Freelancers love to extol the benefits of entrepreneurship to anyone who will listen. There are plenty of reasons to love working as a freelance writer. “You get to work from home in your pyjamas!” is one of my favorite selling points, for example.
Of course, freelance writing isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. Working as a writer is a real job and it comes with plenty of unique challenges traditional nine-to-five workers don’t experience. One such challenge comes when you need to get clients to pay your invoices.
In a “normal” job, paychecks are deposited into your bank account twice a month. For small business owners like freelance writers, cash flow can be a real headache. This struggle is particularly painful for freelancers just starting out, but even established writers often grapple with the ongoing nightmare of collecting earnings on time.
If you’re struggling to bridge the gap between invoice payments, consider the following tips for getting your clients to pay you faster.
Start the Relationship Off Right
So, you started talking to a potential client and you’ve got an awesome offer on the table. Time to start writing, right? Wrong.
Sign contracts with your clients. Please, please, please, sign a contract with each of your clients.
In the weirdo world of freelancing, many of us make a living by cobbling together payments from a wide assortment of different clients. And, for whatever reason, many freelance clients are perfectly happy with very informal working relationships.
“Just send me the invoice after you finish the work, okay?”
If you’re desperate for work or really excited about the opportunity, it can feel tempting to cross your fingers and hope for the best…but you really don’t want to find yourself with a pile of completed work and a non-responsive client down the road. Instead, get that contract signed.
Approach it casually:
I’m super excited to get started. I’ve attached my standard contract with this message. Give it a look over and get it signed for me when you get the chance and I’ll be happy to get things in motion.”
I’ve never had a good client say, “Mmm…you know what? Nope.” Honestly. I have had a client who received work and didn’t pay me for it…and that, my friends, royally sucks.
Ask for Pay Upfront
Many independent workers use retainers to guarantee a “paycheck” of sorts. There are plenty of different retainer structures out there, but I use a pretty simple one with ongoing clients. I charge a set amount for a certain number of deliverables and send the invoice on the first of every month. Basically, I’m receiving money before I earn it.
If you’re just getting started with a new client, you might also consider using a 50-50 agreement. This basically allows you to share the risk. If you don’t deliver or they don’t pay up, you’re both out 50% of the agreed upon price. In all reality, the risk is pretty low for customers if you’re an established freelancer.
How great would it look for my business if a client went on Twitter and said, “Adam took my money and ran with it. Steer clear!” That obviously would be awful, and I’m not going to risk my entire livelihood for a few hundred bucks. Oh, and there’s that whole integrity thing in play, too. 😉
I use a $250 cutoff. If your project is under that amount, I ask for the full amount right off the bat. If it’s more, I get a deposit and then outline when additional payments are due.
Charge Late Fees
Admittedly, I don’t want to call up a client and say, “So, you’re invoice is late. You’re getting whacked with a fee.”
But hey, late fees are part of life. If I don’t pay my credit card bill or my cable bill on time, I get a late fee. Clients need to see paying you as a requirement, not an option. Put your late fee in your contract and don’t be afraid to enforce it.
It’s kind of awkward but just outline it clearly. “As per the terms of our contract, I’m adding a 5% late fee to this unpaid balance.”
Use the Right Financial Tools
Finally, do your best to help get clients to pay you faster. PayPal is one of the most popular merchant tools on the planet, and plenty of freelancers use invoicing tools that work in conjunction with PayPal.
PayPal is one of the most popular merchant tools on the planet, and plenty of freelancers use invoicing tools that work in conjunction with PayPal. Of course, money in your PayPal balance isn’t the same as money in your bank. I’m a big fan of the PayPal Debit Mastercard, however, which allows you to use the funds as soon as they hit your balance. The card also pays you 1% cash back on all of your signature and online purchases, which can help you recoup some of the processing fee. Go sign up. (Not an affiliate link, I just really like the PayPal MC!)
I also have a few clients that pay me via bank transfer. While traditional ACH transfers generally require a bit more work, most major banks in the United States allow customers to exchange payments using the clearXchange network. If you use a service like Chase QuickPay, Wells Fargo Surepay, or Capital One P2P Payments, you’re good to go. I actually didn’t realize that the banks were cool with people using this service for business payments until I spoke to my banker at Chase about it—yep, you’re good to go.
Clients simply send money using your email address (get on Google Apps if you’re not already!) and it lands in your bank account. As a bonus, you won’t pay any fees on these transfers, which is really nice. You don’t need to be at the same bank either, you just need to both be using a bank on the clearXchange network.
How do you get clients to pay you faster? Any tips for other freelance writers dealing with cash flow problems?