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How to Handle Clients Who Don't Pay

Published: 20/06/2019

Ken in Georgia asks:

Most of my clients pay super quick (same day). However, I find myself with several thousand in unpaid invoices. Most 60 to 90 days old. I can see from the invoice app that many of these invoices have not even been viewed. I have resent the invoices with, "Please check your SPAM folder..." and sent a text or two. NOW what? Send an e-mail and copy the broker? Mail an invoice to the home owner?

Hi Ken, this issue happens to all of us from time to time and it can be really frustrating. It sounds like you've taken proper first steps by sending reminders and then further reaching out by text message. My personal preference for a next step is to place a phone call to the agent. Phone calls are falling out of fashion these days, but don't forget that this is a business of relationships. A live conversation can often go a long way and I tend to see better results when dealing with important matters over the phone.

Since these clients have ignored your attempts up until now and so much time has passed, the best course of action is most likely going to be reaching out to the broker. It is also appropriate to stop taking more work from these clients until their overdue invoices are paid.

I have one client who is very slow to pay. She is very busy and frankly, a little disorganized. She is also my biggest client and apart from being slow to pay, every other aspect of working with her is a complete joy. I implemented a payment process just for this client through TourBuzz, through which she needs to pay for her images before she can download them. It has solved the problem of me chasing down payment from her. If you are willing to work with these clients again in the future (although it is worth considering firing them at this point), maybe a pay-to-access delivery process will work for you.

We've all been there, right? How do others deal with clients who don't pay on time?

17 comments on “How to Handle Clients Who Don't Pay”

  1. If you sent a bill and it hasn't been viewed, then it may be filtered into a spam or junk folder. For those clients I send a separate email asking if they received the invoice (or make a nice call). 99 percent of the time they say no, check the spam folder and pay.

    For those that just will not pay, easy, easy easy to collect. The Broker or Realtor does not OWN the listing, the brokerage house does. Let's say Remax. The Agent,broker,realtor secures the listing FOR Remax. If that agent moves to a different brokerage, say Coldwell Banker. Remax still owns the listing. (the agents work around that by having the seller cancel the contract and rewrite with the new Brokerage).

    Now all of the above is just information, The last Brokerage, Remax or Coldwell Banker OWNS the listing, the agent is just a sub contractor. Make an invoice with both the agents name and the brokerage. drive to the brokerage, ask for the Principle Broker, explain you are being stiffed (they then will go into a song and dance about sub contractors, if this happens politely ask them to stop, they own the listing, if the agent will not pay it falls on them). Thank them for their time and wait for the agent to call with with money in 15 minutes to that evening.

    The principle will call them to the carpet and embarrass the hell out of them, they will then bring up the agents responsibility in paying their bills at the next meeting. They will not name the agent, but since the office manager and 4 other agents where there when you presented the bill the agent will be embarrassed all over again.

    If the offending agent asks you to shoot another home, they will be a great payer.

    I only had one agent after the above scenario tell me after they paid me, they would never hire me again, I replied politely "What makes you think I would work again for a dead beat?". If they threaten to tell all their associates what an ass you are, just tell them that will help eliminate further dead beats and the paying agents will now know that they are a dead beat, a win-win.

    If you are going to be successful at this business, be prepared to carry 3 to 6 k on the book most of the time. It all comes in sooner or later.

  2. I shop at the same grocery store at least twice a week. I spend a good amount of money there so I consider myself a great patron of their business. However, no matter how much money I spend there each and every year, I don't get to walk out of the supermarket without first paying for my groceries. Just apply the same principle to your business, don't release the photos without being paid for them first.

  3. I just watermark my logo on the images for new clients (or slowly paying).
    When I send to new clients I remind about the spam folder and that the unwatermarked set will become available when I get notified the invoice has settled. I invoice using Square.

    Never had a problem collecting payment.

  4. Several thousand....over due, But most of your clients pay "super quick"? Assuming you get an average of $200 per shoot, an we are talking around $3000...that's 15 clients in default at any one time. If your average shoot is $100 then that's 30 clients or if the several thousand is actually a lot higher, say $7000, then.... You get the picture, you are not running your business profitably.

    You might consider starting out new clients with payment up front, on arrival for shoot or upon delivery. Once your new clients have established themselves as reputable individuals, you could extend payment terms to end of month, etc.

    We have a standard response to new clients that spout the phrase, Client ="Oh, I forgot my check book, just send me an invoice and I'll send you a check" Us= "No problem, just be sure to include where you want us to send the images when we receive your check" Client="Oh??...Do you take credit cards" Us="Of course, most of our clients give us their cc info to keep on file so they don't have to deal with this every time".

    Bottom line, this is business and at this level of service, you need to build a relationship with your clients before YOU decide to give them credit to pay later. We are only talking about a few hundred dollars most of the time, so if they have a problem with that, maybe you should think twice before working with them. Then again, those just starting out, will fall for the "hope" that everything will go alright and let some roll over them.

  5. All good suggestions in the comments! Here is one more: provide in your license agreement for the photos that the license for the photos is only effective upon payment. That way if they do not pay then they have no license. That makes them copyright infringers if they use the photos without paying. I then sue them for copyright infringement and recover the money owed the photographer plus my attorneys' fees and costs. Very effective!

  6. use PocketSuite. Every booking is confirmation with a credit card. once the delivery is ready click the pay button.

    That solved my problem

  7. The best way to solve this is to CALL. No texts, no emails... a good old fashion phone call. Have your payment processing site/app opened and tell them right on the phone that they need to make payment and you will take a card NOW.

  8. All the major tour companies require payment upfront. This includes long time clients. It is not unusual to take payment upfront. Especially if you have proven yourself. If you are starting out, yeah, maybe you will have some of this bill chasing business to deal with. Once you've proven yourself in the industry, move to a prepay model. Stop wasting time and $$. In turn, you can pass those savings on to your clients.

  9. I usually have about 3-4K in outstanding invoices, but I do a lot of commercial real estate and work with architects, designers, etc. and it is pretty normal for their accounting departments to take 30 days to pay. I'm fine with that (kind of).

    On the residential real estate side of things, I require payment before I deliver photos. No time to chase down all that. I've actually worked with a developer to create a booking calendar through my website that also has the ability to require payment before the download link becomes active. There are similar programs out there, but I wanted something contained within site, with my branding. I love it! Have even considered reselling it as a WordPress plugin so other people could have something on their own site with the obnoxious branding of third party apps.

    The manual option would be sending out the invoice with a note that they will receive the link to the photos when the invoice has been paid. Before implementing this, I had a lot of problems with past due invoices and chasing people down. Phone calls are definitely better, but if that doesn't work (because they won't answer), then I'll send a FRIENDLY email out that goes something like this, "Haven't received payment, and just wanted to make sure it didn't get lost. Let me know if I need to send it to someone in accounting or to the broker." That usually resolves the issue.

    People are just busy sometimes, and I've yet to have a person who is deliberately refusing to pay. If that were to happen, I'd cut my losses and move on (never working with them again). If the listing is still active, a simple call to the local MLS and a DMCA take down notice can work wonders too. 😉

  10. Just a question - Is contacting a third party, the broker, about a debt legal? Does it violate debt collection laws?

    But I do agree, a call is the first option if there is no response from the second email.

    Another option is using a collection agency. They will keep 15%, but you will get paid. Since it's likely you will never work for that agent anyway, you are not burning any bridges.

  11. Hi. Do you looking for an editor ? You can contact with ours ! We provide a lot of editing services !

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    Please inbox me if you need a real estate photo editor with reasonable pricing

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  12. Neal McGuire - re "3rd party". As in the post by Bill Jones, the Listing does not "belong" to the Realtor, but to the Broker. So, you are contacting the actual Owner. The Realtor acted as only an "Agent" on behalf of that Broker. So, as mentioned, usually a quick word to the Broker will get a quick payment from the Agent as the Broker knows that THEY can be held responsible for the bill. It's confusing, and I've been a Realtor for 11 years.

  13. I almost always get paid at the time of photography. Anybody new will certainly pay in advance while a few established customers will be allowed to pay me in a day or so if they can't meet me on site. If I were to enter into an arrangement with a broker to provide photography for a whole office, I could bill weekly as a convenience with the full amount due in a very few number of days so they didn't have to constantly write checks. For RE, longer terms would not be in the cards. The only exception would be a large leasing firm where I was doing enough work that it made sense. I'd still bill weekly and expect payment in 14 calendar days. All large companies have Accounts Payable departments and issue checks at least once a week. Always ask yourself if you could do the work and not get paid for 90 days. On a small job, you likely won't starve. With a big invoice, you may be in big trouble if you don't get paid.

    I don't want to have to try and collect on overdue invoices. The amounts are often too small to have to go to court over as taking a whole day off would cost more money that I'd be recovering. A big downside is if the home sells, there is almost no leverage if you don't get paid. My best customers nearly trip over themselves to make sure I get paid. If they forgot their checkbook, they'll offer to meet up at an ATM and hand me cash or send me money via PayPal on the spot. Hey, you have to pay the plumber on the spot. And, the HVAC person.

    Consider billing in reverse by "allowing" customers to pre-pay. If they deposit $2,500 or more with you, they get a 10% discount off of your normal prices or 7% if they pay by card. You just deduct each job from their credit balance and let them know when their account is running low. Maybe for $5,000 prepaid they get priority turnaround on their images. Companies that provide EV charging have prepaid accounts for which they discount to avoid credit card processing fees if you were to have them just bill your credit/debit card each time you use their service.

    Contacting the broker is an option, but something to be held in reserve. They will certainly take it up with the agent, but if you handle it wrong, there could be a memo circulated around the office to not hire you for photos. A properly formatted DMCA notice sent to the local MLS to have the photos removed will generate a lot of action. The regs usually state the agent will get one warning and then start being fined if that happens. Again, it could be better to politely put it to the agent that if you don't get paid that could be something you may consider doing to preserve your rights according to the Terms of Service you presented them with when you started doing work for them. BTW, your images do not have to be registered with the Copyright office to send a DMCA notice to the MLS. You just won't be able to sue them for infringement. You should note on your ToS and all of your invoices that a license to use the photos is contingent on payment in full of your invoice.

  14. When I started out my first port of call was to contact a media attorney. Strange how we always refer to such people as my attorney, my doctor etc. etc.

    Anyway, he put a contract together for me that is completely watertight.

    A main factor in the contract is 50% up front "before" I begin the work. On completion of the job the remaining 50% is due.
    The client receives heavily watermarked preview images. Only when payment has been made he receives his images with the watermark removed.

    With the down payment of 50% my operating costs are covered so that if the client decides he doesn't want the images or refuses to pay* the remainder I am not out of pocket!
    Using this method I still come out with a plus and have not lost any money.

    Should I shoot a major job, say for 300.000, then on signing the contract, 100.000 is due immediately. Half way through the job another 100.000 is due. On completion of the job the remaining 100k is due.
    I got used to this working for large automotive manufacturers in Europe. This is how we used to work with suppliers.

    * I would send in the collections department.

  15. We have a policy of payment by check post-shoot. In other words, the agent client pays for the shoot after it is completed. In the event the agent will not be at the house during the shoot (lockbox or homeowner present) arrangements are made in advance to have the check available at the house, often on a kitchen counter, in a sealed envelope. After ten years as MLS Photographers this has worked very well for us. Note: We also provide same-day delivery on MLS photos so agents can get them into the MLS ASAP.

    I just want to add that if a new potential agent client refuses to pay post-shoot saying they want to make sure they like the photos it's a 99% chance they'll stick you for it. No matter how desperate you are for new business, never fall for this. If they refuse to pay post-shoot.. don't shoot the listing!!!!

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