Friday, December 14, 2007

Serenity Tip: Invoice Tracking

If you're anything like me, by about the 15th of the month you start getting nervous about money. Since my income comes in in drips and drabs, my daily trip to the mailbox can feel like scaling the Andes. By the time I get there, I'm exhausted from my mental machinations: If I get this check in today, all is right with the world. I'm making it! I'm doing it! If not: Oh my god, I'm going to starve! Who am I fooling thinking I can do this for years on end?

Now, as someone who has been doing this for a few years now, I have to say: Jump off that treadmill, and fast.

There is one thing I've found that relieves this particularly tenacious brand of crazy:

I can't overstate how important clarity is to my serenity. It gives me a sense of whether what I'm feeling is something I should really be worrying about or whether it's just a way I rob myself of serenity in the name of preparing for the worst.

For me, clarity in this case means keeping a Microsoft Word doc of my monthly income, expenses, etc. (I just re-save the same document with a different name every month.) Here's what' most important for keeping me clear about whether I need to be worrying about money. I keep a section that's called "Expected vs. Actual income." In it, I include the following categories:

* Client from whom I'm expecting a check this month
* Expected income
* Actual income
I keep this category blank till the check arrives, obviously; this category is helpful in showing me how often clients meeet payment deadlines and how often they don't. It's good info to have when I work on my business plan for the next year. If they don't pay on time, that's a factor I take into account when I decide which clients to keep and which to forgo in the coming year.
* Expected date the check will arrive
This estimate is based on past payment performance--that is, how quickly has this client paid in the past?--and what's stated in my contract. Actual performance always carries more weight.
* Actual date the check arrived.
This one is useful in the same way that "Actual income" is useful in my future business planning.

So when I woke up this morning and felt the anxiety rising in my chest about my income, I clicked open that document and took a gander. Here's what I found:

* I'm only missing three checks.
* One will arrive next week, so don't worry about that.
* One, I called the client already to inquire about it and if it doesn't arrive today, I'll call to check in again.
* The other is outstanding for two months.

Instead of feeling like a victim of my freelance life, I picked up the phone. I called Accounts Payable for that company and asked about it.

"Email me your invoice," said the very nice lady on the other end of the line. "I'm cutting checks today and I'll cut one for you, too."

Well, thank you.

See? How hard was that? I tell myself.

The answer: It's both harder and easier to pick up the phone and get clarity than it is to sit here and complain about how beleaguered I am. Harder, because it requires me to face the music. I might have to face the fact that it won't come in this month, either. Easier because once I did that, I released a tremendous amount of energy, that I can now spend on my work instead of on worrying.

Try it and see how it works for you.

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