How freelancers should handle the “when do I get paid?” question
As a freelancer, you may not be equipped or confident having conversations with clients about money and payments, but not addressing these early on can cause delays in your invoices getting paid down the road. The important thing is to remember that you are a professional, and if you have payment policies in place, you don’t have to shuffle with your hat in your hand, asking to get paid later.
Bring up payments in the contract stage
As you onboard a new client, you will, of course, discuss your fees. But you might not get around to mentioning when payments are due. Do you require payment in advance of work, or after completion? Do you charge additional fees for extra edits or work required beyond the scope of the project?
Also, discuss any penalty fees you charge for late payments. Will the client be responsible for paying a percent of the invoice if it’s more than 30 days late?
These are all important aspects to address in your client contract. It’s a good idea to also list the agreed-upon fees you’ve already discussed with your client just to ensure there are no misunderstandings. The idea is that your client will review the contract prior to you commencing work, and sign off on what you’ve said you’ll charge, as well as your payment timetable. If a client doesn’t hold up his end of the bargain, you can always point to the contract as your proof of agreement on the matter.
Make the policy clear on invoices
Let’s just assume that your client will never again look at that contract once he’s signed it, so consider each invoice you send as a gentle reminder of when you want to get paid. If you want to be paid within 10 business days of the invoice being sent, put that in your invoice template so it’s always there.
Note that some companies, particularly bigger organizations, may have their own policies for when vendors and service providers are paid; they may pay out once or twice a month at set dates, and—in most cases—their policy will not be negotiable. Payment practices such as these should be stated by the firm you work with in advance of work commencement; they will likely be noted on the contract or project agreement.
Be firm but polite
You may have your own past-due invoices keeping you up at night, but never, ever show how desperate you are to get paid. If a client hasn’t paid by your deadline, send the invoice again with “Reminder: this invoice now/past due.” Usually that will be enough to spur action from your client.
If days and days pass, reach out via email or a phone call to see what’s going on. Possibly your client is out of town or unable to mail a check. If he indicates there are financial issues, be flexible to ensure you get paid. Offer a payment plan to get him back on track. Never threaten to stop work on a project unless an invoice is extremely late in being paid and your client is nonresponsive.
If you’re using Payoneer’s Billing Service to send Payment Requests, your client will receive automatic periodic reminders that payment is due as the date gets near (and after it passes, if they’re late). This not only helps keep the due payment to you on their radar, it also eliminates the potential awkwardness that can come with “nagging” clients to pay up.
One final tip
In an ideal world, every client would pay on time—early, even!—But that’s simply not reality for a freelancer. If you can squirrel away a month or more of savings to cover monthly expenses, you’ll be less frantic about getting paid from clients and can be more flexible in helping them pay their debts to you. Having a firm handle on your own finances will make running your freelance business much easier.