Monday, April 22, 2013

Spending Too Much Time Collecting Money?

We know one young East Coast practitioner who seems to spend more than half his time chasing clients to collect money. Sound familiar? A talented designer and architect, he is quick to point out his frustration with the system and the process. He’s tried various approaches to reduce the time spent collecting money in an effort to devote more time to design-related activities.

No method is full-proof – some clients are just impossible to squeeze money out of – but here are a few strategies – both preemptive and during a project – to try if you’re wasting too much time chasing clients.

• Carefully review the scope of work with the client. You and the client need to be on the same page about what you’re doing and getting paid for. Are the client’s expectations and budget in line?

• Review the contract in person with the client. Do not send it in the mail. Carefully review all aspects of the contract including phasing, process, schedule, and expected deliverables. Above all, review the fee and payment terms expected of the client.

• Get a retainer from the client of at least 15% of the total fee. Explain to the client that the retainer is held in escrow and applied to the last and final invoice. Be sure the client understands this to avoid any misunderstanding of the terms and conditions for payment.

• Bill by task in lieu of a traditional thirty-day billing cycle. Make sure you review this with the client.

• Include a stamp-only provision in the contract. Payment of all outstanding invoices is due and payable before documents are released for bidding and construction.

• If there are delays in payment, stop work and advise the client in writing of the action to avoid any future legal claims by the owner. The client needs to understand that the schedule will change because of this action.

• Get on the phone and ask the client if he has received your invoice and ask when you can stop by and pick up your check.

The key to collecting your money rests with the client having a clear understanding of his financial obligations. Additionally the design professional needs to take on a business attitude and be proactive when it comes to collecting fees due for services provided.

Design professionals are not in the banking business and therefore it is necessary to pay attention to the business aspects of the practice. This is particularly critical to young and small firms that have limited capital.

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