Train your clients to pay you

What an appalling fact.  An independent worker or self-employed person loses about $6k per year in unpaid wages.  For a group that makes about $25k a year that’s a huge chunk of cash to have floating out there. Gosh, that’s a little more 20% of the annual salary.  Not good.

Predictable Irrationality

I’m really into behavioral decision theory which basically means the study of how we decide things.  It is fascinating, and quite humbling. You know, we think we have these logical, rational reasons for doing things.  Well, phooey.

We are at the mercy of a poop-storm of internal and external influences that mostly happen on a subconscious level. Your fears, family, friends, university, values and intuition all play a part in how you think and act. Check out this video by behavioral economist, Dan Ariely who was inspired by his own life to study decisions.

Dan Ariely, TED Talk



Realizing that our thoughts and decisions are like a willow in the wind- we go back and forth- is both scary and hopeful.  Let’s put this knowledge to good use in your business, shall we?

Watching the video I was immediately struck by how this new idea could help you as a coach, freelancer or small business person.  People will cheat a little as the experiments proved.  But they can be influenced not to cheat by being reminded of their better self.

How to Train Your Client to Pay

The easiest way to get clients to pay is to hold up a shining example and ask them to be it.  Simple and effective.  Now what the heck does that mean?

Tell clients what you expect as part of your client embrace  I highly recommend that you include paying you on time as one of the expectations.  Remember in the video- people who were asked to recall the 10 Commandments didn’t cheat afterwards.  And that  students who didn’t identify with the cheater (he didn’t wear their sweatshirt) didn’t cheat.

Your goal is to remind your clients that they are good and not the kind of person who would be a deadbeat.

Personally, I believe most people are good and want to do the right thing but get tempted.  We’re human, right? I saw this so often as a business mediator.  People want to do what’s right but aren’t sure what that is in any given situation.  My job was to help parties create options, look at them realistically and choose the best one.

Your job as the leader of the conversation with clients, the thought leader, is to do something very similar.  You want to share with your clients the best way to work with you and why that matters for them.  That includes how and when to pay you; how to talk about delays in payments and what happens- to you and them- if payments aren’t made.  How do you do it?  Set expectations & Ask!

Setting Expectations- Your Payment Policy

Your payment policy keeps you and your clients from cheating.  OK, it doesn’t have to be named something as formal as payment policy, although I’d recommend it. (people generally don’t fight policies.)

You need to have a written statement of how you get paid and what happens when you don’t.  Just the exercise of creating the document is enlightening.

Also, having your client agree to this in writing will have a similar impact to the honor oath mentioned in the video. Your clients will comply with the agreement.  Why?  Because we generally don’t like to contradict ourselves as humans. (You like your fave sports team even when they’re losing, right?)

Warning- remember to think as an entrepreneur who promised yourself success, not like a consumer, ok?  It’s better to start off a little stricter with your policy; you can always relax things as you see fit.


Asking- what does that sound like?

I’m sure you’re not one of these people, and I hate to bring this up, but I’ve had clients who didn’t pay  or paid late for a variety of reasons. So you know, I wanted to walk through my payment policy. Will this work for you?

That’s what it sounds like to ask your client to pay.  You’re being open, transparent and very clear.  What I love so much about this approach is that it’s you speaking up for you from the very start. Not in an aggressive or mean way.  But rather a self-confident way that is powerful.  You’re saying this is how I make things happen.  This is how I roll… You’ve now ‘trained’ your client to pay.

Of course, these are my words. You should use your own.  Practicing helps too.

What’s worked for you to get clients to pay you on time?


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