A Businesswire survey found that most U.S. small businesses have net 30 payment terms; a majority experience late payments well past the due date, with a quarter (25%) having to wait between 20-30 days past the payment due date.
Irritating, isn’t it?
Every month you work your fingers to the bone, delivering results that clients benefit from practically immediately.
And then have to wait for weeks until your agency reaps the reward–hard-earned cash.
What's worse is that most common ways to get clients to pay on time offer little help. While there are customers who have no issues paying on time, others choose to ignore your T&Cs (no matter how firm they are). And clients rarely reward you with immediate payment after delivering great work.
But does that mean you should do nothing to get clients to pay on time? Nope–quite the contrary.
Intrigued? Let's get started then.
Ideally, every customer should pay their invoices on time. However, we don’t live in an ideal world, and eventually, a client will fail to pay. So, how do you resolve this situation when it arises?
In this post, we’ll outline unique strategies to trick clients into always paying on time.
Why It’s Important For Your Clients To Pay On Time
As an agency owner, you know that cash flow is king. Money coming through the door keeps your business running and growing, which is why it’s so important to get paid on time by your clients.
We all expect to be paid promptly, but here are a few additional reasons why timely payment is vital for your business.
Your Agency Has Expenses and Overheads
It should be clear that the running costs such as internet, office supplies, and payrolls won't cover themselves. Therefore, getting paid on time means you cover your expenses without delays.
Delayed payments from clients will push back your payroll and bill payments, which is not something you want to happen–you need to take care of your agency’s primary business needs.
You're Offering a Professional Service
You might have anxiety about that late payment conversation with your client, even if your agency depends on the cash flow. It’s understandable–there is always the worry that your client might leave your agency if you come across rudely.
However, the bottom line is that your agency provides a professional service and deserves prompt compensation. After all, top-tier service isn’t free!
Plus, your agency is allocating valuable time and resources, both of which could be reallocated to other clients or spent acquiring new business.
Allowing Consistent Late Payments Is Bad For Business
Unfortunately, some agencies make the mistake of allowing late payments repeatedly.
You may think you’re being nice to your clients by allowing them to slide a few days here or a week there, but you’re not doing them or your agency any favors.
By not requiring on-time payments, you are teaching your clients that it’s acceptable to pay at a later time. You’re also creating more pressure on your client’s cash flow because they now have overdue and pending invoices on their accounts payable.
How To Get A Client To Pay Your Invoice On Time
1. Start Charging Retainer Fees
Depending on how your agency operates, you might want to charge an upfront payment and send an invoice for the remainder of the fee (once the project is completed).
It’s a relatively simple pricing model to work and keeps everyone on the same page about the final price and deliverables.
However, it also leaves your agency vulnerable to cash flow problems resulting from late payments. If this becomes a concern, consider switching to a retainer fee model.
There are many ways to calculate and charge a retainer fee. The simplest way is to divide the price for the work you need for a client by the months you’ll be doing it.
For example, if your project total is $4500 and you’ll be working on it for three months, then you could charge the client $1500 each month.
A more advanced way takes your costs, employees, taxes, and many other factors into consideration.
Regardless of which option you choose, the benefits of a retainer model are clear:
You get paid a set monthly amount for the project duration, which helps you predict cash flow and manage your agency’s growth.
Because this fee model requires clients to pay on time, your agency gets guaranteed payments. In most cases, companies require each retainer payment either upfront or immediately at the end of the month before commencing work.
2. Productize Your Services
Productizing a service takes the retainer model to a whole new level. Instead of just converting project-based fees into more predictable and regular revenue, package your service into a systematized, monthly product-like offering. In a productized model, your agency offers a pre-set, packaged service for a flat monthly fee, similar to how many SaaS companies operate.
And just like SaaS companies, you get paid upfront for each month you work with a client.
Many productized companies use Stripe or another similar service to charge clients’ credit cards each month automatically.
No net 30 payment terms. No fuss. No delays.
3. Collect Deposits
Clients can change or abort any project without investing money in a project at any time. After all, what have they got to lose?
That’s why collecting deposits act as a guarantee of a future payment. A deposit confirms a client’s commitment to the project and signals that they’re able to pay.
However, agencies often charge deposits that aren’t high enough to warrant an on-time payment.
For example, a client who paid you only 25% upfront may not necessarily be incentivized to part with the remaining 75% of the outstanding payment. After all, it’s still quite a substantial amount of money.
But if you charge a heftier deposit–say 50% or even 70%–they’re left with just a tiny chunk to pay. And from a client's perspective, it’s not substantial enough to hold the payment or defer the money elsewhere.
So, if you’re uncomfortable with charging a monthly retainer fee or productizing your agency’s services, consider increasing your deposit requirements significantly.
Collecting at least half of the money upfront will secure your business in case of late payment. A hefty deposit will provide you with a float of money that could get you through to the project’s completion.
4. Run Credit Checks
FACT: Running credit and payment checks could help prevent many unpleasant cash flow problems.
While it isn’t a strategy to trick clients into paying on time, it’s a way to help you avoid working with clients known for late payments. Companies like CreditHQ offer services that allow you to check how likely a new client will pay you.
Feedback like this could help you assess whether you even want to work with a particular company. If they’re known for being good payers and always settling their bills on time, it gives your agency reassurance to work by standard T&Cs.
If they’re typically late with settling vendor invoices, offer stricter terms, retainers, or milestone payments. You also have the option to look up their name on Google, ask your contacts if they have any information about them, and check for complaints on sites such as the Better Business Bureau.
5. Offer Discounts For Early Invoice Payments
If not used correctly, some strategies result in more problems. For example, an early payments discount may devalue the services your agency provides, which seems like a counterintuitive thing to do. Suppose you prefer to avoid the “late payment fee” policy that might scare clients away, use the term “discount” for paying on time. Adding a small “2/15 Net 30” to their invoice is an easy way for your clients to believe that they are saving money just for being more attentive to their invoices.
Consider providing a discount for clients that pay three months in advance. With this method, your agency becomes more proactive and increases the likelihood of timely payments.
6. Automate Payment Collection
App integrations like Freshbooks and Stripe process payments directly from a client’s credit card at pre-scheduled intervals.
Even if your agency doesn’t take this payment route, automating your invoice system is still a good idea. This means setting up a system where customers receive automatic reminders when they haven't paid their invoices yet. Having a more streamlined and consistent system will be more reliable than depending on people to remember to pay their invoices.
This strategy might not work for every client or project type. But if you work on a retainer basis and require milestone payments or invoices at regular intervals, consider automating client billing.
As a bonus, automation frees up your time from manual invoicing and payment processing–a double win.
7. Make Your Invoice Easy To Understand And Pay
If you want to get paid on time, it is essential to have a clear and easy-to-understand invoice. This way, customers will not be confused about how much they owe and for what, and they will be more likely to pay on time.
When creating an invoice for your business, it is crucial to double-check for mistakes, pick templates with clean layouts, and include descriptions of all products or services listed. Remember, your invoice is a marketing tool that reflects your agency’s level of professionalism.
Also, consider when to send invoices, depending on your client’s billing cycle. For example, if you invoice weekly or every two weeks, research suggests that invoices sent on the weekend will be paid faster. If you bill monthly, invoices sent on the first of the month are more likely to be paid on time.
8. Send Your Invoice Earlier
Your invoice might include multiple sections such as “Net 30”, “Invoice date,” and “invoice due date.” As such, some of your clients might understand your invoice to be due in 30-days rather than today.
Remember, you’re not the only business that they are dealing with. It’s confusing if your clients receive other invoice reminders and automatic payment charges. Perhaps they are late on payment because they’re consolidating all their invoices and sending them out on a particular day of the month. Whatever it may be, discuss it with your client to avoid any confusion.
9. Maintain Good Relationships With Clients
It's essential to have clients who see you as more than just a task doer. A client relationship is not only about providing services but also building a working relationship, bringing tremendous value, and differentiating yourself from other agencies.
Anyone may look at your agency’s services and find ten similar businesses just a click away. Therefore, your agency should focus on fostering that client relationship and having a great rapport. Win your client's hearts by tackling their pain points. When you put in the extra effort, these clients are more likely to pay you on time because they won’t want to risk losing you as a partner in their growth.
Be friendly with your customers, let them know they are valued, and show them they are not just another client. Most agencies focus too much on getting more clients than increasing retention. Of course, it’s not about talking your way to getting paid but showing them the results of your work and making them appreciate your performances.
Be proactive with client reporting and have open communication so it won’t be as challenging to chat about late payments (if it ever occurs).
10. Offer Different Payment Options Or A Payment Plan
Many people are struggling to make ends meet. Sometimes it's challenging to come up with the capital for a significant transaction all at once. If you're selling a product or service, offer your clients different payment options or a payment plan to make it easier for them to buy what they need.
When setting up payment options, consider the different ways your customers might want to pay (such as credit card, debit card, check, or cash). If applicable, set up a payment plan that allows customers to pay for their services in installments.
Be sure to inform your customers about your different payment options and include this information on your website and contract.
If a Customer Doesn’t Pay on Time, There Are a Few Steps to Take
What happens if you take these proactive measures and a customer still hasn't paid by the due date?
Send A Friendly Reminder Email
If someone doesn't pay their invoice, the first step should be to remind them in a friendly way. They may have forgotten, so give them a chance to make up for it. Also, ask if anything prevents them from paying, such as dissatisfaction with your company's services or a financial limitation.
Make A Phone Call That Is Polite But Assertive
If someone hasn't paid a bill even after you've sent them a reminder, it's time to give them a call. Be polite but firm, remind them how long ago the bill was due, and offer a few different ways to pay.
Come To A Mutually Beneficial Agreement
If you're not getting paid what you're owed, find a compromise that makes both parties happy.
If your customer is having financial issues, offer to split the invoice into multiple smaller chunks, so the payments are more affordable. If your customer is unhappy with the services rendered, evaluate their feedback and offer them a discount or additional services if necessary.
Speak With A Lawyer Before Taking Any Legal Action
Talk to a lawyer if someone owes your agency money and cannot fulfill the payment. A lawyer is the right person to give you more information about legal implications and the best way forward.
Do You Have A System In Place For Follow-Up On Late Invoices?
Like most agency owners, you probably don't have a system for follow-up on late invoices, which will cause issues down the road. Here are a few simple steps to ensure your invoices are paid on time.
Day 1—After Payment Due Date
If you haven't received payment by the due date, see if your client has viewed your invoice. Invoice software, short link analytics, or email analytics are useful to determine if your client has viewed or opened your email. Either way, send a polite email reminder mentioning that perhaps the invoice has gotten lost in the shuffle. The invoice software you choose makes it easy to send automated reminders to your clients.
Don’t assume anything. It might be that your client opened your email, had an emergency, or got caught up with other important tasks.
Try sending an automated reminder a week before the invoice is due to give them a heads-up!
Day 15—Two Weeks Late
If your invoice is two weeks late, it's an excellent time to give your client a polite phone call. Confirm they have received the invoice and see if there are any questions.
Day 30—One Month Late
This may feel rude, but that doesn’t mean you should be–keep calm and stay professional in your follow-up. If you have already spoken with the client, re-send the invoice with any new charges, reference the earlier conversation, and any previously mentioned plans to send payment.
You could also begin assessing late fees at this stage, but only if this was explained in their client onboarding. Hitting a customer with an unexpected late fee could cause more disagreement than it’s worth. It's better to state your terms for late payments up front, itemize them on the next bill, and be clear about your agency’s payment terms.
If you are dealing with your client’s accounting department, it might be time to get your client involved directly, as they have a vested interest in timely payment and continuing work.
Send an e-mail to politely let your client know that you will have to stop working on current projects until the bills are paid. And remind them that any creative work belongs to you until you have been paid for it.
Day 60—Two Months Late
If 60 days have passed, sending a demand letter from your attorney is not unreasonable.
If you're struggling to collect payment on an invoice, you have a few options: using an invoice factoring agency, sending the bill to a collections agency, or writing the invoice off as bad debt.
None of these scenarios are ideal, but each option is worth considering.
How Much Time Must Pass Before Sending Someone To Collections?
If your client owes you money or has stopped responding to your outreach attempts, you have the option to hire a collections agency.
A collections agency is a company that will contact the person that owes your agency money and try to get them to pay. Once this approach is successful, they will take a cut of the collected money.
The typical time to send someone to collections is 90 to 120 days after they are overdue.
But note that the collection agency will take a hefty percentage of your invoice–between 20% to 40% or more. If you go to collections or a small claims court, you'll likely lose the customer–but it may be the only way if you can't be paid otherwise.
Conclusion - Always Have A Contract!
If you want something to be guaranteed, write it as a contract. This document should include all details of what is being agreed to so there are no misunderstandings later.
Protect your agency by addressing the following in your client’s contract:
Payment milestones such as 40% down, 40% mid-completion, and 20% final
30-, 60-, or 90-day terms following invoice sent
Available methods of payment such as checks, credit cards, or PayPal
A clearly-outlined scope of work
Due dates for completion of work
Charges for late payments
Take that extra step to have a formal contract that outlines all prices and payment terms. That way, you’ll set your agency up for long-term success.
Jay Kang is an SEO Expert with over 9 years of experience crafting powerful content strategies, driving keyword optimization programs, and delivering significant organic growth.Read more posts by Jay Kang ›