Getting Paid

By Robert Chute
[Practitioner Parables]

Eventually, somebody won’t pay. It happens all the time in business, but because we are who we are, massage therapists tend to take it personally. And why not? We provided a service and weren’t paid. What now?

Massage therapists are generally really uncomfortable with money, so much so many MTs may feel bad about calling clients about debt. Be warned, however, that they’ll put you off if you let them. Usually all that is needed is a polite reminder about their bill. 

Is your payment policy clearly posted somewhere? You can avoid a lot of problems with a handout of your office policies, including what forms of payment you accept and when you expect payment. For most of us, the timing will be upon delivery of service. For corporate clients of an on-site business, the key phrase might be “net 30 days.”

The crux is: or what? What happens if they don’t pay? First, don’t get emotional. State the facts. You can send a second notice or warn them you are about to start charging interest, which they can avoid by delivering a check today.

When clients say they are willing to pay but just don’t have the money right now, set up the simplest payment plan in the world. Suppose they owe you $225. Ask them to write three post-dated checks for $75 each. Negotiate a reasonable time period and you’re set. Three weeks? Three months? It’s up to you, but don’t shy away from negotiating.

Sometimes in business—and your practice is a business whether you treat it like that or not—things get ugly. Maybe it’s a dispute with a landlord or a supplier fails to provide a service or product in a timely fashion. Whether you’re denying payment or demanding payment, the first step is to get someone on the phone and talk. Where appropriate you can opt for a collection agency or take the case to small claims court. The former probably isn’t worth it for a small sum. The latter will work fine as long as your documentation is detailed. Write out your argument so the judge can clearly see you are owed the money. I don’t advocate threatening anyone, though the whiff of a court case can urge some to pay what they owe you rather than go to court. Always try to talk it out first. Stay calm and reasonable and stick to the facts.

Very occasionally, someone will not pay their bill. I remember the client who chronically forgot her wallet and then sounded angry when I called her on it. I’ll never forget the woman who promised to pay as soon as her insurance money came in. The next time I saw her she had lots of new tattoos that would have cost much more than my fee.

Fortunately, those cases are rare and I forgave the debt and their trespasses so I wouldn’t have to waste any more energy on people who were never going to pay. Sometimes it just isn’t worth it. They won’t be back and I can instead focus my energy on treating people who need me—and pay me.

 Come to think of it, with this column, Robert Chute finally did make that   recalcitrant clients pay. Contact him at