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NOTHING BUT THE RUTH!

Getting Paid: The Power of Following Up

By Ruth Carter

One lesson I learned from entrepreneur and author Jason Zook is that people are more likely to respond when you follow up, rather than when you initially contact them. This tactic works if you’re looking for sponsors for a project, opportunities to be a guest contributor — or even getting clients to pay their bills.

A New Tactic to Boost Collections

I have a handful of clients who have carried a balance for several months. The first week of every month, when the firm sends invoices to clients for the previous month’s work, reminder invoices also go out to clients with past-due balances. Tired of seeing the same names and amounts on past-due bills month after month, I decided to try a new tactic in an attempt to collect.

I selected 14 of these invoices. These clients owed the firm between $35 and $7,575 (approximately $16,000 in aggregate). During the first week of November, the reminder invoices went out as usual. When these clients didn’t remit payment by the 15th of November, I sent a personalized follow-up email.

Validate the Smart, Capable and Good

In drafting the template for these messages, I employed some wisdom that Tamsen Webster shared from the Content Marketing World stage this year. She said the only way to get long-term change from someone is to validate their wants and beliefs. In particular, we need to validate that they are “smart, capable and good.”

Here is a sample of the email I created with those ideas in mind:

Dear Client,

I’m going through my books this week, trying to close out some files by the end of the year.

I noticed that you have been carrying a balance of $275 for the consult you had back in June. I wonder if the emails with the link for payment have been getting stuck in your spam filter.

Would you please pay your balance at your earliest convenience? If you don’t have a link for payment in your inbox or spam filter, we can send you a link or you can pay by check — whatever is easiest for you.

Best regards,

Ruth

For the clients who owe more than I expect they can pay all at once, I add this:

If this is too much for you to pay as a lump sum, let’s create a plan for you to get this paid down. The firm’s partners understand that not everyone can pay this much at once, but they’re fine with clients paying over time as long as there’s a plan for you to make good on what you owe. What would work for you?

Here are some of my thoughts behind this phrasing:

  • I’m trying to close out files. They would be doing me a solid (and showing they’re a good person) by paying their bill.
  • The payment link may have been caught in their spam filter. I always try to give the person an “out” to save face. (We use a third-party payment processor for online payments, and the emails have been filtered out as spam in others’ inboxes.)
  • Let’s create a plan. The client is smart and capable of determining what’s workable for them.

Side note: I have a number of clients who are paying down their balances a little each month. I would be happy if more clients did this rather than ghost me and the firm.

Am I Getting Paid Now?

As of this writing, it’s been about two weeks since I sent the follow-up emails. So far, the firm has received payment in full from six of the clients, totaling about $1,525. (That’s less than 10% of the total of these invoices, but even that much demonstrated this exercise was worthwhile.) In two situations, my client contact and the person responsible for making payments were different, so I was able to enlist my contact to act as the firm’s advocate. I’ve only had one negative reaction to my emails, and it was from a client who seems to get upset each time we remind them of their outstanding bill.

What about you? What are you doing to try to get clients to pay their balance in full, or at least in part, by the end of the year?

More on getting paid:

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Ruth B. Carter Ruth Carter

Ruth Carter — lawyer, writer and professional speaker — is Of Counsel with Venjuris, focusing on intellectual property, business, internet and flash mob law. Named an ABA Journal Legal Rebel, Ruth is the author of “The Legal Side of Blogging for Lawyers,” as well as “Flash Mob Law: The Legal Side of Planning and Participating in Pillow Fights, No Pants Rides, and Other Shenanigans.” Ruth blogs at UndeniableRuth.com and tweets @rbcarter.

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