Let's talk about clients who don't pay or are slow to pay. We entrepreneurs all have a story, right?

My IT repair guy came to my house recently to figure out why my wireless printer wasn't working. Before he got down to business, he handed me a work order to sign, apologizing for the formality but he's been burned before and he needed a record of the work and my consent. No apologies needed, I said. I get it.

Thing is I haven't always been good about that formality myself. While I haven't been burned -- yet, I've been plenty burned up by clients who fail to respond to past due invoices no matter how many times I call or email. What a waste of energy

For me, it's the shorter term, relatively lower-priced projects where I've ended up spinning my wheels to get paid. And, sad to say, it's often been the case that the client was a close acquaintance or a friend of a friend. Someone I thought would know better. I accept my share of the blame for being lax about getting paperwork in place when it's a friend of a friend and the work seems relatively straight forward. 

Of course, with bigger projects, I have formal contracts, and the clients tend to be more serious and professional. But an eight-page contract that's been lawyered for a one-off, two-week project seems a bit much. 

I have a solution that seems to be working, and it's something that others could adopt to their businesses. For shorter-term, self contained projects, I have a less formal, one-page agreement. It spells out what I promise to do -- such as provide a written piece within two weeks, with one round of revisions. And it outlines what my client promises to do -- respond promptly to requests for information I need to complete the work and pay the balance before the work begins. I allow for payment via check or PayPal with a 3 percent processing fee, and I include the PayPal link on the one-sheet agreement.

The point is if I take the project seriously -- and that includes getting paid, my client will take the project seriously. I set the tone. It's not enough that I make their project my priority and hit my deadline, which I do each and every time. I have to make getting paid a priority too.

And if a would-be client doesn't want to pay me upfront that's fine. That's work and invoice chasing I don't want. It's bad energy, and I don't have time for bad juju.

Bottom line: It's easier to have agreements with all clients than only some clients. It feels weird only if you make it feel weird. My IT guy did a good job of making it not feel weird, and that was a great lesson in customer communications.

Published on: May 8, 2018
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.