Who would ever have thought I would be writing an article titled “Getting Paid In A Pandemic?” But here I am.
I wrapped up a video project a few weeks prior to the onset of our local COVID-19 “shelter-in-place” order. I had pulled in voice-over talent to narrate the video, and there was a bit of a lag between the time he voiced the script and the time that he invoiced the client. By the time he got around to invoicing, nonessential businesses, including the client, were forced to shut down for an unknown period of time.
My voice-over guy contacted me, feeling a little uncertain about whether he should send the bill, or hold off until we were on the other side of the COVID-19 crisis.
Knowing businesses were going to be entering the unknown, he wasn’t sure if his timing was off – or in bad form. I applauded his empathy, but strongly encouraged him to invoice the client, which he did, and yes, he was paid.
While I was insistent that he invoice, I do understand why he was feeling a little tentative about sending the bill, and maybe some of you are feeling the same way.
There is no reason that you shouldn’t be invoicing right now, but you should take into account that you may have some clients who are experiencing a rough patch.
Don’t Assume Anything
If my voice-over guy had gone with his assumption that our mutual client was not going to be in a position to pay, he’d be a couple hundred bucks poorer right now. If you’ve done the work, you’ve earned the paycheck. And if it’s a good client, they have every intention of paying you.
One thing that is certain is that you most definitely won’t get paid if you don’t send the bill. Invoice as if it is business as usual, with a few caveats.
Acknowledge The Elephant In The Room
Whether you are sending the invoice for the first time, or following up on a past due bill, it’s important to acknowledge that you understand that your client may be experiencing some challenges related to COVID-19. Encourage open communication on the situation by letting them know that if they anticipate being slow to pay, to please contact you to discuss options.
A Softer Approach To Collections
We are typically hard-asses on the collecting payment front, but this is a strange time, and it calls for a softer touch and an open mind.
No one really knows exactly what to do right now, but an unabashed “where’s my money?” approach would likely be awkward and most definitely inappropriate. Your clients may be struggling, and if you care about them, you’ll show some compassion.
If you have a client that is running late with their payment, particularly if they usually pay on time, I recommend reaching out to them with a personal call. Check in to see how they are doing. Listen to what they have to say and respond with empathy. If they are having trouble, ease into your inquiry about the past due invoice and transition the conversation to discuss a solution that works for both of you.
For example: “I realize, like a lot of businesses, you’ve hit a rough patch that you couldn’t have anticipated. Would it help for you to pay my most recent invoice in installments?”
Give it some thought in advance of making contact with them, so you can lead the discussion with some options. I realize that you may need the money, but some is better than none, so open your mind to alternative payment terms. Follow the conversation up with an email that outlines the new payment agreement.
Slow payments are the bane of a freelancer’s existence. And collection calls are the worst, even in the best of times. But thanks to COVID-19, for the near future, you will likely have to deal with both at some level. Avoiding these conversations is not an effective strategy. If you think a client might be struggling, and you want to keep the relationship in good standing, approach them with honesty, empathy and understanding.