The end of the financial year is nearly here, so it seems like a good moment to think about how to get paid faster in the next one.
Especially if you are a solo consultant dealing with a range of organisations, it pays (and I mean that literally) to be mindful of how they handle their finances and make sure your methods connect with theirs.
Here are five ways I have discovered through trial and error, mostly error, to help keep the cashflow at least trickling if not gushing.
1. Put every detail on your invoice
I know, I know, basic common knowledge.
But every organisation has its little foibles about purchase order numbers and contact details and ways of tracking who asked you to present and whose department pays for lunch.
So make sure you include all the relevant information and then some. This includes your bank details in BIG LETTERS. But you will probably still receive a form in the mail asking for them.
2. Specify payment date and follow it up
If your invoice says seven days, ring after seven days and ask politely when you can expect payment. Ask for a date. If the payment is not received on that date, ring and ask politely when you can expect payment.
You may have to repeat this quite often and be very persistent (but never rude) to achieve a result. Eventually it will be easier to pay the bill than talk to you. Next time they will be on time.
3. Know who to talk to
The key to point two is in this one. The person who contacted you, engaged you, listened to you and even to whom you sent your invoice, is not necessarily the person who is expediting payment.
Phone calls to the wrong person wastes everyone’s time, so find out who the accounts person is and get on a first name basis with them. Often they are more than keen to process paperwork but it may have to go back and be countersigned.
Being able to track your paperwork through their departments is in the hands of this person. Remember their help at Christmas time.
4. Be consistent
This applies to the way you send your bill, the way it is laid out for easy scanning, the friendly tone you use with everyone in the organisation, and so on.
Your reputation is built on these things and being consistent in your approach, as well as persistent, helps everyone in the organisation feel confident about the way you will react and deal with any issues that come up.
5. Offer discount for speedy/upfront payment
This is a more contentious issue for consultants than, say, manufacturers who can more easily ask for a down payment or 50% up front. However, if you are working on a large project, it is in your interests to have some of the money at the commencement.
Depending on how well you are known, it is possible to write this into the contract and offer a discount for paying the whole amount at once ahead of the work.