.
- Go the legal route. If the client does not pay up, you may be forced to take the legal route and take your client to small claims court. You will have to decide if the amount of money and effort are worth it.
Billing and invoicing is the not-so-fun part of being a solo. As you’re setting up new clients, don’t neglect to establish clear guidelines so that you get paid on time for your hard work.
Have you ever struggled to get paid by a client? What did you do? Share in the comments below!