It's a scenario no solo PR pro wants to find themselves in: getting stiffed on client payments.
It happened to two of my dear friends this year alone.
In both instances, these clients were referrals from trusted sources where personal relationships existed. While I know these Solo PR Pros personally, there are countless other stories of hard working indies fighting to get money that is owed to them. It is infuriating.
This can happen to anyone (and is not limited to our industry) but here are a few tips that can help.
1. Vet all prospects
We have a prequalification questionnaire that will help you to ensure that you are asking all the right questions. Even if the prospect was referred to you by your mother, prequalify them.
2. Say no
You are not obligated to take on work that is not a fit, whether or not it is a referral. Get comfortable turning down work, even if you are turning it down based on a gut feeling
(ALWAYS trust your gut).
3. Talk to the person who will authorize your payments
In small and medium sized businesses it is not uncommon for evaluations and decisions to be made by one person. However, you can run into issues if the check approver/signer (e.g. company founder, CEO) is not involved in early discussions.
I managed sales teams in my early career and learned to map out evaluators, users and decision makers. Before you sign, suggest a meeting with others who will be involved. The team could be lovely and the CEO may be a toxic nightmare. Save yourself by being vigilant before you commit.
4. Do not discount your rate
We solos have a soft spot. We genuinely want to help people. On occasion you will have a prospect that has a project/mission that excites you but lacks the dollars needed to hire you.
You can love their mission and even really like them, but giving away free work is often a losing proposition. We are not social services. You are running a business and have the weighty responsibility of ensuring that you run it responsibly.
5. Charge enough
Being the low-cost provider can often attract less than ideal clients. Ensure that you are charging for the value you deliver and attract clients that are willing to pay for the work.
6. Watch for red flags
Do not ignore red flags and push through because you’re excited to close a deal. For example if your soon-to-be client contact says “the CEO does not believe in PR, but agreed to it,” this is a red flag. You want internal alignment on the engagement, or it could lead to challenges on the value of work you provide.
7. Do not work without a SIGNED contract
Put everything in writing and make sure that your prospective client has read and understood the terms. Do not begin work before this bit of housekeeping is complete.
Check out Get It in Writing for Contracts written by an attorney for Solo PR Pro. (PRO version)
8. Get a deposit
Getting an upfront deposit gives you some protection and shows that the prospect is committed.
9. Stop work
If payment is delayed, do not keep working. I have heard horror stories of people working for 2-3 months without pay. When you stop will vary by client, but this is why it is so important to connect with accounting teams early on to understand their process. If they can’t pay faster than 45 days, you should know that before you begin work.
10. Value yourself
This may be the most important tip. You are not a beggar but a business. You are smart and solve million dollar problems for your clients. Charge what you charge and collect it unapologetically. Don’t ever feel weird about sending an invoice or standing firm to collect your money.
If you have been stiffed, please do not feel guilty. It happens and the true bad guy is the rotten client who hires you and then tries to get out of paying.
Stay strong solos and stand for your worth!
Want to join Solo PR Pro? Solo PR Pro Premium membership only opens for enrollment a few times a year. Membership is currently closed, but you can sign up for the waiting list to be among the first to find out when we reopen.