Despite everything you may have heard or believed about following up on invoices, the fact is that it pays to be nice. Seriously. Forget “getting tough” or “laying down the law.” When it comes to getting a customer to pay you, those manners your mother taught you weren’t too far off the mark.
As you’ve probably figured out by now, good invoicing isn’t a simple ask-and-you-shall-receive situation. It’s all about preparing your customer to pay. Or, to put it in the most basic terms: following up on a regular schedule. And time and time again, we’ve seen how friendly follow-ups on a regular schedule lead to payments received.
So what does it mean to “be friendly” when you’re following up on an invoice? As you’d probably expect, it has a lot to do with your tone. But it’s also about your point of view. Remember, your job is to prepare your customers to pay. Be helpful. Assume the best. A study by StartupNation found that just putting the words “Thank You” on the bottom of your invoice increases the chance of that invoice getting paid by 5 percent.
Who would you rather pay: Someone you genuinely like, or someone you merely tolerate?
When you’re following up with clients, instead of just reminding them that they owe you money—ask practical questions such as “Did you receive the invoice?” “Did everything make sense?” “Do you have any questions I can answer?” Doing this not only puts you at your client’s service and builds up good will, but it also removes any excuses down the line. Excuses like—and this is the most common one you’ll hear—“I never got the invoice.” Get ahead of the excuses by being proactive. Your questions will not only help your clients think through their own plan of paying, but also let them know you’re ready…and waiting.
But let’s get real for a second.
Even though we’ve seen the best success through friendly and humane tactics, the fact remains that sometimes people just won’t pay.
So what should you do? Continue being nice 30 days past due? Or 40 days past due? How about 45 days past due? Yes, actually. It’s only once your invoice gets to be about two months late—75 to 80 days overdue—that you should adjust your tactics and get a little more serious. Do this by making your requests more immediate. Instead of asking how you can help a customer take care of an invoice, ask how you can help him or her take care of that invoice today. Increase the sense of urgency. While you don’t want to transform from a Jekyll to a Hyde, you do want your clients to know that you aren’t messing around and more serious steps will be taken to collect payment, if necessary.
But until that time, be nice. Be friendly. Be a regular human being. Not only is it good for your company’s image, but it’s still the best way to get paid.