How a Baseball Bat Can Help You Get Your Money from Delinquent Clients
By Jen A. Miller
Then I go through my list of unpaid invoices, figure out which ones are late, and start swinging.
The bat becomes the “Where’s My Money?” bat. Sound aggressive? It is, but I need mental cue to remind myself that I have every right to ask clients about the status of my checks if they’re late.
Think about it this way: If I was 15 days, 30 days, 60 days, 90 days late paying my doctor do you think she’d just sit by and wait until I decided I wanted to write her a check? Absolutely not. They’d have sold my debt to a collection agency.
Just because we’re selling words and not medical care doesn’t mean we have to accept late payment because that’s “just the way it is.” Yes, things happen. Accounts payable people mess up. Checks really do get lost in the mail. But if you delivered the product on time, your client should pay you on time. And if there’s an error? They should correct it. Immediately.
When they don’t, it’s time to start swinging.
But you shouldn’t swing for the fences every time. Here’s how to hit just right.
Before you do, re-read your contract to make SURE that they’re late. They could be on time if they pay on publication or have a longer than traditional pay time.
This is the first go-round, a light tap to say “hello?” I start following up if payment is 15 days late with an email checking on the status of payment. If it’s a new client, this sets the precedent that I stay on top of your invoices and expect to be paid promptly. If a regular prompt payer, I ask why. Nine times out of 10, there was a breakdown somewhere along the invoice processing chain, and they appreciate me letting them know (and a check is sent out immediately).
2. Put the ball in play.
If, after bunting, the client either hasn’t responded or the check has not arrived at the promised date, dig deeper. Ask to speak to accounts payable directly, or the editor in chief. It could be that your editor isn’t at fault here, and that payment is out of his hands.
3. Swing for the fences.
Enough with the excuses – the “check is in the mail” for the third time, or “payment terms have changed” or my personal favorite “the woman who handles invoices is on maternity leave so you’ll have to wait until she gets back” – true story. Enough. Go to the publisher if you have to. He or she might not realize there’s a problem.
If the power of the Where’s My Money? bat has failed, you have a more options:
1. Threaten to report them to a writing organization.
I’m a member of the American Society of Journalists and Authors, which has a grievance committee that will handle such disputes and alert its membership of delinquent payers. Writersweekly.com is a free forum that also has a Whispers & Warnings section about late payers. Sometimes the threat of public shaming is enough to get a deadbeat client to pay up.
2. Have a lawyer send a strongly worded letter.
I bartered with an attorney friend: he wrote the letter, I wrote his bio for his website.
3. Take them to small claims court.
I have done the first two but not the last. It never got that far. In my 10-year freelance career, I’ve only been stiffed once, and I didn’t pursue it because the client was in Canada.
But I’ve lost count of how many times I’ve had payment delayed, which is why I stare at my bat twice a month. The only person who is looking out for your money is you. So step up to the plate when necessary.
Jen A. Miller is author of Book a Week with Jen: 1 Year, 52 Books and a Year of Starting a New Chapter She writes about freelancing on her blog “Notes from a Hired Pen.”
If you liked that post, you might also like:
Sep 27, 2012 Writing