Cash is King.
Without it, your business is doomed to failure and you’ll be back working in a cubicle before you know it.
But also true.
If you’re a freelancer who is committed to doing this gig thing in the long term, you need to make sure that you get paid consistently and on time.
If you haven’t already, check out my tips for finding new clients – because without clients you aren’t going to get paid a dime anyway.
Now that you have those lovely shiny ideal clients giving you lots of the work that you love, you need to make sure that their lovely shiny money, makes its way into your bank account.
Easier said than done – especially when you hate asking for money?
Here are the top 5 payment hacks for getting paid when you’re a freelancer:
1. Decide Your Payment Terms
Large companies tend to have monthly payment terms for invoices. That doesn’t mean that you have to.
You’re a freelancer. It’s likely that you work on your own and can’t commit to more than a few projects at once (not without pulling all nighters, never seeing your friends and family, or just not having a life outside work).
Big businesses have lots of employees and high numbers of clients/customers, which is why they can afford to have monthly payment terms. The likelihood is that you can’t do that.
To keep your cash flowing in the right direction – ie into your bank account – have shorter payment terms.
My usual terms are 14 days but I’ve also invoiced on the basis of immediate payment on receipt of the work for writing projects that I’ve delivered where the project is pretty much complete when the writing is sent to the client.
It’s entirely up to you and the type of project you’re working on, but you don’t have to stick to the same terms all the time. I certainly don’t.
The other aspect you want to consider is how you’ll split the payment.
If it’s a small project, you might want to invoice for the entire amount upfront. Or at the end.
For larger projects, I’d recommend splitting the payment – ask for so much upfront, an interim payment and one on delivery of the final piece of work.
Or, for even longer or more regular project work, you might invoice monthly. The choice is yours. And again, you can change according to the project, the client or the type of work.
2. Have a Contract
Once you’ve worked out the fine details of the service that you will be providing: when, how and how often – you need to write it all up in a contract that reiterates what you will be delivering to the client and what you expect in return.
Make sure your name, your business name and contact details are on it along with your client’s. Sign it, date it, send two copies to your client and ask them to do the same before returning one to you and keeping one for their own records.
Will this completely avoid bad clients trying not to pay you? No.
Bad clients will do anything to avoid paying you and the trick is to identify them upfront. I could dedicate an entire post to this (in fact, I will) but I’ve usually had an instinct about whether a client is going to be difficult or not and it’s always turned out to be correct.
But will having a contract make good clients think about your terms and make sure that they’re happy with them before committing you to any work? Yes.
It also means that, if there are any niggles or queries about payment, you can both refer back to the contract to see what was agreed, thereby avoiding the need for any long drawn out wranglings over payment (hopefully).
3. Have a Separate Bank Account
Even if you’re not running as a formal business, you should still have a separate bank account for your freelance income.
It keeps your earning separate from your household account which has 3 main benefits:
1. it’s less confusing and easier to keep on top of client payments and debits
2. it makes it easier to fill out your tax return as you only have to refer to 1 bank account without having to separate out household and freelance payments/debits
3. if you’re really unlucky and come under investigation by HMRC or IRS (which, by the way, HMRC can do if they feel like it – you don’t have to have been doing anything wrong), it will be much easier if you just have to send them 1 set of bank accounts. Not to mention, it means they won’t be going through your household accounts and seeing how much you spend on underwear, your chocolate addiction or wine!
4. Use An Online Payments System
Wave, FreeAgent and FreshBooks are a few of the different accounting apps that you can use for your freelance business. Personally, I use FreeAgent and it has made my accounting life far more straightforward than it used to be.
I can generate all of my invoices from it – and send them out to clients via the system. This has the added benefit of being able to add in reminders, which means that if your invoice goes unpaid after a certain number of days, then the system sends out a reminder without you having to do anything.
You can upload your bank statements, reconcile your payments and fill out your tax return – and all for far less than the cost of an accountant.*
*My last bill for an accountant was £600. FreeAgent costs £180 pa. The above link is an affiliate link.
5. Give Added Value
Think about ways that you can add value to your service that will make clients feel happier about paying you – because we all like to feel as though we’re getting value for money, don’t we?
Perhaps you could offer a free initial meeting or 3 months free email or phone support after your project has ended to help clients implement what you’ve put into place for them (just make sure you are very clear about exactly how many hours of support that will be upfront).
If you’re a writer or professional blogger, you could give them a free PDF of 50 blog topics to help them stay on track with their blogging strategy or planners – like a Tweet Scheduler – to help them to stay on top of their social media.
Getting paid is often the area that freelancers feel least comfortable with. You don’t like asking for money or you don’t want to keep chasing invoices – or you simply forget to because you’re too busy delivering client work.
These 5 payment hacks mean that clients know where they stand from the start.
They don’t suddenly panic that they have to pay you when they weren’t expecting a bill. (Or maybe they do, but if that’s the case, it’s not because you haven’t given them warning of when to expect your bill).
Personally, I’ve used all of these and so far, I’ve never had to completely right off an invoice as ‘never going to be paid’.
What payment hacks do you have that help to keep your freelance cash flow in the black?
Let me know in the comments below.