Trainer Tips: Get paid - how to invoice and when to enforce
Money can be a tricky topic and can make some people uncomfortable to talk about, but whatever your personal feelings are business is business and you need to get paid for your work.
Setting up the right systems and expectations right from the get-go is, therefore, important for both you and your client. So let me start with some basic truths:
you are a professional.
you are a businessperson: even as a solo trainer you are running a business and providing a valuable service
business get paid
you need to establish payment terms with your clients
those payment terms have to be clearly stated and comply with local standards and regulations
you need to enforce those terms
Enforce? Woah Nellie, hold on a minute! How do I do that if it’s just me?
Let me show you what I do, and that might be a model you choose to follow.
First, there is an initial client consultation. After discussing and identifying training needs we also discuss cost. There may or may not be negotiation around this, but there is often verbal agreement.
Paperwork is key (for reporting and accountability) so I then go back and prepare a training plan and a contract which outlines the terms verbally agreed on. Terms include, for example, cost per session, any travel costs (if agreed to keep these separate), any material costs (again, if agreed to keep this separate), and applicable tax. These are laid out in a table, and then underneath the table I include terms, such as:
Sessions must be cancelled by 10:00AM one working day before the scheduled session, or it will be charged at full price
Invoices are due 14 days after invoice date, otherwise a late fee of x% will be charged.
Can I charge that? Yes, I can. Do I enforce it, yes, I do.
But enforcement is a delicate balance between maintaining positive relationships with clients and reminding them that your time, too, is valuable.
Let’s look at three cancellation situations where enforcement comes into play, and how I decided whether to or not:
Situation One: On Monday morning I email my clients for the week, checking in to say hello and confirming that our sessions are going ahead. All clients respond positively. Then on Thursday afternoon my Friday morning client emails me to say he has to cancel our session as he forgot it’s a long weekend (Sat - Mon) and he’s going away with friends for kayaking.
Situation Two: A regular client with whom you meet on Tuesday afternoons emails you at Tuesday midday to say she has too much work on her desk, and could she cancel the session.
Situation Three: Another regular client calls you as you’re walking out the door to cancel a lesson, saying his business partner is sick and he has to sit in on some meetings for him, and can’t have his session.
Now as all clients have signed their contracts and agreed to be charged for the missed lessons, I wouldn’t (and haven’t - these are real examples) enforce the payment rules in all cases.
Situation One Response: Sorry, mate, but I arrange my whole Friday around this session (calculating travel time there and back), so if you forgot you’re going kayaking and inform me only one day beforehand, where there is no chance to fill this 6-hour gap with another client? I’m enforcing the rule and charging the client, regretfully but firmly.
Situation Two Response: My client’s inability to manage her workload is not my problem, harsh as that may sound. Our training sessions are being paid by her company and are an integral part of her professional development. So her workload may indeed by heavy, but our training sessions are also a work commitment. I can and have enforced the payment terms in this case, and have found favourable responses (no more cancelled sessions).
Situation Three Response: No, I’m not enforcing in this situation. This is one of those times where the client could not possibly have predicted his partner’s illness, and sympathy is needed. His day’s stress level has increased dramatically before his first cup of coffee, and there’s nothing to be gained by me charging for a situation he couldn’t have avoided.
In terms of enforcing the late fee, I’m more careful with this one. In situations where clients have been remiss and not paid on time, I send a gentle reminder email. More often than not there has been an oversight and in these cases I’m very flexible. In my nine years of being a self-employed trainer I have only, actually, needed to apply the late fee once and that was for a multi-national client who was three months late in paying their invoice (despite gentle reminders). I retained the training contract and they continued to pay late, but never again to that extent.
It can be a tricky balance to get right, but if you value your time and want your clients to value your time, get the administration right (your contract) and enforce appropriately (client- and situation-dependant).
If you manage expectations and maintain open communication with your clients, you’ll reap the rewards of long-lasting relationships and invoices paid on time.
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