Wednesday, April 15, 2009

30-Day Persistence Challenge: Happy Tax Day

This qualifies as a persistence victory: Today, I paid my 2008 taxes on time and in full.

You may recall that I didn't expect to be able to pay the full bill today. Indeed, by my calculations, and with how screwy cashflow has been recently, I wondered if I'd be able to pay any of it at all.

The reasons I was able to remove the tax monkey that had been suctioned to my back for about a month had some to do with luck and some more to do with persistence.
The persistence part

Following up on invoices it not fun. When I started freelancing full-time a few years ago, I was convinced that checking on invoices was akin to begging for money. But as I've matured in my freelance life, I've come to see following up on invoices as just another part of the job. Here's how I do it:

Mark check due-dates on your calendar
Thirty, 45 or (god forbid) 60 days from the day you submit the invoice (or after scheduled publication, if that's your thing), note the due date on your calendar. Now ignore it and enjoy the rest of your day.

Send a friendly email
The day the check is due--or sometimes a few days later, I send an email checking in on the check's status. This does two things: It alleviates some of the anxiety inherent in the cash-flow cycle, and it lets your client know that you're keeping track. Squeaky wheel and all that.

What should the email say? Mine usually go something like this:
Hi there, nice AP person, I hope you're well. I'm checking in on the status of the check I am expecting from your company (invoice #X for $Y). My records indicate that it should have arrived yesterday, last week, etc. Can you let me know when I should expect to receive it? It will greatly help with my bookkeeping. Sincerely, Your friendly, professional neighborhood freelancer
I'm couching the query in professional, non-reactive language ("bookkeeping," "status of check," etc.). I'm not saying what I'm sometimes thinking ("For the love of god, please send me my money. Taxes are due!")

Follow up
Last month I discovered on a writers board that one of my favorite clients was paying later and later. So I asked a fellow freelancer for the contact information for the AP person and sent her an email asking something similar to the above. She confirmed she had my invoice, but said it "wasn't scheduled to be sent." Uh, really? Because it was due to be paid last week per your contract with me.

So I followed up asking, "What can I do to expedite the process? Is there anything I can do to help you?" Again--not confrontational. I'm simply looking for ways to make this work. After all, I have friends who are accountants and they hate paying people late. I know she'd pay me if she could.

Her answer was less than thrilling. She told me there was nothing I could do and I'd just have to wait.

So I sat on my hands--but not for long.

Just like querying, getting your money takes follow up after follow up after follow up sometimes. It maybe shouldn't but reality is more important than ideals.

So in this case, I called the AP person a week and a half later and, a little panicked, I left a message. "I really need that check to pay my bills." Embarrassing? A little. But facts are facts and I was hoping it would help.

The result
I didn't get a call back, an apology or a check sent by Fed Ex. What I did get, a few days later, was an email from her saying she'd put the check in the mail--and not just a check for the outstanding invoice, but also a check for the invoice due in a few weeks.

The same goes for another check I received on Monday: I simply followed up and checked in to see when I should expect to be paid. The check wasn't due yet, but I wanted to know how they worked, since they were a relatively new client. Well, I got that check early, too.

And so, taxes got paid.

The luck part

I'm not saying all of this is due to my diligence. I am sure it helped. But just like I have no control over late payment, I certainly can't control early payment. Something about the loosening of the credit market and some internal wrangling at the companies that had nothing to do with me was also in play here.

The truth is, I don't care what caused it. I do care that going into the middle of the month I have both done my part and filled my wallet.

How do you follow up on invoices?

Photo by CarbonNYC.

1 comment:

Jane N Rollins said...

I have used a similar system since I started freelancing several months ago. I always quote the payment terms directly from my contract when I probe for the status of the check. Politeness and persistence are key.