Problem: You’ve been hired by a previous client for her upcoming event. You’ve found it unusually challenging to connect with her this time around. It’s even been an effort to get the event information nailed down, and while you’ve decided to waive the non-refundable event retainer, since this was a previous client, you’re beginning to wonder about the wisdom of this since she hasn’t responded to your repeated requests for the return of the signed event contract. With internal qualms and no contract in hand, you decide to go ahead with the event.
All seems to be running smoothly until the end of the party, when the client hands you a personal check as payment. The hostess information you sent her, as well as the contract, stated that you do not take personal checks as payment, so it’s on the tip of your tongue to refuse the check and request a cash or credit payment instead. But the client is so busy running the party that you reason that having worked for her before makes her someone whose checks you can trust.
A week later, the bank notifies you the check could not be cashed because there were not sufficient funds to cover it.
Now you really wish you had listened to that little voice which told you to stick to your company policy. Your texts, emails, and phone calls concerning the bad check and resulting fees go unanswered, and short of driving to the client’s home to speak to her personally, you wonder if there is anything you can do to gain payment. What could you have done to avoid this problem?
Solution: There are several safeguards which can be put in place to keep you from baring the brunt of a bad check. Also, realize that the company policies you create aren’t personal and aren’t designed to make life difficult for your clients. They’re a good thing, and they protect you as well as your clients.
1. Create a policy for payment which will insure that you will be paid in a timely manner. It’s a good idea to set up basic policies for your company which will keep trouble at bay by strategizing around potential problems. For example, when it comes to payment policies, many face painters require $50, $100, or 50% of event total as a non-refundable booking fee. The first mistake in this scenario was waiving the booking fee. The client should not be considered finally booked until this retainer has been received, and there should be a deadline by which the fee must be received. By getting a portion of the payment upfront, you will at least have that in case of payment trouble later.
Some face painters require full payment of the remaining event balance several days before the event or at the beginning of the event rather than at the end. Being paid in advance helps you avoid the scenario of a hostess pressing a check into your hands at the end and then running off to take care of her guests while you try to catch her in order to explain that you don’t take checks.
2. Do not accept checks from individuals, and make this policy clear in your correspondence with each client. You can’t end up with a bad check if you don’t take checks at all. I take checks, but only from organizations and businesses, and not from individuals. After having had one bad check incident, which was the result of me being lax in enforcing my policies, I now make it crystal clear to all clients, previous or present, that I never take personal checks under any circumstances. I don’t rely on the clients reading my hostess information or contract, which states this policy. I remind them in emails confirming their event information, and I ask them how they would like to pay their retainer and event balance so they must consciously consider the options before the event.
3. Enforce your policies. I guarantee that if you don’t enforce your policies, no one else will. If challenged, be polite, but also be professional and firm. Policies should to be clearly stated to clients, who may be so busy with other party details that they either ignore them or expect you to remind them of what they are. If you have give a clear date by which your contract and retainer must be returned to you, follow up immediately if the client does not comply. Make it clear that if you have no signed contract and no booking fee, you will not be able to be part of their event.
There is a place for flexibility, of course, and if a client has a difficulty with any policy, I identify the issue and find a solution which will work for both of us. But I keep a close eye on why the policy is in place in the first place. If I’m tempted to be lax in my policies just because I’m lazy about enforcing them with a client who is hard to get a hold of or because I’m shy about confronting the client concerning my policy, then it’s not about flexibility. I need to stick to the policy which is there to keep problems from happening in the first place.
Maybe you feel that taking personal checks is necessary for your business. In case you decide to take checks, some precautions will keep you from paying fees for a bad one. First, require the check to be paid to you far in advance of the event. If it doesn’t arrive on time, touch base with the client, but don’t allow yourself to be put off repeatedly. If it doesn’t arrive in a timely manner, let the client know that the date has been reopened for other bookings.
Once you have the check, drop by the client’s bank to verify there are sufficient funds before you actually cash the check. Once the check is cashed, you’ll get a fee if it bounces. If you don’t want to risk waiting for the check to clear from your own bank, which can take a day or two, cash the check at the client’s bank, but keep in mind that if you do this, you may be charged a fee for the privilege if you don’t do have an account with that bank. The fee won’t be as much as the charges incurred from a bounced check, however, so having the cash in hand may be worth it to you to insure that you get paid what you are owed.
Finally, never take a personal check at the time of the event. Remember that a no-personal-check policy is there because if you take a personal check at the time of your event, you’ll be entirely at the mercy of your client’s honesty. If the check is returned for not sufficient funds, it could be very difficult to recover any of the money owed you, much less the fees you’ve incurred because of insufficient funds in the client’s account.