The single hardest part about starting my freelance business was navigating the enigmatic cloud that is the topic of money. The question marks circling my head were limitless.
- How much do I charge?
- How do I know if they’ll actually pay me?
- How do I get my money if they’re refusing to pay me?
It’s particularly challenging for those of us who specialize in marketing due to the sheer number of factors contributing to a lack of standardized rates. The wide range of marketing services, skill levels, types of clients, industries, and company size vary greatly to impact rates.
Determining how to price your services is difficult enough, then add the possibility you could do the work and not get paid at all.
Don’t let those fears become barriers to starting your freelance journey!
In this article, I’ve covered what you need to know about contracts, invoices, and more to make payments easy on your clients (and yourself), to ensure you get paid quickly.
How do I get paid on time as a freelancer?
To get paid on time as a freelancer: establish your payment terms in advance, sign a contract, collect a deposit, and make payment processing easy on everyone involved.
If the idea of chasing payment makes you uncomfortable, let’s take a pause and dig in further to help you decide if freelancing is right for you. Meanwhile, if you want advice on what legal action you can take if a client refuses to pay, you can skip to the end of this article.
Before You Start The Work
The best way to ensure you get paid is to negotiate payment terms before ever starting work with a client. Verbal negotiations, while nice, are not enough on their own.
Once you’ve verbally agreed, specify your payment terms through your contract.
➡️ Always Sign a Contract. ⬅️
Let’s break down the anatomy of a contract that gets you paid. 👇
Clear Contract Payment Terms
Specify your payment terms. Appropriate payment terms vary some between industries. And you likely won’t use the same payment terms with every client. When working with smaller businesses, many freelancers will require some or all payment in advance of services. It’s perfectly acceptable to ask for payment upfront or to require a fraction of the payment before starting the work.
For a large project, you could establish certain set points or milestones along the project for partial payment, then require the remaining payment before handing over the final deliverable.
For B2B companies, net 30 is often standard. This means you’re giving the company 30 days after receiving the invoice to pay you. This allows time for the invoice to make its way to the appropriate department to get you paid.
Your systems may change depending on the scope of a project and your comfort with the client. You may decide to relax your policies for established clients, but this should only occur after they have demonstrated trustworthiness.
Specify late fees. Make it clear and stand out. Bold it in red on your contract and invoice if you have to — Late after DATE + 10% fee.
If you’re having significant trouble getting clients to pay on time, make the 10% late fee accrue each month that it’s late.
Another important line you could add to your contract is: The client is liable for costs of collecting past due amounts, including attorneys fees.
Say it with me — No contract, no work!
Collect a Deposit
Along with your contract, requiring a deposit for the work is a great way to ensure the client is serious, willing, and able to pay you for your work before you start. Typically I require a 30% to 50% down payment. Agree on this verbally first, then put it in your contract, sign it, and collect before beginning the work.
Choose Your Clients Wisely
This is a topic I’ll have a harder time advising you on without an actual conversation beyond “With experience comes wisdom.”
My best general words of advice, though:
- Choose clients who regularly work with freelancers and other independent vendors.
- If you feel that something is off early on, it’s okay to say no and walk away before signing the contract. You can still walk away after you’ve signed a contract, but you’ll need to return payment if you won’t be holding up your end of the deal.
You’ll have more room to be picky about who you work with once you’re more established, but it’s very important to listen to your gut about whether a client is good for their word. Requiring payment in advance will avoid most headaches, though.
Freelancer Payment Methods
Here my goal is to help you remove as much friction from the money-in-your-pocket process as possible by making payments smooth and easy.
Create invoices, collect payments, and ultimately make your life easier come tax time using accounting software. I’m going to touch on two options, Wave and Quickbooks, but there are more. Both allow you to process payments for a transaction fee similar to PayPal’s. Wave does not charge you an additional monthly fee for the software itself, while Quickbooks does.
If you set up a separate business bank account, you might not need accounting software to help you track your business income and expenses. You will need to create invoices separately if you don’t choose an inclusive option like these.
Free Online Payment Processing
Zelle is a preferred payment method for many small businesses you may work with so I’ll share a bit more on that one. Zelle allows clients to transfer money to you directly from their bank account to yours. Most major banks have it integrated into their mobile banking apps. If your bank doesn’t, you can connect your debit card instead. The best part? The only thing the client needs to send you money is your phone number.
Many clients prefer to use good ol’ Paypal which will require a similar payment processing fee to the accounting software. Don’t let deals fall apart if your clients don’t want to pay these fees, instead work them into the cost reflected on your proposal.
Checks are a great no-fee option if your clients are local. But if you’re working remotely, there will be obvious delays in receiving and processing.
You may choose to accept credit cards, but you’ll need another online payment system to process them — PayPal, GooglePay, Wave, Square, QuickBooks, etc.
Bank transfers through EFT or ACH
ACH (automated clearing house) or EFT (electronic funds transfer) are another way to transfer money from one bank account to the next. These methods may be ideal if you have an ongoing retainer agreement. If you are working with clients internationally though, beware of transfer fees associated with that. It also requires that you give your banking information to your client so you’ll want to be sure your client is trustworthy.
Follow-Up On Late Payments
Are you struggling to get a particular client to pay you?
What do you do if a freelance client doesn’t pay?
First, ensure you’ve clearly communicated what they owe and how to pay you. If you are considering collections, mediation, or small claims court, start by sending a demand letter as a final request for payment.
A demand letter is an official document requesting payment. If you use a paid service like Zindoit to generate the demand letter, it will come directly from a lawyer. This is a much cheaper option than retaining one. You can also create a free letter yourself for through sites like Law Depot or eForms. While a document from a free site won’t include the lawyer, it will show your client that you mean business. If you ultimately need to take them to collections, the collections agency may want to see you’ve done this step first.
If you happen to live in New York City, they offer extra protections for non-payment called the Freelance Isn’t Free Act.
But for the rest of us, if you have to seek out dispute resolution, you can start with mediation before taking someone to small claims court. If they refuse to pay during mediation, this is just one more tick on your side when it comes time to go to court.
If this information is helpful, let me know on LinkedIn by connecting with me at the link below. I wish you much success in your freelance journey.
Becca Peterson is a freelance content marketing strategist from Iowa. Her work increases website traffic with relevant, helpful information that translates to trust and, ultimately sales for her clients. She works across industries including digital marketing, integrative health & wellness, parenting, and education. Connect with her on LinkedIn at https://www.linkedin.com/in/content-strategist-becca-peterson/