Cover image background photo credit: Artem Bali
There’s nothing more frustrating than finishing a freelance photography project, on-time, to your client’s satisfaction, and then waiting for the payment. Unfortunately, late payments are a common pain point for today’s independent contractor. Since we depend on a steady flow of clients and income to survive, not getting the money we’re owed can result in disastrous results!
What can you do to ensure you’re paid what you’re owed – before this month’s mortgage payment is at risk? Read on to see how you can remove yourself from the legions of freelancers panicking about when that payment will finally post.
1. Leave Nothing to the Imagination
Invoices should be clear, concise, and with terms identical to your service contract. If a busy payroll department can’t make sense of what they owe, they may put it into a pile to deal with later. 29% of invoices are paid late, even if just by a few days. This disconnect between when you should get paid – and when you finally do – could simply be due to a lack of understanding. If, despite your efforts, the client has questions about your invoice, make sure they have a way to reach you. Invoices should contain your email and payment address, but also a phone number that you can be reached at during normal business hours.
2. Invoice on a Monday
While you may have strict instructions from your client on when you can invoice (such as the last day of the month), it makes sense to optimize the send date, if at all possible. The start of the week is a hectic time for many creative freelancers, but it’s also when payroll teams are ready to tackle their accounts payable pile. Mondays have proven to be a more effective day to invoice clients, as it gives the accounting team an entire five business days to get it processed and paid. Conversely, Friday invoices are more likely to get lost in the shuffle (especially if before a major holiday!) If you have a choice to hold your invoice until after the weekend, it may work out better for you.
Photo credit: Mimi Thian
3. Be Cautious With Cryptocurrency
Accepting Bitcoin and other cryptocurrencies can seem like a cutting-edge, customer-friendly way to get paid for your work. Unfortunately, payments made with crypto are late three times more often than the fastest method of payment (direct deposit.)
Cash and check, however, weren’t much better. Clients who paid with these methods seemed to take their time paying, as well. If given a choice, opt for ACH or bank transfer, which will get you paid the quickest. If that’s not an option, set up your invoices to be paid with just a click by credit card or a major third-party payor (such as Venmo or Square.)
Photo credit: Worldspectrum
4. Make Milestones
It should come as no surprise that bigger invoices can take longer to get paid. Whether it’s due to red tape, financial struggles, or pure avoidance, there is one proven method that can get you at least part of your money promptly. Setting milestones for your work – and partial payment for each goal met – can help you establish trust with a client and give them an incentive to keep paying you. Break large projects (anything above $5,000, for example) into four chunks. Require 25% payment up-front, 25% at each of two “mile-markers” during the project, and the final 25% upon completion. This gives you proper funding throughout the assignment and ensures a client won’t leave you high and dry after a significant time investment on your part.
It’s remarkable how many freelancers admit that getting paid is important but the act of asking for money isn’t high on their list of freelance tasks. They know that they need to do it, and yet it seems to get pushed to the bottom of their to-do list.
The reasons for avoiding it will differ by professional: Some are afraid that the client won’t pay. Others are unsure that they are doing it correctly. Still, others don’t have a good process in place to automatically send out invoices at the end of each project. Waiting until you should have the money in your hands is too late to invoice. Create space in your schedule every week to create and send out even those small invoices — without exception.
Photo credit: Suzy Hazelwood
6. Try, Try Again
Now that we know how common late payments are, what are you going to do about them? It’s naïve to think that it’s a problem only for other freelancers (and not you). In fact, letting your payments slide can create an unhealthy lack of boundaries with clients and send the message that you’re not serious about your business — or the money that you’re worth. While some late payment could be honest mistakes, there will always be those customers who put off paying you because they can. Get in the habit of sending reminders regular intervals after each freelance invoice is sent out. The frequency is up to you, but the message should be clear: “I won’t stop sending reminders until I’m paid.”
Don’t worry about seeming pushy; you did the work and are entitled to be properly compensated.
When Late is Common Practice
If after trying these methods, you still find more and more of your payments coming late, there may be other issues at work:
- It may be due to the industry you work in; marketers and designers typically get paid a bit later than dedicated videographers and photographers.
- You could be attracting low-quality clients who are accustomed to paying too little or paying too late. Try changing your marketing techniques so that you can get more high-paying clients.
If all else fails, try incorporating late fees into your initial contracts to show new clients that you’re serious about getting paid. Sending that message early on can set the expectation that you don’t accept late payments, and there will be a price for taking your kindness for granted. While it may take you weeks (or, in some rare cases, months), payment is often the reward for persistence.
Matt is the founder of Bonsai, an automated contracts and invoices product used by 100,000+ freelancers and agencies globally. He lives in San Francisco, where he enjoys surfing, science fiction, and leafy green vegetables.