Here are 4 keys to chasing payment:
1. Be persistent but "pleasantly persistent." You can be a nice person who cares for others (I'm that person) and still be successful chasing payment from clients. Do NOT assume bad faith in your initial efforts to collect payment. Don't start out by believing that the client is "trying to screw you over," even if you eventually find they are. Act as if the client simply forgot to pay you and ask them to correct their oversight. This stuff works, especially when you e-mail people or talk on the phone. While their organizations/publications may "lack resources at this time," individual people in administrative roles can be pleasant and/or accommodating. What I'm saying here is this, be nice to people, treat them as human beings (not faceless bureaucrats), and ask (nicely) that they do what they promised to do -- pay you.
2. Develop human relationships with the people who pay you. I have zero problem calling a huge organization and asking the accounts payable manager about the status of my payment. When you are nice and pleasant to these people, simply presenting the non-payment issue as a problem you BOTH want to solve, you'd be surprised at how effective you'll be in chasing payment.
I have become FRIENDS with people in various accounts payable roles over the years. I know the names of their kids, what they like to do over the weekend, the kind of food they like. Am I being overly friendly, a Mr. Softie? No, in fact, I am making sure I get paid. When you have a real human relationship with someone in A/P, when they know you and you know them, that helps you get paid. Never be a faceless vendor with a P.O. number who calls a faceless A/P person who doesn't care about you. Be a human talking to a human -- and yes, have your invoice and P.O. number ready.
By the way, I'm not advocating being a phony and having fake relationships with people. Be real and care about these people who help get you paid, and they will do the same for you. People in A/P get yelled at by vendors, suppliers, bosses ALL day long, so when you treat them nice, they reciprocate. They'll go above and beyond to help resolve YOUR payment issues, if you go above and beyond for them. Have I written recommendation letters for A/P people who've helped me? Have I called their bosses and described how professional and helpful and wonderful they are? You're darned right I have, many times! So to get paid, invest in building human relationships.
3. Make the "pleasant" phone call first and attempt to negotiate payment before you threaten legal action or other negative consequences. Try to work things out informally, always. If you can't, send that threatening letter or email only as a last resort. And when you do send that email or letter as a last resort, mean what you say and do what you say. If you threaten to file a case against someone in small claims court, then do that. This is about your integrity. But continue trying to work things out and compromise. The email or letter may give you more leverage or lead to an "escalation" of your payment issue up the ladder. This can help you get paid. But never become an a**hole to people. No amount of money is worth that.
4. Don't work with clients who consistently can't figure out how to pay you on time. You are a writer or other professional freelancer, not a consultant helping your clients figure out how to develop a better payroll/Accounts Payable system. Have I acted as an informal consultant to my client's A/P people? Yes, because if I need to help them figure out how to get me paid on time, I will do that. But if they continually botch payment, I tend to lose patience and then "lose" the client. NOT paying me tends to damage our long-term relationship -- not being competent with your A/P is a huge turnoff, in my opinion.
Yes, it's tough to get these administrative details done well, but how can a client expect ME to focus on details and quality outcomes when THEY do not? If a client needs my help in paying me, I'll help them every time. But you want to work with clients who have their house in order, or can at least learn to get it in order.
I'm someone who gets paid and is able to maintain good working relationships. Do I get irritated over non-payment issues? If you had a month, I'd tell you all the ways I get irritated. But it never pays to become a jerk when chasing payment. Be pleasant, give A/P the benefit of the doubt, and most of all, persist.
Do you have tips on chasing/collecting payment, dear reader? Let me know below.