November 14, 2014
“Ah, that invoice got stuck in our spam folder!” Ever heard that one? How many hundreds of times? Julie Elster created a service that has gained national attention overnight, and suddenly everyone is saying, “Just tell Julie!”
Just two days ago, the service was posted to Product Hunt. The upvotes keep increasing. “I dig it… sometimes one of the hardest things for a freelancer or small agency to do is to ask their customers to pay (crazy, but that’s reality). So this is a great service,” Lincoln Murphy of Gainsight posted to the popular discovery site. A Twitter wall is building of various influencers who suggest that others Just Tell Julie as well. So I had to reach out to Elster and find out what was going on.
Just what is this wizardry?
“It has been a whirlwind week for me for sure. We launched on Monday and the response has been absolutely amazing. The initial promotion was a single tweet by Philip Morgan. He is a friend of mine out in California who does copywriting and he loved the idea. It just took off from there. Last night I saw Mike Monteiro tweeted the link and I almost fell over. I’ve seen his F*ck You Pay Me talk from Creative Mornings and it’s an inspiration.”
How did this all come about?
“The idea for Just Tell Julie started almost 2 years ago. [My boyfriend] used to complain about clients who he felt were taking advantage of him– paying late, “forgetting” to pay monthly hosting fees, “losing” invoices in the spam folder…. etc. These were people who he had a current working relationship with, but they never wanted to pay their bills on time.
A joke was made about me calling his clients to set them straight (if you knew me you would know I am not the type of person who would ever call and yell at anyone over the phone.) That joke soon turned in to a real conversation on how to best handle these types of clients. I told him – you know what? I think I can call your customers to get them to pay. Just hand over any overdue invoices, I will call them as a representative of Ethercycle, and I will politely remind them that their bill is overdue. Let’s just see what happens.
I called 5 clients and collected on EVERY. SINGLE. ONE.”
When did you know this would be a profitable business?
“I proposed that my boyfriend’s consultancy pay me a percentage of what I collected. Any overdue invoices were handed over to me. Whenever I had a break at work I would step away and politely call his clients. I was making a little extra money. It was fantastic. Pretty soon the clients that were consistent late payers were suddenly able to pay on time. It was amazing.
He mentioned what I had been doing to some colleagues who thought it was amazing that he had a person who was willing to call his clients. It turned in to a regular side project that was great for some extra cash.”
So when did you make the leap to devote all of your time to this endeavor?
“Over the last year or so I really started to think about my little side business. And my little family. What if I could take my side business and make it something I could do from home? What if I could be a business owner AND get my kids off of the school bus? The term “Debt Collector” is so negative. You immediately think of deadbeats who don’t pay, and collectors who are abusive and sneaky trying to get their money. My thought is that I can collect on overdue invoices for freelancers, but let’s put a positive spin on it. Let’s keep that professional relationship with their client! When they tell me, ‘Oh.. I didn’t pay that because their invoice went in to my spam folder.’ I respond, ‘Oh shoot! I hate when that happens to me! How about I help you take care of that over the phone right now if that’s easier for you.'”
What are the benefits to the freelancer?
“This is so valuable to the people that I help. They are able to keep focus on their work without having to worry about clients taking advantage of them. They aren’t spending a fortune on office managers or bookkeepers who would require a large salary. They know they have a reliable and professional person available if and when an invoice needs to be collected.”
Is it really that simple?
“I do perform the collection over the phone for the most part. Sometimes an email follow up, but usually if I can catch the person on the phone I am successful. I have tried to “script” things out, but I find the best approach is good customer service skills. Simple as that!”
We know that’s a great way to build a business in the beginning. But is it scalable?
Honestly, I haven’t thought that far ahead. While it would be great to scale the business into something bigger than myself, I’m happy with the success I’m experiencing now.
Elster adds that truly, her goal is to be a success and a model for her children. “I want to run my business like a professional and maintain positive relationships with my clients, and my client’s clients. And I also want to be there when my kids get off of the school bus.”
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