Every now and then I meet an independent consultant protesting against poor payment terms and clients who don't pay their invoices on time. This causes financial stress, damages the relationship between you and the client, and puts you in the position of an ordinary contractor.
While most seasoned professionals have learned how to deal with it, it's always worth repeating the mantra for those who struggle with getting paid.
As Blair Enns puts it, “We will not solve problems before we are paid.”
Don't Lose Control Of The Sales Conversation
Your suffering is self-inflicted. There's no point in trying to argue or convince the client to pay you before starting. We just say, "We can get started as soon as we receive the deposit, that's our policy for all new clients."
It doesn't matter if the upfront payment you ask for equals 50%, 70%, or even 100% of the price of the engagement. You need to get paid first. If a prospect refuses to do so, they are either unprofessional or not convinced of the value you bring to the table - in both cases, you will benefit from vetting them out.
Walking away from sales conversations with bad-fit prospects is not only liberating but the right thing to do. Companies and people who don't see you as a credible and competent consultant will block suggestions and resist implementing changes. And this will impact the results you can deliver.
Don't Use Negotiation As An Excuse
You will also meet prospects who are a good fit but will negotiate price - which almost always happens when you're selling to large companies. That's part of the dance, and you'll need to learn how to deal with it.
For now, it's good to remember a simple rule: "They can have either the price or the terms, but not both." If a small fee reduction is all it takes for you to win the contract, go for it. But make sure you are the one dictating the payment terms.
Don't Do Pro Bono For Prospects
If a prospect ever suggests doing a pro bono or a "test period" without charge, simply ask them: "Are you suggesting me to do this work for free?" If they confirm, you may reply, "How do you think I can do that? Do you work for free for your clients as well?"
There's a time and place for voluntary work. Build a solid consulting business - where you get paid well enough - and you may choose to dedicate some of your time to organizations in need. But you can't live off of it.
Don't say, "I'm sorry, but these are our terms." You don't need to apologize for being responsible and professional. The company will profit from hiring your expertise, and to sustain a healthy business people need to get paid.
Behave like a professional, and prospects will see you as one.