We’ve all had them: The client that’s harder to separate from their money than if was attached to their hand with super glue.
To be clear, this article is not about a client who is going through a difficult situation that affects their ability to pay temporarily – a divorce, an illness, a major restructuring in their business. I’m talking about the one who is allergic to paying as a life principle.
You’ve done the work, it was done well, you’ve sent the invoice. It’s net 30. Thirty days pass, 35, 40… nothing. You send a reminder, “Hello, Please find attached your invoice. Thank you so much!” 45 days…another email. Crickets. 60… Ugh. Why do people do this? Another reminder. Some lame excuse from the client but finally, a payment arrives. Hallelujah! In the meantime you’ve performed another month of work for the client, and you’ve had to pay your staff, rent, operating costs. And the merry-go-round continues the following month. And the next one, and the next one.
In 21 years as an entrepreneur, I’ve learned one thing (the hard way): A client who doesn’t pay is not a client. It’s a cancer in your business. I don’t care how big, how important it is, you need to get rid of it. Here you may be thinking: “Wow, Patricia. A cancer? That’s terribly harsh. Suzie always ends up paying… it’s just a little difficult each month, that’s all.” Call this ‘wisdom from the gutter’, but here is why I don’t work with people who don’t pay on time.
1. It’s a lack of respect.
The client who doesn’t pay you on time doesn’t respect your work, your time, and ultimately doesn’t respect you. Professional relationships don’t have to be buddy-buddy but there needs to be a mutual respect of each other’s time and value.
I value my time, I value my work, and I will do my very best for a client every day. But I can’t do great work for people who don’t respect me.
2. It can bankrupt you. Seriously.
If you offer ‘net 30’ as your billing conditions, your business is structured on getting paid after 30 days. That’s when you have to pay your own suppliers as well. But when the money doesn’t come in on time, you have to tap into your savings (at best) or credit to pay your bills. That’s a slippery slope that leads straight to the gutter. Your business is living on borrowed money – with the additional credit fees – just because of that client who doesn’t pay.
If all your clients pay like they should, you can budget what is coming in and out, and make plans. When you’re short and don’t know when/if that money is going to ever come in, everything is thrown out of whack.
3. It’s a waste of time.
You have better things to do than to email and call clients five times to collect money they owe you.
4. It’s a source of frustration and worry.
How does asking for payment repetitively make you feel? Do you squeal with delight sending the third past-due reminder or do you dread it? Probably the latter. We all hate it. It’s an additional source of stress that we don’t need.
5. It’s not smart.
Treating suppliers like they’re expendable is not only wrong morally, but it also shows a very poor understanding of what makes a business successful. Clients are critical, but good suppliers are also essential. Without the companies who produce the merchandise, retail stores would be empty. Even in our personal lives, going to a fantastic gym, riding with a good professional, having a caring vet, an efficient accountant – now just imagine working with terrible ones. Good suppliers enrich our lives, disregarding their value is not smart.
6. It’s dishonest.
If you go get an ice cream, you ask the person at the counter, they give you the ice cream and you pay for it. Those are the terms of the transaction (ice cream now for money now). When everyone respects them, everyone is happy. But if you grab the ice cream and leave without paying because you’ve decided you’re going to come back and pay in a week, they’ll send security after you.
For some reason, there’s not as much urgency to respect the terms of the transaction when we receive a bill via email or the mail. But it’s just as important. Companies that give payment terms to their clients after providing the services or shipping the merchandise, rely on the client’s goodwill to keep their end of the bargain. When the client doesn’t pay at the time agreed upon before the transaction was made, it’s leaving with your ice cream.
For all these reasons, don’t work with people who can’t seem to pay you when they should. Because you can do much better than a client who doesn’t respect you, can bankrupt you, makes you worry, wastes your time, is dumb and dishonest. Leave the frog and go get yourself a prince.