Hey client! Pay up!

Money, money, money.

We all need it, but not everyone has to manage it as meticulously as freelancers do.

Indeed, one of our most difficult challenges is demanding – and getting – payment. This is largely because freelance invoices are sometimes not paid on time, for any one of several reasons – all of which leave us in a tough cash flow position.

But, while we want to scream and shout, we also want the client to like us. We want them to give us repeat business. We want a good name in our niche and industry.

Here’s what I suggest:

The basic rules

  • Invoice for at least half upfront, before starting work. This is a show of good faith from your client, helping to boost your cash flow and cover costs while delivering the output. It also means that you’re sharing the risk.
  • On longer projects, it’s helpful to arrange payment milestones along the way, once portions of the work are delivered. Consider discounts for early payment.
  • Be crystal-clear on your invoice. Spell out all of your pricing, due dates, and payment terms. In this case, less isn’t more; more is more.
  • Invoice promptly, based on your terms. If you say you’re going to invoice monthly on the 20th, do it. If you say you’re going to invoice 5 days post-project, do it. The longer you take to invoice, the further you push out payday.
  • Offer multiple payment options. Accepting all forms of payment leaves no room for the client to say, “Sorry, I just can’t pay/don’t have time to pay/can’t connect to my payment gateway/[insert relevant excuse here].”

In South Africa, most freelancers only accept payments via EFT. This can be a manual and time-consuming payment option for some clients, so they tend to wait til the end of the month to batch-process invoices. If you offer them a simpler way to pay, you’re more likely to get paid quicker.

  • Corporate and government clients will usually prescribe how and when you can invoice. Always make sure to follow their process and never miss their deadlines – otherwise, you’ll have to wait until the next month’s payment run.
  • Some corporates have a lengthy process to onboard new vendors, so be sure to start the application and submit your paperwork well before invoice time.
  • Understand that the occasional non-paying client is a cost of business. The sooner you accept that, the better. (I have; it’s a game-changer for my sanity.)

Tough conversations

You’re not being nasty, aggressive or a “bad guy” when you ask for your moolla; you’re defending your livelihood. Get comfortable with this, right now.

Then, if a money-chasing situation arises, be prepared to firmly but politely address it. And don’t feel guilty. You have produced the work. It is time for compensation.

I typically follow this process:

  • I invoice when I say I will.
  • I chase up 5-7 days later.
  • I chase up again 3 days later: “Just checking in to see if there’s any problem getting my payment processed, as it’s [x] overdue. Please let me know.”
  • I bring in the bigger guns, using a short, straightforward template.

No pleading or begging – and no mention of your personal circumstances!

In this case, you’re just pointing out they’re late on payment (and may have breached your contract terms). You’re still being professional and courteous, but you must also remain firm.

It’s important to give the client the benefit of the doubt – maybe it really is an oversight and if they can process payment right away, you don’t want to torpedo your relationship.

But you also stand your ground and note that, if they can’t pay you pronto, you’ll have to charge a late fee (provided that this is in your Ts&Cs).

  • At this point they almost always settle. If not, I phone. And if they dodge my calls, it’s onward to debt collection. Which is a whole different ball game…

This content – and a lot more just like it – comes from Week 5 of my Rockstar Freelancing course. Want more? Here’s the info you need: