Not getting paid on time for your work is a frustrating problem faced by many freelancers. You've obeyed a deadline and submitted your work on time – why can't your client extend the same courtesy when it comes to payment?!
Unfortunately, many businesses and individuals still have a lax approach to paying for freelance writing jobs online. Invoices get misplaced, ignored or pushed aside much more often than payments do in 'regular' jobs.
So what can you do to get paid on time as a freelancer?
Here are seven of our best tips and tricks for making sure that money lands in your account on time, every time.
1. Draw up a contract
We've spoken before about the importance of managing freelance client expectations. One of the most successful ways to do this is to always draw up a contract or agreement for your client before commencing work on any job.
Providing a clear contract that sets out the details and terms of the job to be agreed upon by both parties is essential. Your contract should include the following:
- Specific details of the scope of the project – things like the format it's to be provided in, the word count, the exact topic to be covered/details to be included, and so on
- Deadline for the project
- Fees you'll be charging for the project (including deposits and late fees – more on those below)
- Payment term – i.e. how long before payment of your invoice is due; most freelancers specify 'within 30 days', but you can choose shorter or longer payment terms if you wish
- Payment method (more on this below)
Go through your contract with your client before commencing work, making sure you're both on the same page. Get them to sign the agreement to make it official; that way, you've got the original payment terms to refer back to should you have any difficulties with late invoices down the track.
If you're worried about drawing up a freelance contract from scratch, there are plenty of templates online that can help you get started.
2. Request a deposit
One payment detail you might choose to include in your client's contract is an upfront deposit.
Charging a deposit is a common practice for freelancers. It's perfectly reasonable to ask for a portion of the total project cost at the outset, especially if you're working with a new client. It shows that you're serious about receiving payment for your work and provides some measure of security for both you and the client.
It's up to you how much to charge as an upfront deposit. As Caitlin Pearce of the Freelancers Union points out:
A deposit of 30%–50% of your estimated fee is acceptable in many industries."
Include details of the deposit and remainder payment in your contract and initial discussions with the client, and don't start work until the deposit is received.
3. Invoice promptly
Don't wait around to send your invoices! Remember that the sooner you send off an invoice, the quicker your client can pay it.
Of course, not all freelance writing jobs are the same, and not all will require the same invoicing method.
Some gigs might be project-based, where it's best to send off an invoice as soon as you finish and submit the work. On the other hand, some might be regular work that's paid by the hour, where you'll need to decide how frequently to invoice.
In these cases, invoicing weekly or every two weeks is generally a safe option, as it means you'll have payments rolling in more frequently. However, you can choose to invoice monthly for the entire month's work if you wish – just be sure to factor this into your cashflow and budget.
Whichever way you choose to invoice your clients, make sure you do it as promptly as possible. An unsent invoice is an unpaid one, after all!
If you haven't already, check out our roundup of simple invoicing tools for freelance writers to make the process a whole lot easier for both you and your client.
Speaking of making things easy...
4. Make payment methods easy for clients
The easier you make it for your client to pay you, the better chance there is that they'll pay on time. If the payment process is overly complicated or unclear, your invoice is more likely to get shafted to the side and forgotten.
When you invoice your client, make the payment instructions as clear as possible. It also helps to discuss your preferred payment method at the beginning of the job so there are no surprises for the client when it's time to pay.
Some commonly used payment methods for freelancers include:
- Direct bank transfer
- PayPal or similar portal
- FreshBooks or similar software
- Payment portal on your website
Whichever payment method you choose, be sure to provide very clear instructions and correct account/reference numbers wherever necessary.
5. Send a friendly reminder
You don't have to wait around for your client to remember your invoice. If you haven't received payment within the timeframe you specified at the outset of the job, it's perfectly fine to send a friendly reminder.
Try something along the following lines:
Hi [client name],
Hope you're well!
Just wanted to follow up on the invoice I sent through on [date] for [project]. As per our agreement, the payment term for the invoice was [x days], which has now passed.
If you could advise when payment would be made, it would be much appreciated. I've reattached a copy of the invoice here in case you need it.
If you don't receive payment or hear back from them within a week after sending this reminder, it's time to follow up again – perhaps this time by phone to ensure you don't get palmed off.
To stay on top of your invoices and reminders, one of the organisational tools we recommend keeping is an invoice tracking spreadsheet, including details of the following:
- Date you sent invoice
- Date invoice is due
- Date to send first reminder
- Date to send second reminder (if necessary)
- Date invoice is paid
This way you know the current status of all your invoices, and can follow up consistently on any late ones until you're paid up.
6. Charge a late payment fee
One way to deter clients from being lax about your payments is by charging a late payment fee.
Details of this fee should be incorporated into the contract or agreement you drew up at the beginning of the job, so the client can't plead ignorance when it's charged.
It's up to you how much you'd like to charge for late payments. Most guidelines we've seen generally suggest around 1.5% to 2% 'interest' per month. This means that for each month past the payment's due date, a percentage of the total payment is added on.
These numbers might seem quite low, especially for less expensive jobs. But you can decide to charge more if you like, and sometimes, even just the presence of a late fee clause in your agreement can be enough to spur on a dawdling client.
7. Drop late-paying clients
As a freelancer – particularly a new freelancer – you might feel like you need to take any and all work available to you, no matter what the client is like. After all, a late payment is still a payment, right?
But sometimes, when it comes to particularly difficult clients, it's just not worth it. There are several reasons it might be best to drop a freelance client, and consistently late payment is one of them.
If you've had numerous experiences with late payments from the same client, it might be time to decide whether or not you actually want to keep working with them in the future.
Think of all the time you're wasting chasing payments from them. You could be spending that time working on other jobs that will actually bring in money on time.
Things don't have to be awkward or difficult; the next time that particular client gets in touch to see if you're available, simply tell them you aren't.
If you do want to mention the fact that, regrettably, their payment methods aren't sustainable for your business, and therefore you don't wish to work with them anymore, you can. But make sure to do it in polite terms.
You are running a business, after all, so it's completely reasonable for you to drop a client who's harming that business. Just keep things cool, calm and professional at all times.
What has your experience been with being paid on time as a freelancer? We'd love to hear your stories, tips and tricks in the comments!
And don't forget to check out our freelance writing jobs board!