Welcome to this side of the world, where chasing payments from clients is as common as catching a common cold.
If you’ve been in the freelancing community for a while, then this must not be a rare phenomenon like the Halley’s Comet. You’ve finished your part of the job, now it’s the client’s turn to do theirs—pay you for your work, on time.
But more often than not, you either receive the payments, perhaps a year later, or not at all. And there go your hopes, and plans of saving for the new phone—all into the trash.
It’s tough confronting clients with payment issues—money is a taboo topic that some of us have been taught not to discuss openly.
Too often, you avoid chasing non-payers simply because you don’t want to come across as rude, needy or feel embarrassed.
When you’re a professional and you hold up your end of the deal, it’s not only important but vital for you to have similar expectations of your clients.
Here’s what you can do when the work has been delivered and approved and the client is simply refusing to pay.
Have A Paper Trail
Keeping proper documentation in place only makes it easier for you to state the obvious to them—it was in writing, and you both agreed to it. Signing contracts is a straightforward way to protect yourself and to set clear expectations early in your working relationship, and that way both of you have the agreement on record.
Think of the following when making a contract:
- Who is the contract between?
- What are their respective obligations in terms of service delivery and payment?
- Who will own the final work product? If the client wants 100 per cent ownership, will this be a different (higher) price than if you kept your pre-existing intellectual property?
- What happens in the event of a disagreement?
Be sure to clearly set out, and verbally communicate your payment terms, deadlines, invoicing schedule, and whether you charge fees for late payments.
Staying in touch with your client helps them know what stage of the work in process, you’ve reached, and also gives you an idea of where they are in terms of payment.
So when they send you reminders for your deadlines, it makes it easier for you to follow up and send friendly payment reminder emails. If you’ve already emailed an invoice and have received no response, wait a few days and send an email to confirm they have received the invoice.
Hope you are well. I’m emailing to confirm that you received the invoice for the [add project name]. I sent it on [insert date], and wanted to confirm that everything is in order.
A reminder that my payment will be due on the [enter due date].
Thank you for your time.
If your client responds and says they will get around to your invoice soon, without giving you a concrete payment date, follow up instantly with an email that reiterates your payment terms, and the date of payment or payment period you agreed on.
Glad to hear you received my invoice. I want to remind you that my payment was due on the [insert date] and that you are now overdue.
If you are pressed for time, I’d be happy to swing by your office this week (or ask for a more specific date) and pick up the cheque. If there’s anything else I can do to make the payment process easier, please don’t hesitate to let me know.
Thank you for your time.
Stay One Step Ahead
If you’re still getting radio silence, try calling your contact person—but make sure you know what you want to say beforehand, especially about when and how you want to receive payment. If you haven’t heard from your client after a few weeks, another good tactic is to try another point of contact within the company.
Set Up Milestone Payments
It’s impossible to manage your money if you don’t have any. Unfortunately, the nature of the freelance world makes it hard to determine when money will hit your account. Whenever you take on a project, set up milestones. Your client will have to agree to pay each milestone payment before you move forward with the project.
So if you’re expected to write say, 1,500 hotel reviews by month-end, ask for 25 per cent of the payment when you finish the first 500, 50 per cent when you finish another.
Of course, you won’t need to set milestones for small projects, but you will need to do so with large projects. That way, you can keep the cash coming into your business. This doesn’t just help you with your cash flow issue but also helps you avoid non-payment and collections problems.
You Might Also Like
Ask For A Down Payment
Probably the best way to avoid this problem is by asking for a down payment for every project. This will scare away the potential clients who never had any intention of paying you in the first place.
Before starting work, ask all clients to provide a 25 per cent down payment on the project.
Once you’ve submitted the work and they approve it, then issue an invoice for the remaining 75 per cent. At least that way, you have lesser to show in your ‘bad debts’ account!
Freelancing is serious business, and you work as hard as any full-timer. And just because you’re a freelancer doesn’t mean you don’t run a professional business. People deal with late fees all the time on their credit cards, car payments, WiFi bill, etc. They are inconveniencing you by not paying up and wasting your time reminding them about it.
You take payments seriously, so show it to them early on during your communications or contract. Consider including clauses that clearly indicate so.
An accrued penalty fee clause is a good example of this — every week that goes past your payment deadline means another penalty fee of say, Rs 250.
Sending your client a weekly invoice with a small but increasing sum of money owed is sure to catch their attention. When you work as a freelancer, time is money. You don’t want to waste precious business hours chasing down clients and reminding them to pay up.
Keep The Transactions Easy
It’s in your best interest to eliminate all barriers to payment for your clients. Make it easy to pay, and they’ll feel a lot less put out about doing it. Gone are the days of mailing cheques for freelance services. Online payment is a must. PayPal is the standard method to transfer money for most people today. You can use other services as well, but make sure you offer a variety of options to make it easy.
No matter what accounting system you use—QuickBooks, Harvest, NetSuite, etc., all of them give you options to send invoices via email.
Figure out what invoicing method your clients prefer and cater your invoices to their needs. You’ll end up with much fewer overdue invoices in the process.
Invoice Like A Pro
If you’re not as well-organised as you’d like to be, look for solid invoicing tools to help. Some good accounting software includes FreshBooks, FreeAgent. Wave and Zoho Invoice.
Not only will these tools churn a professional-looking invoice, but they will remind you when payment is overdue.
If you’re feeling particularly awful about having to hustle your clients into paying (which you shouldn’t), many invoicing tools will allow you to write an unpaid invoice reminder email well in advance of your payment due date.
That way, you’ve written your email before any mixed emotions or bashfulness kicks in, and the invoice email can be sent automatically to clients if a payment is missed. This gives you less opportunity to hesitate or avoid confronting the issue head-on.
Warn Others About Bad Clients
Warn the other freelancers in your community about the non-payers, so they can be aware. In case they’ve had prior experience with the same company, they might just help you find a way out, or raise your voice against them if that’s what you plan to do.
Go on; get that payment and let us know if you have any tips that we’ve missed out on.