Most of the clients we work with are pretty well skilled in communication. Given that most of them are some type of sex educator or worker, it’s vital that they be able to communicate what they need, want, will/won’t accept and often to teach their clients and students those same skills. But there is one area where nearly all of them fall short in communication – talking about money.
It isn’t odd to be uncomfortable talking about money, most of us aren’t taught to discuss it growing up, and survey after survey suggests it is the #1 reason many marriages end in divorce (not to mention many business marriages) so how do we counsel our clients to better communicate about this important topic? In a few different large-scale ways that can easily be applied to smaller scale items as well.
1.) Address it Up Front. Experienced sex workers know, you have to make sure folks know your rate and you have to get paid up front. The same wisdom goes for anyone working for themselves – make your rates clear and get as much of the payment as you can up front. “But I have different rates for different things or different audiences,” you may be saying “and I’m always willing to negotiate if it’s something I really want to do.” Great! Then write that down on that same sheet of paper or webpage where you list your prices. Have different tiers of pricing, have a university and an interest group rate, put as many caveats as you want, but SET YOUR PRICES AND MAKE SURE PEOPLE KNOW ABOUT THEM. This will cut down dramatically on calls from people who may waste your time because they can’t afford you or they want something for free. If you make it clear upfront you charge for your services, it becomes far easier to collect when the time comes, and saves an awkward step in the negotiation process. If someone hasn’t seen your rates, you can ask that early in the conversation and get it out of the way.
The second part of this is also asking for a deposit up front. This is another way to see if a customer is serious about hiring and paying you, and gives you compensation while you prepare for the event. If you’re dealing with a company or university who says they absolutely can not pay you in advance, make it clear that you will expect payment as soon as possible after delivery of services, and include some type of cancellation fee IN ADDITION to your total fee that will both be required if the event is cancelled. All of these things will help prevent one cancellation or late payment from screwing up your cash flow for months.
2.) Make it Easy to Collect. Sometimes people who are supposed to pay you don’t. It’s not always because they are bad people (though it may certainly feel like that when you’re not getting paid!) but various things may come up. And like the old adage says “it’s the squeaky wheel that gets the grease.” If you are owed money, be sure to quickly invoice for it and have a system of following up on those invoices. If it would help and you have room in your profit margin, offer a discount for folks who pay early. Accept credit cards if at all possible (and these days, no matter what part of the industry you work in, it’s possible, it just might take some time to set up). And finally, make sure your agreement (written if at ALL possible, which can also include terms on a website which a person has to agree to before they can make a purchase or reserve your time) has terms that require that the person/organization that owes you money will be responsible for all the costs associated with collection if they don’t pay on time.
3.) Use Your Resources. So what if you’ve done all of the above and still aren’t getting paid? Now it’s time to get creative. If you own your own web domain (and if you don’t you should) create an firstname.lastname@example.org email address and send a friendly notice that the invoice is overdue. As mentioned before, follow up at timely intervals, and if days stretch into weeks, make those intervals closer together. If you were dealing with a university or organization, find someone else from there and address your concern with them. Finally, if all else fails and the amount is substantial enough, think about hiring a bill collector or attorney to take care of the matter for you. Keep good records so whomever you turn it over to will know the steps you’ve taken, and figure out what you might be able to do differently next time to avoid a late or non-payment. And then, cut yourself a little slack and remember, you’re in this business because you love it, and though it may seem like it, the jerks don’t outnumber the fellow good folks…it just feels like that sometimes!