There are few things in business as frustrating as chasing down payments from clients.
Even after you’ve gone through the gut-wrenching process of courting a client, scoping a project, and getting a signed proposal, there’s still one more hurdle to overcome.
The short version: getting payment from your clients can be a pain in the nuggets.
First, you put together an invoice for the project. Then you have to decide how much they will pay and when (a flat deposit fee? A percentage of the project?). THEN you have to make it convenient for them to pay — do you accept credit cards? PayPal? Bank transfers? Their firstborn child?
After all that, then you have to explain the crazy process to your client. And it’s super stressful, ‘cuz nobody likes parting with their hard-earned cash.
It’s time consuming, complicated, and tedious for your client too. Unless you have a dedicated accounting department, nobody has time to keep track of a convoluted payment plan like “25 per cent deposit, then 35 per cent upon the first milestone, and then 15 per cent before launch, and the final 25 per cent within 60 days after project completion…”
So, are you ready for the secret? Here it is…
“100 per cent upfront payments. No exceptions.”
Does this sound like a radical idea? It’s not when you think about it.
There are so many comparable situations where people wouldn’t even consider anything BUT an upfront payment.
Imagine these scenarios:
- A restaurant where you only have to pay for your meal if you’re completely satisfied
- A grocery store where you don’t have to pay for anything until 60 days after you’ve eaten everything you just bought
- A shoe store where you make a 20 per cent down payment, and then three monthly installments to pay down the rest.
Weird, right? And yet, it’s common practice in other industries…
- A design project that is only paid for when the client is satisfied with the result
- A consultant who invoices after project completion, but only receives payment within 60 days — or more likely, when the client “gets around to it”
- A marketing agency with payment plans so complicated it takes a PhD in crazy to understand
When payment is withheld until the project is completed — or worse, when there’s no timeline set for when payment will be given — money becomes a method for control. It’s a tool for the client to guarantee that they will get the results they want, unaware that they’re shooting themselves in the foot when they leverage payment as a motivator.
The problem with that thinking is that, right from the start, it places you and your client in adversarial positions. It becomes a competition of how quickly and easily you can finish the project, versus the client’s goal of squeezing as much value out of you before they fork over the cash.
Instead of keeping your focus on working with your client to produce the best outcome for the project, you can be forced into focusing on the best outcome for yourself.
I took a leap of faith earlier this year by making it Ice Nine company policy that all projects would require upfront payment. It was scary at first to mention that to new clients… particularly since websites aren’t exactly impulse-buy purchases.
But I knew that it would improve my relationship with my clients, so I stuck to my guns. After a year with that new policy and a whole lot of projects, I can now say that it was one of the best decisions I have ever made for my business.
Have I had clients who’ve pushed back on that policy? Sure.
But I’ve explained each time, with logic, how upfront payments are better for everyone involved. And it’s paid off big time in saved time and reduced stress, for both me and my clients. So far, I haven’t lost a single client because I’ve asked for up-front payment.
Thanks to some incredibly useful online tools, it’s easier than ever to ask for upfront payments. Proposify, my favorite proposal management software, recently added support for Stripe (a free payment processing tool) payments — meaning that once the client signs the proposal, they are immediately prompted with a payment portal to seal the deal.
Most online invoicing tools will allow you to integrate with Stripe, meaning zero friction, and zero extra steps. It saves time, and it increases the likelihood of getting paid after sealing the deal.
As I’ve outlined in this article, I’m a big fan of payment up front. It gets rid of the “ick-factor” of money, and helps establish a bond of trust between a consultant and their client.
There’s no panacea solution for every business, but if you’ve been struggling with wasted time chasing down invoices, upfront payments may be an option to consider.