how can I get a client to pay me on time?

A reader writes:

My boss and I offer English tutoring services to international students who are learning English as a second language at school. Can you please advise me on how to get my new customer (well, I am not sure if she is considered new-new, as I have been working with her for the past 1.5 months already) to pay us on time?

There is a contract that states payment is due every 8 lessons given, but we have not been paid.

I texted and even called her on her mobile, but to no success. I even reminded her myself about her pending payment when she came over to our office for a meeting yesterday and she agreed that she would pay up by the end of the working day.

Honestly, I can see this business relationship working out between us, but I really need her to take us seriously and pay on time — and to understand that it’s not okay to pay one day, if not one week, later, despite reassuring my boss and I that they would have the payment in by a designated time, only to be met with an empty promise on their end.

Well, if you want her to take your payment terms seriously, you need to take them seriously yourself and convey that in how you handle this.

First, don’t text about this. Texting is an informal method of communication; it’s not appropriate to use for something important. You should email or call.

Second, send her a clear and to-the-point email with an invoice attached. Say something like this: “A second copy of your invoice for the last X sessions is attached. As you know, our contract requires payment to be submitted after each 8 lessons. This invoice is now X days overdue. When we spoke about this last week, you said you would submit payment within a day, but we’ve not yet received it.”

That’s step one. If you don’t receive prompt payment, you move to step two — which is to stop providing her with work until you’ve received payment for the work you’ve already done.

When someone shows you by their actions that they don’t take contractual payment terms seriously, you need to show them that you do — and that you expect them too also. Otherwise, you’re telling her that she doesn’t need to — and that’s how people find themselves in situations where they’ve done hours/days/weeks/months of work that they never end up getting paid for, or that they need to spend months chasing down. Set the boundaries now, and enforce them.

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