Late payments are one of the most frustrating aspects of running a freelance business.
Late payments are one of the most frustrating aspects of running a freelance business. Since most freelancers do not have a steady flow of income, they cannot afford to be owed for long periods.
What can freelancers do to prevent late payments from happening?
In this article, we will have outlined 8 ways freelancers can get clients to pay their bills quickly. If you are also dealing with a client that refuses to pay, we have outlined some tips that will help you get your money.
Let's get started.
From the start of the project, you need to create a payment schedule for the client. Your client should know how much they will need to pay for your service and when they need to pay. A payment schedule ensures that there is no confusion or surprises along the course of the project.
If you want to get paid on-time, use a regular schedule. That means that you don't bill your client using a 4 weeks schedule on the first billing period, then switch over to a 2 weeks schedule on the next.
The most common billing cycles are “Net 60”, “Net 30”, and “Net 21” respectively. So you can choose to be paid every 60, 30, or 21 days.
When creating the schedule, use easy to understand language. There are several phrases you can include in your terms of payment, but not every client will understand what these phrases mean.
Using terms like “EOM” or “COD” might make sense to you, but not the client. A client might think “COD” stands for “Call of Duty” instead of “Cash on Delivery.”
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The sooner you send your invoice, the sooner you get paid.
At the start of the project, find out what your client needs on the invoice to pay you. Some clients might require more information than others. Include descriptions of what they are paying for. Missing details or mistakes on the invoice will delay your payment. So take your time to cross-check it before sending it to the client.
To speed up the process, have an invoice template that you can quickly edit.
Also, sending your invoice on time shows that you are punctual. When dealing with clients, avoid any form of late correspondence. This will include deadlines, replying to emails, and delivering invoices. Show your clients that you like things done promptly.
Tip: Send the invoice to the right person. Especially when you are freelancing for a large company. Sending your invoice to the wrong person can delay your payment by days or even weeks. Always ask who will be making the payment at the start of the project.
Always follow up after sending your client the invoice. Your client might have a busy week and forget to send over the payment on time. To speed up the process, send them a polite reminder after a couple of days. Follow up frequently until the client pays.
You can use accounting tools to streamline the process. (We will discuss that in the next tip). Using tools will make it easier to collect payments. The easier it is for customers to make payments, the faster you get paid. They also automate the process, allowing you time to concentrate on other tasks.
There are several software that can help you take care of accounting processes like invoicing and tax payments.
You can use the software to send invoices directly to the client. Some tools allow you to set alerts during your billing cycle. This will help you remember when to invoice for a project. You can also send automated reminders to your clients before their payment is due.
The best part of using accounting software is that it allows the client to pay you online. Accepting online payments comes with lower financial risks. You won't have to deal with things like bounced checks. Also, depending on the type of software you use, your clients will have access to several payment options.
It is a good idea to maintain a cordial relationship with your clients. Personal connections with your clients will help you get paid faster. In an instance where the client hasn't paid, you will be more comfortable requesting payment. You will also be less stressed when sending a quick reminder to a client you have a great relationship with.
You can show your clients you appreciate them by featuring them in your content or offering a one-time bonus service. Clients will appreciate it when you go the extra mile.
Another way to establish relationships with clients is by rewarding them when they pay promptly. Offering discounts to clients when they pay their invoices on time can also help you get paid quickly in the next billing cycle.
This tip is very important especially when you are working with a new client. When starting a new project, try and negotiate for an upfront payment. Getting paid upfront helps build trust between the client and freelancer. It also serves as a guarantee that when the project is completed, the rest of the payment will be made.
You can break the project into milestones or checkpoints. Not only with this help with payment, but it also makes it easy to manage the project. You will be able to identify whether you are meeting your client's demands before going too far into the project. For instance, if you are a freelance social media advertising manager hired to create ad campaigns over 3 months, ask for payment after every ad campaign is completed.
If you are currently billing your clients by project or by the hour, you can consider opting for a retainer-based model.
What is a retainer-based model?
A retainer-based model or agreement is when a client and a freelancer work together for a long period on more than one project. In this model, the client pays a set rate every month for the services that the freelancer offers.
Using a retainer-based model makes the payment process easier.
Retainers are the best ways to build a steady relationship with a client. The client knows that they're paying the same rate every month so they can automate the billing process. All the client has to do is set up recurring billing once a month. Retainers mean that you get paid the same time every month, so you won't have to worry about late payments. And since you no longer have to send invoices or tally hours, you can focus fully on executing the project.
Avoid waiting for the bill to build up before asking the client for payment. When the bill gets too large, the client might be reluctant to pay everything at once. Which means that it will take more time to get paid in full.
Discuss with your client the best way to send your bills. Let the client understand that regularly billing will help make payment manageable.
If your client hasn't made payment a couple of days after the due date, the first step is to send over a polite reminder. Your accounting software can help you send this reminder. You can also use a payment reminder template to help you create a professional reminder. In the email, ensure that you let the client know that payment is now past the due date and the amount they are to pay.
To urge the client to take action, you can outline late fees that they will incur due to late payment. (Ensure that you include the late fee clause when sending over your contract and payment terms). Also, attach the original invoice you sent them for reference.
If you are working with a company or agency, you can try reaching out to the client's billing or finance team instead of your normal business contact in the firm. The billing department will have more details about the status of your invoice. They can tell you if there is an issue preventing them from paying you. It could be something as simple as wrong information in your invoice that is holding your payment. Compared to your day-to-day business contact, the billing department is more suited to give you a realistic date for payment.
If you've tried the first two steps and the client still refuses to pay, you can hire a collection agency to help you collect your money. You should note that while collection agencies are often successful in collecting payment from debtors, they can be very expensive. Some of them charge as high as 50 percent of the total payment. If you decide to follow this route, make sure you work with a good agency. Check this list of collection agencies to find reputable ones you can work with.
If the money the client is owning you isn't too much, you can sue and take them to a small claims court. Most states have small claim courts that preside over disputes involving small amounts of money. Depending on the state, the money you can sue for will be around $2000 and $10,000. And unlike a collection agency, they are quick and inexpensive. You also do not need a lawyer. You can represent yourself and if the client does not show up in court on the day of the trial, you win by default.
Tip: Before you sue the client to court, send a formal demand letter requesting payment. In the letter, state how much the client owes you, demand for payment before a specific date, and inform them that you will take legal action if they don't pay soon.
You can take your client to arbitration instead of going to court. The main difference between a court case and arbitration is that it is less formal. The dispute is overseen by an arbitrator and not a judge. Don't worry, the arbitrator’s judgment holds the same weight as that of a judge. Arbitration is also a quick and cheap way to collect payment from a stubborn client.
An effective way to encourage quick payments from clients is by including charges for late fees as a clause in your payment terms. Tip: Before you add the late fees to your invoice, ensure that you talk to the client first. You can point them to the payment terms so it won't come as a surprise when they see the charges in writing.
Some clients might want to pay you, but be unable to. This can be because of a shortage of funds or an error in budgeting. In instances like this, the client might want to save as much as they can to ensure that their business does not go bankrupt. If the client has paid regularly in the past but is now struggling to make payments, you can offer them a payment plan.
To make things easy for the client, you can break their overdue bill into small percentages and add them to subsequent ones. You should also bill your clients more often so the payments are small and manageable.
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