It might be time to bid adieu to paper checks and snail mail from your clients.
When I started freelancing, I didn’t really care how clients paid me. Check, PayPal credit card – I was just happy to have clients who actually paid me. But as my business has grown and I’ve transitioned to working with a small group of regular clients, I’ve really come to appreciate the benefits that come from collecting payments online or directly deposited into my bank account.
At this point, I have only one client that sends payments via snail mail because that’s the only way they pay their freelancers. And while they’re great to work with and always pay me on time, they make up a tiny percentage of my monthly revenue. If they accounted for a larger portion of my income, there’s no way I would tolerate the 30–60-day wait for a paper check to arrive.
Why Are Paper Checks Such a Bother?
Let’s face it. Having to wait for a check in the mail is a pain. You rarely know if and when the client mailed the check. As the due date nears and you still haven’t been paid, you’re wondering whether it’s too soon to follow up.
Will you look too pushy? Will the check be in tomorrow’s mail?
Once the check finally arrives, you need to take time out of your busy day to deposit it. Fortunately, most banks have a check deposit app, so you don’t need to wait in line at the bank branch or drive to the ATM. But often banks place a hold on the money to make sure the check clears before the funds are available.
All of the above can lead to cash flow problems. Because if you’re waiting on snail mail and bank policies, you don’t have access to your money. That can make it difficult to pay vendors and contractors, buy necessary tools and supplies for your business or even pay yourself.
First Things First: Outdated Invoicing Methods Means Slow Payments
How do you invoice clients? When I started my business, I created an invoice template in a spreadsheet. Every time I needed to invoice a client, I had to:
- Open the template
- Type in the date, client name, an invoice number
- Enter a description of work performed and applicable pay rate
- Save a copy of the invoice as a PDF with a unique name in the client’s folder on my computer
- Email the PDF to my client and wait for payment
This labor-intensive process wasn’t too bad when I only issued a handful of invoices every month. But as my business grew, I quickly realized I couldn’t afford to waste time on a manual process that didn’t add any value from my client’s perspective.
The good news is I found a better (and faster) way.
Time for Change: How I Collected My Payments Faster
Once I started using cloud-based accounting software, not only was I able to send invoices more quickly, but I made it easier for my clients to pay me.
Once a client receives an invoice, they can click a button to pay me via credit card or Apple Pay. Of course, they can also choose to pay that invoice via ACH, PayPal or paper check. No matter how they pay me, my invoicing process is the same.
Better yet, I can see when someone has viewed my invoice and send automatic reminders when the invoice is past due. I don’t have to wonder whether they actually received my invoice or worry that sending a reminder may be perceived as being too pushy.
Are you ready to stop dealing with paper checks and email? Here’s a step-by-step guide for transitioning to cloud accounting and online payments.
Step 1: Invest in Accounting Software
Accounting software makes it easier to track your business’s income, expenses and overall performance. Choose a cloud-based product so you can access it anytime, anywhere from any computer or mobile device with internet access. This makes it easier to issue invoices and run your business remotely, whether you’re on vacation or in your office.
Step 2: Establish Expectations with Clients from the Get-Go
When you start working with a new client, talk to them about your invoicing methods and let them know you prefer online payments. Communicating this up front ensures you’ll have a better chance of getting paid on your terms – not by whatever methods the client prefers.
In some cases, you may not have a choice but to accept paper checks. Some clients have their own accounting policies and can’t (or won’t) make an exception for you. In that case, if you want to work with the client, you’ll have to deal with their payment policies. Just try to make sure that the clients who pay you via snail mail don’t account for a large percentage of your monthly income. That way slow payments won’t hinder your ability to pay your bills.
Step 3: Invoice Frequently
Billing up front or collecting a retainer is ideal. But if you don’t invoice clients until the work is done, make sure you don’t wait until the end of the month to send invoices. Instead, send them once a week – every other week at most.
The shorter the loop between doing the work and getting paid, the better. If your clients take 30 days to pay an invoice and you send invoices once a month, you could be waiting two months or more to get paid for your time.
Step 4: Encourage Automatic Deposits
Accepting credit cards makes it easy and convenient for clients to pay you, but the fees do cut into your profits. Ask clients if they are willing to pay you via ACH. You will probably have to fill out an authorization form and provide them with your bank information or register with an online service that allows you to get paid automatically.
While it may take a little more time to set up in the beginning, in the long run, this can save a considerable amount of time and money.
Step 5: Follow Up
Of course, sending an electronic invoice doesn’t guarantee payment. But your cloud-based accounting service will keep track of when invoices are overdue. You can often set up automatic reminders or even charge late fees (either a flat fee or a percentage of the invoice) to encourage on-time payments.
Sometimes a gentle reminder is all it takes to get a slow client to pay up.
Late payments, stubborn clients and squabbling over whether the check is in the mail can really take the joy out of running a business and lead to cash flow issues. Incorporate the above tips to start moving away from checks and snail mail and get more clients to pay you on time.
about the author
Janet Berry-Johnson, CPA, is a freelance writer with over a decade of experience working on both the tax and audit sides of an accounting firm. She’s passionate about helping people make sense of complicated tax and accounting topics. Her work has appeared in Business Insider, Forbes, and The New York Times, and on LendingTree, Credit Karma, and Discover, among others. You can learn more about her work at jberryjohnson.com.