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Soft Approach #2

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I seldom have accounts receivable more than 30 days old. One reason is that I price fairly and deliver more than expected. The other reason is that I collect aggressively (but not harshly). Depending on circumstances, I use a series of e-mails and phone calls to "check the status," and few clients dislike that. If they do, that is a red flag.

In this case, a corporate client called me to begin an executive coaching assignment, and invited me to tour their new U.S. headquarters. Since she played a large role in the planning and design, she was clearly proud of the results.

INX GmbH is a medical device company, and one amazing feature was life-saving testimonials stenciled on some of the walls. They also had a wall of stars, one for each person they had saved. Truly inspirational.

Even though it was June, it was the company's year-end, and she asked me on Wednesday if I'd mind getting her an invoice later in the day so she could pay me on Friday. I didn't object at all. I expected payment within a week, but no check appeared. Having worked for the company many times before, I didn't worry. I waited nearly 30 days to query her, perhaps a bit too long.

There are three e-mails in this series:

  1. Here is the invoice—June 18
  2. Did you receive the invoice?—July 16
  3. Can you help with this?—July 22
In addition to the e-mails, I left two voicemails on the client's cell phone requesting status of payment. I received payment in full on July 23, 34 days after sending the original invoice—but no other response from the client by phone or e-mail. She disappeared. Her lack of response is troubling, since open communication is such an important part of our effectiveness as consultants. The good news is that we have $7,000 in our Wells Fargo account.  

Three e-mails follow. I attached the invoice to each e-mail for easy payment by the client. INX GmbH is the client company, and Konnor was the name of the new executive coaching client.

E-mail #1

To: Lisanne Feufer
From: Bill Frank
Sent: June 6, 20—
Subject: Lisanne, Invoice for Konnor Toke

Thanks so much for the tour of your new U.S. headquarters. As I told you, it's magnificent, and I see your fingerprints on the walls, in the huddle-rooms, in the coffee bars—and everywhere. Congratulations on your world-class achievement. Thanks to you, INX GmbH is poised to grow exponentially in the future.

I left Konnor and voicemail and e-mail letting him know we're ready to begin.

Here is the invoice you requested.
Best wishes,

E-mail #2

To: Lisanne Feufer
From: Bill Frank
Sent: July 16, 20—
Subject: Lisanne, Did you receive my invoice . . . ??

Hi Lisanne,
When we met on Wednesday, June 18, you wanted an invoice from me that day because of yearend. I got the impression INX GmbH wanted to pay it by Friday, June 20.

I haven't seen a check yet, so wonder if you received the invoice.
Will you please check for me?
Many thanks,

E-mail #3

[I forwarded the July 16 e-mail as a reminder, and added this short note.]

To: Lisanne Feufer
From: Bill Frank
Sent: July 22, 20—
Subject: FW: Lisanne, Did you receive my invoice . . . ??

Hi Lisanne,
Can you help with this . . . ??
Thank you,

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William S. Frank, M.A.,
25 Reasons I love consulting.
by William S. Frank
  1. Brand. You are your own brand, and you can define it any way you want. For many years, I provided outplacement to the ex-employees of Schlumberger, the world's largest oilfield service corporation. When departing employees left the company, they didn't request outplacement in their severance package. They said, "I want Bill Frank."
  2. Demand. The world will always be full of terrible problems that need solving.
  3. White Hat. I can be a helper and get paid for it.
  4. Pay. I can be paid to do things I'd gladly do for nothing.
  5. Variety. Every day is different.
  6. Happiness. At this stage of my career, I only work for people I respect and care about. If a client micromanages me or is otherwise no fun, I complete the assignment and replace them.
  7. Talent. I'm using 110% of my talents and stretching myself to the max.
  8. Change. I can change my focus any day I want. If you're a McDonald's franchisee, you don't say, "Hey, I've got this great idea for a meatball sandwich—let's try it out today." In consulting you can adjust your focus hour-by-hour, as long as your clients still understand and appreciate what you do.
  9. Income. No one else would pay me as much as I pay myself.
  10. FUN. I can't think of anything I'd rather be doing.
  11. Retirement. I can write and consult as long as I am physically and mentally capable. Peter Drucker worked into his 90s, and when asked which book was his best, he said: "My next one."
  12. Job Security. Although clients come and go, no one can come into my office and say, "Pack up your stuff . . . You don't work here anymore." In 29 years, I've only had one employer: ME.
  13. Travel. I don't have to travel unless I decide to. I travel if it's both FUN and profitable—or at least FUN.
  14. Commute. I live five minutes from my office, a corner office in an upscale six-story tower. In winter, I leave a heated garage at home and drive to an underground heated garage at work. There's seldom time to hear even one song on the radio.
  15. Vacation. Consulting is more fun than vacation (except on Wailea Beach in Maui).
  16. Friends. I have developed hundreds of close acquaintances and several lifetime friends.
  17. Time. I can work as much or as little as I like: four-hour days or 18-hour days. (Of course, my income will reflect that.)
  18. Employees. I can work with employees, subcontractors, partners, or alone—I've done it all.
  19. Passive Income. I've developed several products that provide "mailbox money." I earn while I'm sleeping.
  20. Ethics. I've never had to violate my values or personal code of ethics. I've never had to lie, purposely deceive or harm others, or promise things I can't deliver. I go to bed with a clear conscience. That doesn't mean there's never any conflict. But the conflict is conducted according to generally accepted business practices.
  21. Virtual. My career is fairly portable. With the Internet, e-mail, cell phone, and FedEx, I can work nationally, even internationally from my office—or anywhere in the world.
  22. Purpose. I make a difference in peoples' lives every day. I see it in their faces, hear it in their voices, and read it in their thank-yous.
  23. Experience. Every painful or joyful life experience makes me a better consultant. So does every person I meet or book I read. Grey hair can be good in consulting.
  24. Structure. I have to work very hard, and the clients expect superb results—but I get to structure my days, weeks, months, and years.
  25. Boss. Most of the time, I love my boss.
As I was posting these letters online, I realized I want to communicate my love for consulting. It's just a great business. The single letters, taken together, may create a picture of enjoyment, but in a burst of creativity I listed some of the reasons consulting is such a good fit for me—and perhaps for you, too. They are not prioritized; this is just how they came out.