Opps, I havn't sent you an invoice in WAY TOO long.
April 8, 2010 5:50 PM   Subscribe

How can smooth the way for my sizable invoice to a great client, that is WAY to late in coming?

I have a really great client that I have worked with for several years. They love me, I love them. They are a sizable company (millions of dollars in gross sales) my invoice is not huge, but not small (say 0.2% of the annual gross sales). Here's the catch. (There had to be a catch right-or there would be no Ask MetaFilter Question!). I have not invoiced them in 18+ months. (Bad consultant. BAD! I know!)

What can I do to smooth the way for sending them their bill? Obviously they will be annoyed and I will eat LOTS of crow (feathers taste good) and I will wave any and all late fees and be happy to break up their payment into a reasonable schedule for them.

There have been times when I have bent over backwards to help them, should I gently remind them?

Of course I will promise to send regular invoices from now on--and I will.

Any other ideas or thoughts?

P.S. I have taken enough flack about this from this and my partner and myself and need some ideas how to make it less painful, so please keep the chastising to a minimum. I know I am wrong and feel horrible about it and have mended my ways.
posted by anonymous to Work & Money (19 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
Seems like what you need is part invoice and part apology. So, I'd basically do the invoice + letter indicating

- what went wrong [if this was just some sort of depressive issue keeping you from handling this you don't need to say that but it would be decent for you to say something]
- what you have done to fix it [again, if this is mental health related, don't go into details but just "I have purchased software so that I will be billing quarterly regularly from now on" should do the trick]
- that you are very sorry, you know this puts them in an awkward place and you'll work with them to make sure they can pay you in a way that doesn't totally screw up their cash flow [offer a few suggestions]

That's the "I fucked up, let me make it better" dance as I understand it.

If there's someone there who you have been working with who has been bugging you for this, you might want to open up communication with them first before you drop this invoice off to accounts payable just to be friendly. Just say you treasure the working relationship you have with them and that this was a one time mistake, won't happen again, here's the bill, do you need to make a payment plan, that's totally fine, how about net180 or whatever and leave it. But really, anything that keeps you from sending the invoice, anything you are doing besides sending the invoice, is time and effort probably spent just sending the inoice and getting over the concern about what might happen and instead diving right into what will happen. Good luck, I think it will go okay.
posted by jessamyn at 5:56 PM on April 8, 2010 [8 favorites]

It would really help if we knew what industry you're in, but from the government contracting / consulting perspective... meh. I don't think this is going to be that big a deal.

If you've been providing services during this time, there's probably a post-it note or a buried item on a meeting agenda or even a nagging thought in the back of the mind of whoever manages the financial relationship reminding them that you'll eventually invoice. You should have done it more regularly, and they should have said something before now, but ok, no biggie.

Take a deep breath, pick up the phone, and call whoever you have the strongest relationship with at the company. Explain the situation, tell them up front that you're happy to be paid in installments, and send the invoice. Be extra careful to include all the backup documentation they need, receipts, etc. Make it easy for them. Maybe even pre-break it up by months or quarters or something if that makes sense given the services you provide.
posted by charmcityblues at 6:00 PM on April 8, 2010

nthing Jessamyn's final paragraph. Communicate with the person on their side who managed / was responsible to pay so they're not blindsided, then a week or two later just submit the invoice through normal channels if you haven't heard back, or through whoever the person recommends if you do.

I have no doubt things like this happen. It's not the end of the world. If they push back on the invoice, then you can offer to give them a break - payment schedule, discount, whatever.
posted by zippy at 6:02 PM on April 8, 2010

Most companies have limits on who has to approve invoices of a certain size. You may want to break this invoice up into smaller invoices that more accurately represent the work units you've been involved with.
posted by arimathea at 6:09 PM on April 8, 2010 [2 favorites]

As a side note to Arimathea's comment, you might want to break it up into separate invoices divided by months, quarters, or at least 2008, 2009, 2010. That way it might be easier for them to adjust their prior financials.
posted by Yorrick at 6:21 PM on April 8, 2010

If you have the proper documentation for the work done then just what is the problem?

Send the invoice and continue to provide quality service that is expected.

If you have a close contact maybe give them a heads up but if the accounting department has a problem they'll let you know soon enough.

You did the work your presenting your invoice - you earned it.
posted by pianomover at 6:32 PM on April 8, 2010

I'm of two minds on this.

On one hand, it's not like the client thought you were working for free. They know you were going to send an invoice sooner or later.

Part of me thinks you should put on your best poker face, mail in the invoice just like you would any other, and see what happens. If they contact you to complain, THEN go into the bending-over-backwards apology dance. You never know; I've worked with some big companies that would have just paid it without raising an eyebrow.

On the other hand, 18 months is long enough for this to be a big problem for them. If you REALLY feel bad about it, really really bad, then I have known people who have discounted an antique invoice by half under these circumstances.

"This fell through the cracks, and it's my fault. I'm willing to eat half of it as an apology, and I'm willing to be flexible on payment structure for the remaining half."

I guess it depends on how badly you need to have the full invoice paid, and how big a pinch this is going to put on the client's pocketbook. Be sure to assess this with a clear head and a realistic perspective - don't just eat half the invoice out of guilt, or a sense of self-flagellation.
posted by ErikaB at 6:45 PM on April 8, 2010

They are a sizable company (millions of dollars in gross sales)

A company of this size, this is not going to be an "oops" sort of thing. They've closed out the year financially and will probably be pretty pissed. I'm sort of surprised you're a consultant and not a lawyer. This looks like a law office sort of mistake.

(say 0.2% of the annual gross sales)

If they're doing 5mil in revenue and if my math is right, that would be a $100k invoice. That could be a really big deal, especially if they've already booked the profits and they're running thin margins. The last 18 mos. have not really been that easy.

If it were me, I'd hand it to the firmly and if they come back irate, I'd probably be ready to eat anything greater than a year. Good clients are hard to find, right?

I assume/hope the invoice is detailed so you have something more than "40 hours, March 2008" ... it just looks bad.

As I've said, I've seen this on the receiving end. Everyone was pretty pissed, but as far as I know no one said anything to the vendor, it just got paid. Any sort of "Oops sorry" note is a big welcome mat for them to negotiate down the invoice. It might come to that, but don't be carrying a flag.
posted by geoff. at 7:13 PM on April 8, 2010

If they're doing 5mil in revenue and if my math is right, that would be a $100k invoice.

Your math is wrong; it would be a $10,000 invoice.
posted by Dasein at 7:24 PM on April 8, 2010

Why apologize if no one has complained yet?
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 7:24 PM on April 8, 2010

Your math is wrong; it would be a $10,000 invoice.

Oops! But to be fair, in my head I was thinking 50 mil ...
posted by geoff. at 7:39 PM on April 8, 2010

Two reactions - as the lateness issue is all on you, any talk of waiving late fees seems less than magnanimous and I think you should avoid it. Likewise, nodding to the great job you've done for the company in the past seems to me to just dilute the sincerity of any apology.
posted by nanojath at 8:10 PM on April 8, 2010

I will wave [sic] any and all late fees

Whoa, didn't notice that. The worst thing you could do is mention late fees as if you were doing them a favour by not imposing them - you're the one who's late, not them. There can be no late fees without an invoice first. It's a good way to really harm your relationship if you bring stuff like that up.

You need to have a conversation with them, and because of your rather extreme lateness, be prepared to agree to spread out the cost over two fiscal years, without interest, for this particular bill, if they get really angry (which given your relationship they hopefully will not). Also get yourself some invoicing software (I've heard great things about FreshBooks for professionals) so this doesn't happen again.
posted by Dasein at 8:19 PM on April 8, 2010

Don't assume the worst already. Do Jessamyn's last paragraph and Zippy's first paragraph.

Strike the pose that you've been so completely and obsessively engaged in doing the very best you possibly can for them that you, huh, forgot to invoice.

As long as you have an ally inside the firm who likes your work, realizes you did it, and wants you to get paid, you'll get paid -- maybe not next month, but you'll get paid. Don't lead with installment or discount ideas; let them react first.

(All this assumes that you did a good job and they're not on the verge of going bankrupt.)
posted by gum at 8:40 PM on April 8, 2010

Depends on the business. I worked for a place that was booking about 7 mil a year, but we have huge upfront production costs. i.e., we might have to put out 300-400k for product that we'd take 6 months to get paid for (From distributors etc.). So your invoice could be a huge blow.

I'd do this:

1- Apologize. Explain. Make sure it doesn't happen again.
2- Break it into quarterly invoices- The financial dude will be happy and it'll help make the bill look smaller
3- Offer a discount
4- Offer a payment plan.

No, you didn't work for free, but it's also your responsibility as a grown up service provider to provide grown-up service like responsible billing procedures. In that respect, you flunked. Shape up and offer a little off the top to apologize. And get it together before you earn a reputation- We definitley shed some folks we liked because they were unreliable, re:billing. We just couldn't handle a big fat bill landing in our laps at random times of the year.
posted by GilloD at 9:31 PM on April 8, 2010 [1 favorite]

From the perspective of a project manager who managed project budgets, don't feel too bad. The responsibility lies on both sides. At the end of the fiscal year, I called all the project's consultants to personally invite them to invoice us before we closed out the year. I've received some bills that seemed huge and late and thought not "what assholes" but "why wasn't I keeping better track of their hours?" I've been told by supervisors to ask consultants to bill more regularly when they weren't. So, charmcityblues's second paragraph really struck me as true. They knew you were going to bill them eventually.

So sure, give a quick reason and apology if it feels right, but skip the extensive self-flagellation and move quickly on to "is there any particular way I should invoice for these hours?" Ask the person on their end how to make it easy for them (so they don't look bad or run into headaches with accounting). Then, set up a plan moving forward (quarterly? monthly?) and move on.
posted by salvia at 12:07 AM on April 9, 2010

And just as an encouraging anecdote. I too have billed late for projects. The last time I did this I'd saved up about half a year's worth of hours. Not a huge deal, but a big line item for this particular non-profit. I waited until right before the end of the school semester which was of course right before the holidays. Hemmed and hawed a little beforehand. Of course, this meant I was submitting a bill when people were 1) rushed and 2) fluish. So my bill was for 41.75 hours which amounted to several thousand dollars of consulting fees. I got a check about three weeks later. It was for $41.75. We all laugh about it now, but after that no one even remembered that I had handed in my invoice late. Everyone's a little imperfect.

Have you sent the invoice yet?
posted by jessamyn at 5:14 AM on April 9, 2010

Do not just send the invoice. If you send a letter and an invoice, you stand a good chance of getting someone (possibly a potential advocate in the company) yelled at for failure to stay on top of this. .2% is not an insignificant hit on their bottom line.

Talk to the person you deal with most in the organization about how to handle this. Ask them what you should do. Your goal should be not saving face with them, but trying to get paid without them looking bad. If it turns out that this is a big deal, you'll then need to decide if future earnings from them are worth taking a discount off the amount you're owed.
posted by MarkAnd at 7:21 AM on April 9, 2010

I will wave any and all late fees

There shouldn't even be late fees if you haven't invoiced them. If you act like you're doing them a favor by waiving fees they don't owe, you will look even worse.
posted by Optimus Chyme at 9:04 AM on April 9, 2010

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