Some of the issues I face when trying to get paid by customers
I absolutely love presenting talks. Arranging and presenting talks are the most enjoyable parts of my job. However, when it comes to payment, it can be very difficult. This is because it can take a very long time to be paid and the process often involves me having to fill out really confusing forms that are not designed for small, one-person businesses.
Once a talk has been arranged, I will send my client over an invoice. This includes my bank details so that they can bank transfer me the money. Sometimes I receive the payment quickly and with no hassle. However, on other occasions it is not so straight forward. Lots of companies will take 3 or 4 months to pay and also have very confusing processes.
Recently, I have had two clients who took 6 months to pay me and because I had to keep chasing them for the payment, phoning or emailing them every week, it took up a lot of my time and was very stressful. In fact, on both occasions, I spent longer trying to get the payment sorted than I did presenting each talk!
One of these customers asked me to provide a letter from my accountant to prove that I was self-employed. I sent them over exactly what they had asked for and then 3 months later they told me that it was not sufficient enough evidence to prove that I was self-employed. When I phoned up the accounts department for the other customer, they said that they could not do anything until they had a certain document. This was more than 5 months after I had presented the talk. I can’t understand why it took them so long to realise what documentation they needed to process the invoices. I mean, I can’t be the first person or company they have ever worked with!
The other issue is that companies often have very difficult and confusing processes. A lot of companies will send out forms for me to fill in to aid with payment or set me up as a supplier. If I am being set up as a supplier, then the emails I am sent will be from a completely different email to that of the client. So, I sometimes miss these emails or mistake them for being spam. The forms I am sent to fill in are horrendous! The first thing about these forms is that they are often very time consuming to complete and the format they are requested in is difficult too. For example, one client wanted me to fill in the form online but sent it as a pdf. A lot of the forms don’t give you enough space to put in your answer or use words and terminology that I just don’t understand. Nearly every form I get sent will ask me for at least one piece of information that no other client has ever asked for and it is often something I have never even heard of. So again, I have to spend ages researching what it is they want and then getting it for them.
Another big issue with these forms is that they are often designed for large organisations and not for sole traders like myself. So, a lot of what the form is asking for is either irrelevant or not applicable. Companies should not be using the same processes for a small one-person company as they would with a large company that employs lots of people. They should have separate processes in place, but they just don’t.
Companies should not treat anyone like this, let alone a small one-person business. And they should certainly not be treating anyone with Asperger’s or autism in this way. As a society we should be encouraging and supporting small businesses, not making it hard for them to do their job. I will not let these issues stop me from enjoying the job I love and although the payment process can often be very stressful, I am happy to say that to date I have never had any serious problems.
This is some of the feedback I have received since writing the article:
"I recently had a client that took 5 months to pay me and I had to constantly chase them for it, and was ignored a few times. And then to even move forward with payment there are forms I had to fill out which was mainly for big businesses and not for small businesses like my own. It’s pure madness how it’s so hard for small businesses to actually get paid!"
"It's as though the client believes we have a finance department all of our own, which we do, but it's the same person who does every other role in the company! The more time we have to spend on chasing the less time we get to do the rest of the tasks involved in small business!"
"When I first started out as a sole-trader this was one of my biggest concerns as, exactly as you described, I often didn’t fit into the processes or I was too easy to ignore when I chased up. Well done for raising awareness."