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Invoice disputes: How to get your money and keep your client

Patrick Dodd's Layout avatar

So you’re in the middle of an invoice dispute with a client, and you’re hoping there’s some way for you to get your money and keep your client. Well, I have good news for you. It might be a bit of a tightrope walk, but it’s absolutely possible. People walk across tightropes every day!

Here are my top four suggestions for navigating an invoice dispute with a client. Then, check out the short SlideShare below about how to set clear expectations and prevent these kinds of disputes from happening.

1. Keep calm

Invoice disputes are frustrating. And because there’s money on the line for both parties, they’re often volatile. The more things escalate, though, the less likely it is that you will get your money or keep your client. Worst-case scenario: your reputation could be permanently tarnished as well. So out of pure self-interest, stay as calm as possible. Write cordial emails. Be patient on the phone. After all, the customer service ball is in your court, and your money is still in your client’s hands. Gmail has a feature that lets you undo emails within 30 seconds of sending them; consider turning that on.

2. Think big picture

It feels like a slap in the face when you’ve already put in all of the work and then your payment is withheld at the last minute. Often the issue is about more than just money – it’s about power and respect. It’s about who is in control. If someone wrongs us, we want to make things right (or at least throw a few eggs at their car). But the fact is, you’re a business. And you need to think like one. You need to think about how much it’s going to cost you to fight this thing — how much opportunity cost, how much relational cost, how much legal cost. Even if you do get your money, will it still be a net loss? Take a step back and look at the big picture. Sometimes the most prudent thing to do is just take the hit.

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3. Get an outside perspective

Ask a businessperson you trust for his or her objective opinion on the situation. Try to be as unbiased as possible when presenting the facts. Be thankful if this person disagrees with you — he or she may have just saved you from yourself.

4. Meet your client 10% of the way

Here’s the thing about invoice disputes: They’re usually about something very small. One unexpected item. One misunderstood charge. This little disagreement can hold up the entire invoice and keep you from getting paid for a long, long time. So try to get your client to agree to pay the 90 percent they have no problem with. Send them a new invoice with just these items while you work out what to do about the final 10 percent. Not only does this ensure you get most of your money, but it also tells your client you are listening, you are reasonable, and you are flexible. Oftentimes it’s not even worth going after that last 10 percent. In the end, it’s more valuable to keep your client happy and their opinion of you positive.

In an ideal world, though, disputes wouldn’t happen. And the best way to keep them from happening is to set clear expectations with your client before your work even begins. I’ve put together a quick SlideShare with some basic things you need to know about setting expectations. Hopefully, once you’ve put a few of these things into practice, everything I said above will become irrelevant.


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