December 22, 2013
About the Author:
Long time SEO enthusiast, IT & Billing director of FrostSEO UK, involved in dynamic web design since 1996, published in popular magazines across Europe. Huge fan of Star Talk & Burn Notice. Follow at @tmpkn
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In my previous article – Preventing the Debts – I mentioned the four most common reasons that can put your customers accounts in bad standing. As far as prevention goes, there is only so much you can do to protect yourself. But even if you play it by the book, the day will come when you have to pick up the phone and make your first collection call.
From the way any company – not necessarily an SEO agency – handles its collections, one can learn a lot about the nature of their business. How valuable of an asset is a single account for them? Are they more focused on quantity or quality of their deals? And most importantly – how much effort have they put into preventing this situation in the first place?
Before we look into the consequences of various collection techniques on the SEO company’s image, let’s start with what is the most pressing matter here – settling the outstanding debt. As I’ve already mentioned in the previous part, overdue invoices cause a lot of headache for the agency, as it has to decide whether to continue providing the service or put it on hold to prevent the costs from growing even further.
One thing you have to realize as an Search Engine Optimization provider is that your service – and therefore your bill – is not considered critical by most people. If you stop running the campaign, no lights will go dark and no websites will go offline. You might not like what I’m saying here, but that is the fact which you need to accept in order to understand your debtor’s situation. Surely, for most online venues an SEO is their to-be-or-not-to-be, but that’s only true if you look at things from a big enough perspective. If a web business owner has to choose between paying an online campaign bill versus paying their datacenter electricity, or employees wages, the choice seems rather obvious.
Realizing this simple truth puts some service providers into sheer panic. The fact that they have no leverage over their debtors scares them into poor decision making. They would stop the service immediately and fire off countless intimidating calls and emails, to make sure they get their monies ASAP. Little do they realize, that by doing so they effectively kill any chance for future relationship with their customer.
I remember using one of the discount courier companies (they get you very sweet deals in dealing with DHL/UPC/Fedex etc.) to ship some heavy VoIP equipment between the UK and mainland Europe. I was using their service for around 6 months, when all of a sudden I received three emails and one letter threatening to take me to court over an outstanding payment of around £6. As it turned out, one of the packages I had dispatched 2 months before, had wrong weight declared, which caused the final price of transportation to be higher than what I was originally charged. By the time I received the letter, I already had the difference covered in my next shipment payment. I called the company and asked them about the logic of trying to scare me off, even though they have my regular payments for services on file. The person I spoke to failed to notice any flaws in this procedure and neither did his manager. Therefore, I decided to move my business to a different company, offering similar services. In this terrible attempt to recover £6 they lost an account worth around one thousand times more.
Then, there is the other side of the coin. Most IT freelancers, from graphics artists, through web designers to SEO specialists, have had the experience of working with someone who planned to plunder their services in exchange for countless promises of payments, shares in new exciting enterprises, and other exotic assets. Once you realize that is the type of person you’re dealing with, all bets are off. If you were played from day one, the chances for peaceful resolution are weak at best.
But here’s the catch: usually you don’t know there is a trickster on the other side of the keyboard until it’s too late. Your job is to balance between the slack you cut your customer and the borders which cannot be crossed, to secure that little amount of play you have left.
So what are the rules of successful collections? Let me gather my personal experience of dealing with IT customers from both EU and the US into the following list of do’s and don’ts.
Search Engine Optimization will become more profitable for both sides of the deal the longer a campaign remains active. For the SEO supplier, it’s the initial outlay that bears the highest risk. For the client – it usually takes around 1-2 months to experience an increased number of leads along with the benefits. In any case, it is in no one’s interest to interrupt the operation once it has gained its initial momentum.
I hope my personal experience will help you keep your customers accounts in good standing for as long as it takes to conclude their campaigns. At the end of the day, we all benefit from high quality SEO.