Mark is in a coffee shop outside Calgary where a trucker is on the phone with a company that’s late in paying. The man makes a spectacle of himself and Mark offers to give him a few pointers on how to collect money owed…
The man got up from the table he was at and walked over to join Mark. “Would you like a coffee?” he asked.
“No thanks,” said Mark. “Already have one.”
He sat down and slid in close to the table. “So, tell me how to get paid.”
Mark was surprised at how eager the man was to hear what Mark had to say. Judging by the way he’d been on the phone, he expected the man to be sarcastic and contrary, but he appeared to be open to suggestions.
“Well,” Mark said. “I’m assuming you’re making sure all the pre-invoice stuff is done in a timely manner. You know, like, confirming delivery and sending out your invoices.”
“Like clockwork,” he said. “I don’t want any late payment to be even partly my fault. I submit my stuff within a day or two.”
“That’s good,” Mark said. “What kind of window do you give them to pay?”
“What do you mean? I want them to pay right away.”
“Of course you do, but have you ever thought of giving anyone a discount for paying early?”
“Now why would I want to do that?”
It was a fair question. Why give anything away for free when it took so much to earn it in the first place.
“There’s value in getting paid on time. For example, how much time and energy did you just spend trying to collect on money owed to you.”
“I don’t know. It was a five minute phone call…”
“Which you are going to be thinking about for a long, long time. What if you gave a $10 or $15 discount for a quick payment. Is what you’re going through right now worth that much to you?”
“Exactly. And if you’re going to give a discount for early payment, then you can charge a penalty for late payment. You might not get it, but if you do it’ll make up for the discounts you’re giving on the front end.”
“Okay, I can see that.”
“And, if they say money is tight, you can always offer them a payment plan. A hundred dollars a week for six weeks is better than nothing for eight weeks.”
“A little bit coming in all the time would be good.”
“Right…” Mark paused. “Now, you can’t get angry.”
The man sighed, as if he knew this already but couldn’t help himself. “It’s what I do best when I’m owed money.”
“I’m sure it is,” said Mark. “And believe me you have every right to be angry with someone who has taken your services without paying for them. But people – no, no one,” Mark corrected himself, “responds well to an angry person on the phone, or one who uses profanity. It’s no mystery why they hung up on you.”
“They kept giving me excuses like the person who usually makes payments is sick, and they’ve changed the accounting system, or they’ve lost my invoice and can I send another?”
“There are always going to be excuses. Some of them are legit, some aren’t. Trouble is, you won’t always know, so the best thing is to treat them all as if they’re real, then offer a solution to the problem. If someone’s sick, ask when they’ll be back so you can talk to them specifically. If they’re going to put a check in the mail, tell them you’ll come by to pick it up. Sooner or later they’re going to run out of excuses.”
The man was nodding now as if he was taking what Mark was saying to heart. “You must have no trouble getting people to pay you, eh?”
Mark laughed under his breath. “Not at all. Once in my early days driving longhaul, I had an invoice that was months overdue. I had the brilliant idea to write to the
Canada Revenue Agency and tell them that this company wasn’t paying their bills. My thinking was that if they weren’t paying their bills, then what sort of expenses were they claiming because they weren’t paying any expenses.”
“Did that work?”
“No, not at all. I never heard back from the CRA and the owner of the trucking company – I heard later – was so angry when he read my letter telling him what I’d done, he vowed he would never pay me a cent.”
“Not yet. See, because it looked like I was never going to get anything from this guy, I wrote him once more, but this time I apologized for what I’d done saying I was wrong and should be more patient. Then I pleaded the wife and kids thing and how I was just trying to look out for them.”
“And that worked?”
“A little. I got about half of what I was owed, but after that I never worked for him again so I was able to lose a bad client and replace him with some good ones.”
“So you think I should apologize?”
“Say I’m sorry?”
“Be polite. Be professional. Tell them you are sorry for the way you acted, but you have a family to support. Offer them a payment plan. Offer to come by to pick up the check. If there’s a problem, ask them when you should call back and who you can speak to who has the authority to issue a check.”
“And if that doesn’t work?”
“Then you tell them you’ll be taking legal action or putting the invoice out to a collection agency. Believe me, those guys call way more often than you and I ever could. Nobody wants to handle agency calls two, three, or four times a day.”
“Maybe I’ll call them tomorrow.”
“No, do it now. You’ll make the bigger impression now than tomorrow.”
“Okay, I’ll give it a try,” he said, getting up from the table and making the call.
Mark watched as he paced back and forth across the coffee shop. Every once in a while he would look over at Mark for encouragement, but his voice was never loud enough for Mark to hear what he was saying. That was a good sign.
“Well?” Mark asked when he was done on the phone and returned to the table.
“At first they couldn’t believe it was me on the phone, but the longer I kept my cool the better things went. Eventually, they said they’d try to get a check to me this week.”
“And how does that compare to the first time you called them?”
“Like night and day.”
Mark Dalton returns next month in Part 3 of I have an (in) voice.