Getting paid is nice too!

Hmm. Payment should be coming any minute now.

Hmm. Payment should be coming any minute now.

One of the occupational hazards of trying to earn money from writing (or any other "creative" pursuit) is that many people display a marked disinclination to pay for the service they require. (This is a topic I covered in an article entitled "Money, Money, Money".) That's the first hurdle.

The second hurdle, once the principle has been established that an agreement to pay is meant to result in actual payment, is to be paid. Most clients will pay (eventually), but I have found that one does have to keep on top of the situation. It is rarely the case (though not unknown) for a client to pay almost as soon as the ink is dry on the article you've submitted.

It is also very rare for a client to be determined to avoid payment at all. There are often good reasons, it can require a bit of effort, such as:

  • Too busy or forgetful. This is the case for very small businesses. On the other side of the coin, I usually pay invoices as soon as the good or service I've ordered has been delivered and found to be satisfactory -- because I'm worried that if I leave it I'll forget!
  • A long wait policy. This is increasingly the case with large corporations, some of whom have a 90 day payment schedule. That means, they pay you three months after you've done the work, an arrangement that can be disastrous from a cashflow point of view.
  • The client is not the one who pays. Sometimes something gets lost/mislaid between the person who commissioned the work and the Accounts department. There's no conspiracy to not pay, just long or convoluted lines of communication, and different departments working to different timescales.
  • Simple human error. You may scoff, but it does happen. I recently received what looked like a £2 ($5) overpayment that matched none of the invoices I'd sent in. It turned out that someone had accidently entered a "2" instead of a "3", and that therefore they had underpaid me.

In view of all this, the writer (or whoever) is obliged to devote some time and effort to ensuring that they themselves know when they should be receiving payment. It's annoying -- I would rather be writing or giving talks or running training than poring over a spreadsheet, but that's the price we pay for doing what we do.

The solution I use is a pretty simple one. I have a spreadsheet with (for the purposes of this article) three key columns: Date Invoiced, Date Payment Expected and Date Paid.

Let's suppose that Date Invoiced is in column F. In the Date Payment Expected column I insert the ludicrously simple formula, =F2 (say) + 30. That will add 30 days to the date of invoicing, and so that is the date when you should start checking your bank account to see if anything nice has happened to it. In practice I give it a couple of days because, even this electronic age, it can take up to five working days for a payment made by a client to appear in my account.

I almost invariably find that a light email after a week or so asking if they happen to know when the payment will be made results in either a payment straight away or an indication of when it will really be made. Don't forget that my approach of adding 30 days is what I think should happen, and not necessarily what the client thinks should happen. For example, the arrangement at their end might be that they pay 30 days after publication, which could be a month or so after you submit the invoice.

That's frustrating, of course, but the key thing for you is that having a simple spreadsheet formula like the one I've described enables you to be proactive. It means that you have some idea of when payment is likely to be made, and a valid reason to enquire about it should that not happen.

That is much more comfortable than waiting for payment to come as a nice surprise like manna from heaven.

Picture credit: The photo is from a clip art CD, the contents of which are licensed to be used on websites.