With freedom comes great responsibility. And when it comes to working as a freelancer or contractor, one of the most important responsibilities aside from producing great work and finding clients is making sure you get paid. Chasing payments and following up on invoices can consume valuable time that could otherwise be spent working or enjoying your freedom from set-hourly-schedules.
Follow any or all of the below tips to make sure you get paid on time, and read on to learn additional tips for recovering payments that are late or unpaid.
1. Use a contract
After coming to an agreement and before starting work, ask your client to sign a contract. The details of the contract should be outlined clearly and include dates and deadlines for all deliverables and payments, as well as accepted payment methods. Regardless of what kind of payment schedule you agree on (more on payment schedules in tips #5 and #6), a contract is a binding agreement that clarifies any expectations, limitations, and restrictions for use.
2. Be professional, polite, and respectful
The best jobs are those that not only drive results, but also leave both parties feeling like they were treated fairly. Being respectful and polite can help develop a professional line of communication and understanding. The initial conversations are a good time to express your needs and evaluate if the client is professional and established. If you feel like your needs and requirements are not being understood or respected while negotiating your contract, you may need to reconsider if this is the right job for you to be taking, or consider implementing more of the below tips.
3. Accept multiple payment methods
Depending on the client, their billing department may have a preferred method of issuing payments, whether it be a physical check sent to your mailing address, a wire transfer, or a payment made online. By being prepared to accept multiple payment methods, you can avoid any potential interruptions to the process. If you as a freelancer have a preferred method of accepting payments, make it as easy as possible for the client to complete the transaction. For example, requesting a payment through a Paypal invoice is a common and easy way for clients to make online payments simply by clicking through on a link delivered right to their inbox.
4. Require upfront partial payments before starting work
During the negotiation and contract drafting stages, you can indicate that you require an upfront payment or partial payment before starting work. This may be more difficult to ask for when you are just starting out as a freelancer or contractor, but it becomes easier as you build a proven track record of success to show potential new clients. This can include testimonials, reviews, or a portfolio of work that you have done for other clients. If your client found you though a public portfolio on a platform like Behance, Fiverr, or a social media account, then it is likely that your client is already familiar with your work and professionalism and will agree to issue an upfront payment, either partial or in full. If choosing this method, be sure to clearly indicate the dates for starting and completing work, and deadlines for payments to be issued.
5. Require payments for individual deliverables
If the work you are doing for a client requires multiple stages or a series of deliverables, you can require that your payments also be made in multiple stages. For example, if you are asked to write and publish three articles over the course of three months, require that a payment be made after each individual article. Similar to when requiring upfront payments, you should also clearly indicate dates of submitting deliverables and issuing payments in a contract for multiple payments.
6. Send an invoice immediately after completing work
Whether you are requesting payment before or after completing work, be sure to issue a professional invoice on time and according to the schedule you agreed on as outlined in the contract. Set calendar reminders for yourself to issue invoices when appropriate, as long as you have also held up your end of the deal by starting and completing work by the deadlines you agreed upon. Sending invoices is a helpful way for you to track work that is paid or unpaid, and oftentimes is also a requirement of the client’s billing department or processes. Having a professional template already prepared will save you time when it needs to be sent.
7. Use an invoicing platform that sends automatic reminders
Sending late payment notifications for unpaid invoices through a service like Harvest is as easy as checking a box, and you have the ability to set the pacing as often as every day. By automating the process of sending reminders, you can focus on your regular day-to-day tasks and avoid being distracted often by having to remember and reach out to your client personally. Using an invoicing service to send the reminders for you is also a professional (and less personal) way to address the urgency of the matter. I also use Harvest for time tracking, and if you bill your client hourly, your invoices are easily calculated and and tracked within the platform.
8. Use an escrow platform like Upwork
I personally prefer using Upwork because it acts as a portfolio, a resume, a client-contractor meeting platform, and an escrow service all-in-one. The platform charges a percentage of your rates as a service fee which is steep for short-term projects but is worth it if you are not sure the client would otherwise be reputable or trustworthy, or if there is a potential for a long-term project. The more you earn from a single client, the smaller the percentage Upwork takes. In my opinion, the service fee is a small price to pay for the freedom of not having to issue invoices from my Upwork clients, or follow up with payments at all. All payments in the platform are charged to the client automatically and issued to the contractor automatically upon completion of work.
What to do if your client doesn’t make a payment
The most helpful tip I received when I found myself in a situation where a client didn’t make a payment was to continue being polite, professional, and respectful, but also personable. Understand the possibilities why your client may have difficulty making the payment, and consider accepting a payment plan to collect the money in installments over a period of months. This method requires a considerable amount of follow up, but increases your chances of recovering some or all of the money owed. Showing the client that you are willing to work with them on a solution without judgement can keep the line of communication open, which is necessary when attempting to recover your payment.
If continuing to be polite and personable hasn’t worked, you can shift your tone to be more serious while still remaining professional and respectful. If you have given your client additional time to make payments but they still haven’t paid, explain your situation and express that their late payment has caused great inconvenience for you and your financial planning. Remember it is important to keep the line of communication with your client open, and be honest. If you are considering sharing your experience with your peers, colleagues, or on a public review site like the BBB, voice your intentions to your client first, because doing so without warning may cut off any communication and prohibit you from ever seeing your payment. More extreme methods for recovering payments are to send their unpaid invoices to collections or factoring agencies, or taking your case to small claims court which is often expensive and widely considered to not be worth pursuing in most cases.
Have you ever had to deal with a client who didn’t pay on time? What did you do to recover that payment, and make sure it didn’t happen to you again?