Don’t Rush Your Bills

“Oh yes, wait a minute Mister Postman / Wait Mister Postman / Please Mister Postman, look and see / If there’s a letter in your bag for me /Why’s it takin’ such a long time?” – (from the 1961 debut single by The Marvelettes)

My most important piece of advice for ETR readers today?

Don’t rush your invoices to your clients.

Your accountant and bookkeeper, of course, disagree with me. “Get the bills out fast!” they urge you. “You’ll get paid faster, and your cash flow will improve.”

MB, the contractor who’s been remodeling our bathrooms and kitchens for the past six months, certainly agrees with them. Every time I turn around, he’s there with his hand out.

Typically, I get a call from MB at the office during the middle of a busy day. “I need the next payment,” he says. “Can you have a check ready in 20 minutes when I stop by?”

“Sure,” I think to myself, “I’ll just stop working, forget my own pressing deadlines, write out a check this instant, and sit here until MB gets here.”

Yes, MB is entitled to get paid on time. But I’ve been using him on and off going on more than 20 years. Surely he knows I’m “good for it.”

JL, who is MB’s favorite electrician, also wants his money in a hurry, even if it’s for a small $100 repair job. “I need the money today to pay my bills,” JL will tell my wife – who, of course, immediately gives him the cash in her wallet.

The problem with being in a hurry to rush the next invoice – and get your money right away – is that it sends a negative message to your client. The message is: “I care more about getting paid than I do about your satisfaction or convenience.”

I mean, come on. Why can’t MB send me a bill in the mail like everyone else so I can forward it to my bookkeeper and let her pay it?

Recently, I hired a freelance writer to write an e-book for my small publishing company, CTC Publishing. Today, I got an e-mail with his first draft of the e-book attached. Attached to that same e-mail: his bill.

“Hey,” I told him nicely. “I haven’t even read your first draft yet. Why am I getting a bill?”

You should bill a client only after you know he’s happy with your work … and not before. Don’t give him the feeling that you’re in a rush to send out an invoice and move on to the next job – even if you are.

The product or service your clients ordered is what they want – and getting it makes them happy. But getting a bill never makes people happy. Therefore, so as not to destroy the feelings of happiness the client experiences when he takes delivery of the product/service he ordered from you, do not enclose the invoice when you deliver.

A consultant, for example, should e-mail his report to the client as an attached file … wait a few days for the client to absorb it … and only then should he send the invoice.

Here are two more things I want you to keep in mind:

  1. The client is in a rush to get your widget or report – but not necessarily in a rush to pay for it. So it’s desirable to send your orders by rapid delivery methods – priority mail, FedEx, e-mail. But the client is in no hurry to get your bill – so don’t e-mail it. Dropping it into ordinary first-class mail is just fine for him … and for you.
  2. While it pays to be vigilant about accounts receivable, being overly so can tick off clients and rapidly destroy goodwill. I pay my vendor invoices within 30 days, unless I’ve agreed to do it sooner. Yet I can’t tell you how many times I have received a frantic call or e-mail from a proofreader, editor, writer, or Web designer demanding payment – for an invoice they sent me just a few days before. Not only is it annoying, it’s another way of showing me that their main concern is their pocketbook, not my satisfaction with what I bought from them.

My main piece of advice for you today – “Don’t rush a bill” – is really just a specific application of a general, almost universal, business principle. And that universal law of good business is simply this: Put the customer first.

[Ed. Note: Bob Bly is a popular Early to Rise columnist, self-made multi-millionaire, and the author of more than 60 books. He is also the editor of ETR’s Direct Marketing Masters Edition – a program to help you start your own successful direct-mail business