I like being an architect. I love having my own practice. I adore my office, a scant ¾ of a mile from my house (in Atlanta, this is practically unheard of). I have an incredible passion for the project types that I work on. I delight in a job well done and praise from my clients – I loathe getting paid when client’s don’t hold up their end of the bargain. I’ve finally figured out a few things:
- Know your client – check out their story and/or references. If they are on the up and up, they won’t be offended if you make sure they have the ability to pay.
- Get a retainer up front (hopefully enough to cover the raw cost of labor to prepare the work).
- Don't be too nice of a guy (or gal) and give away tons of work for free.
- Learn how to file a Mechanics Lien in your state – get the form and have it on hand.
- Find a “black hat” you can have make a few phone calls as your preliminary “collection agency” – it could be a colleague, your accountant, or a business associate, essentially someone who is not internal to your practice and can be objective about asking for the money.
- Find a real collection agency you can talk to before you need them – you’ll pick a better one to use.
- Don't be afraid to fill out the Mechanics Lien papers and send a copy (via certified and regular mail, of course) along with a Demand Invoice. That gets more slow payments in than any other tactic I know of.
- Don't be to willing to walk away from money you earned – unless you know that the time/effort to collect it will be too hard, painful, or if the client is vengeful (may get a claim on your policy – see “know your client” above).
Funny, since I have taken the time to educate myself on the topic and get a few simple policies in place, the “bad debts” my firm experiences have declined – sort of like the preparation has emanated a new air in the firm and my clients don’t want to go there. It's like my karate Sensei tells us, “If you’re prepared, there is a much better chance you’ll never need to really use any of this self-defense stuff.” (Thanks, Sam!)
—Lisa Stacholy, AIA, NCARB