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Getting paid can sometimes be a traumatic experience for a freelancer or a small business. Typically, we email invoices to our clients and they push them through their accounts payable system. If your client is a small business, getting paid on time often has everything to do with whether they have money or not. If you are working with a big corporation, getting paid on time has everything to do with their accounts payable practices.

In my early freelance years, I would send an invoice and then wait for the check to come approximately 30 days later. When the payment didn’t show up, I would politely send an email to the client to inquire about the late invoice. The client would then say they needed to check with accounts payable on the payment status. Soon after, I would receive a reply letting me know when to expect payment. I never knew for sure what happened after I hung up the phone with my contact. Did they actually call accounts payable? Did they realize they had never submitted the invoice in the first place?

There was a stretch of a couple years where over half of all invoices we sent were not paid on time. When you are trying to run a business, cash flow is king. When clients pay late, it stings the pocketbook. One particular payment took over six months to collect! First my contact couldn’t find the invoice. Then their accounts payable division lost it. Once the accounts payable division finally found it, they sat on it for a few weeks. It was miserable.

This experience resulted in changing our entire billing system, which in turn changed our collection process. From that change forward, 90 percent of our payments on time. The magic happened when we added one simple line to our email as we sent the invoice to the client:

“Please confirm receipt of this invoice so that we can track it properly in our accounting system.”

That line is money in the bank, literally! Wait approximately 24 hours and if the client has not replied to your email confirming receipt, then send them an email with this line in it:

“I just wanted to follow up and make sure you received the invoice I sent yesterday. Please let me know.”

And if the client doesn’t reply to that email, then a phone call is in order. The trick to collecting on time comes by seeing the invoice submission all the way through at the start. It is better to push that invoice through at the time of submission, rather than wait until it is finally due. And perhaps best of all, after you receive confirmation of receipt from your client, you now have an email thread to easily followup with them in the future with a message like this:

“We haven’t received payment yet. Just want to make sure it was in the queue to be paid. Can we expect payment soon? Thank you!”

By getting the client to confirm receipt at the start, it entices the client to actually react to the invoice, to print it out if necessary, to submit to their accounts payable team, or write a check to promptly fulfill payment. The point is that your clients will be more likely to reply to you and feel an obligation to take the necessary steps to get you paid if you get them to react at the start. Try it. It works!

Michael Janda

I am Michael Janda, an executive level creative leader with more than 25 years of experience in both in-house creative departments and agencies working with some of the greatest brands in the world including Disney, Google, Fox, ABC and NBC. I create books, courses, workshops, lectures and other training materials to help creative entrepreneurs run successful businesses.