Being a solo practitioner puts you in a position to actually reap the rewards of your hard work, rather than pass a big chunk off to the firm you work for. The flip side of a solo practice is the fact that you are responsible for more, including fee collection (that is,making sure that your clients actually pay). Not to mention the fact that when your practice doesn’t get paid, you don’t get paid. It can be more difficult for small businesses to collect, with nearly 40% of small businesses reporting a slow down in payments.
By employing the following strategies in your solo practice, you can simplify the bill collecting process and increase the likelihood that your clients pay in full and on time.
- Provide Great Customer Service
As a solo practitioner, offering good customer service rests squarely on you. And while it’s not always the easiest tasks for an attorney to take the time to do things like sending birthday cards and remembering children’s names, it can actually help you get paid. That’s because while you are providing excellent customer service, you are also cultivating real relationships. It is much harder for a client to avoid an invoice or rationalize paying late when you have an honest, personal relationship with them. Not to mention, good customer service is usually one of the most important steps towards getting a good referral.
- Start Strong
The more clear your payment terms are before you start work for a client, the more difficult it will be for them to delay or refuse payment. Be sure that your payment agreement is written in clear, understandable language and that your clients know the possible penalties for nonpayment, up to and including your refusing to do any more work for them.
- Consider Fixed Prices
When you use a fixed pricing structure, rather than an hourly rate, you can request payment upfront, before any work is actually performed. While this structure is not always possible, it can be a major boon if you have trouble getting invoices paid. It can also be an option to consider if you are winning repeat business from a client that has had trouble paying in the past, but with whom you want to continue to work.
- Be Strict About Deadlines
The old adage of “give them an inch” applies here. If you start off giving people 30 days and let things slide for even longer, before you know it you won’t be able to pay your rent. Instead, demand payment upon receipt of invoice. That gives you a lot more room to make exceptions for late payments, and when clients pay on time you’ll have money right away instead of in a month. It helps to send invoices out at a convenient time, like the 25th of the month. That way you give clients time enough to pay on the first of the month and neither of you have to worry.
- Time Your Invoices
Speaking of timing, when you’ve done something great for your client, be sure to send an invoice immediately following. The war, fuzzy feelings that your clients have about your big win will often translate into a speedy payment, making it a win-win-win.
- Use Technology for Payment Convenience
Even big companies are forgoing the use of checks more and more, so try to have an option for clients that want or need other payment methods. A dongle from a company like Square or PayPal can turn your smartphone into a credit card machine, meaning there is no excuse not to accept credit or debit payments. The easier it is for your clients to pay, the more quickly they’ll do it.
- Always Be Budgeting
You don’t want to live paycheck to paycheck and you don’t want your business to suffer between payments. Take stock of your expected income and expenses and manage your cash flow over the course of the year. It is easier to land a job when you already have one and it is easier to collect from clients when you are not desperate for their money. It is also a good idea to send your invoices at least two weeks before major bills are due, to make sure you can pay on time.
- Have a Policy in Place
Even if, as of this reading, you have never had an issue with payment, you will. Having a policy in place as to how you handle collections means you won’t have to panic and create one the next time you encounter a late payment problem. Perhaps you have a member of your staff put in a call to the client when payment is one day late and follow up with a letter. Sometimes a client is busy and just needs a gentle reminder that working with an attorney actually comes at a price. When you have a policy in place, it will help everyone remember that it’s time for you to get paid.
- Stick to Your Guns
Sometimes clients will need a little flexibility, especially if they are your longterm clients. It is better to allow a some leeway and keep the client than to terminate the relationship because of one late payment. However, you do need to be able to draw the line somewhere, because even the best clients can take advantage of this generosity.
- Stay the Course
If you’ve already decided not to work with a client again, it can seem like a useless headache to keep chasing after payment, but it is worth it. Your services are valuable and you deserve to be paid. Demanding proper and agreed upon payment for your services will only help your reputation with the kinds of clients you want and will be well worth the additional work in the end.
If you are a solo practitioner who has trouble keeping track of incoming payments or getting clients to pay on time, consider signing up for UpCounsel. We offer bill collection services for our member attorneys. Sign up today or get more information by visiting upcounsel.com.