Freelancers: How to get paid on time
Ask any freelancer their biggest bugbear at work and I would hazard a guess that it’s something to do with not getting paid on time. A brief scroll through social media will show you a world in which freelance workers, in all industries, are becoming increasingly frustrated. Late payments prevent them being able to cover their own costs or pay their own bills.
Not only is this a challenging situation to be in, but it can also take a toll on cash-flow, as well as personal well-being. A study from 2019 from the Credit Protection association showed that 41% of freelancers are paid late. Here at Nochex, we want to make sure that freelancers know not only how to prevent late payment, but also what the next steps are if you aren’t paid on time.
Prevention is usually better than the cure, so here’s some advice on what steps to take that’s especially useful if you’re new to the world of freelance, or have recently become self-employed.
The first tip is to make sure that you are very clear on what you are delivering in terms of work. Whilst there will always be technicalities based on industry, a good rule of thumb would be to think ‘if I showed this to someone who doesn’t work in my industry, would they understand what has been agreed in terms of work?’.
Make sure that it’s evidenced and written down. Formalise a brief and statement of work, ensuring that both parties have agreed to it. Not only does this put you in a stronger position if a payment is late, but it also becomes easier to show what has been put in place.
Be upfront about your payment terms, whilst there will naturally be a flexibility that needs to come into consideration with your client’s payment schedule, you need to make sure that you are firm in your approach and explain your invoicing process at the very beginning.
If a payment is ever late then you need to make sure you follow up. Another suggestion would be to take a deposit for work. This means your time is secured and also you are financially covered if anything changes.
If you’ve been recommended work from a company, make sure to ask other freelancers (if you can) that may have worked with them previously and whether there were any red flags.
Whilst freelancing by its very nature means that you will likely work on one-off projects, many people work on clients who are working with them on a retainer basis. One of the top tips shared by Luce Rawlings is when looking at retainers to look at setting up a direct debit payment. Not only does that mean that there is an ease of use from the customer/client, but it means that you can work freely without worrying about payments being late.
Frequently, freelancers or self-employed workers will be carrying out their duties on a one-off basis, it’s important to know your rights. If working on a ‘project basis’ then it may make sense to get payment in advance. Whilst that vary given the nature of what you do and the clients you work with, it has seen a significant increase over the last few years.
Invoice in advance & offer a discount to those who pay annually
Marion Leadbetter, said that she won’t start a one-off project until payment is complete but also one of her suggestions was also to offer a discount for those who pay annually.
Communicate and charge for late payment
Make sure you’re honest, upfront, and transparent with your clients. On your invoice, and in any relevant communication, make sure that you are flagging that if payment is late then there will be a charge.
Whilst it’s standard to have a 30-60 day payment expectation of an invoice, it’s important to remember that even if it’s 1 day later than agreed then it is immediately overdue. It’s in both parties interest to stick to the terms of what was agreed. As a freelancer you can charge late fees, and interest too. Here’s a handy page on what you’ll be able to charge.
It’s important to know your rights and be confident when asking for an invoice. Never mind the overheads that come with freelancing, there’s also other costs that bigger businesses would factor into their costs.
You shouldn’t be spending your time chasing unpaid invoices, it eats into your time that you could be working for your clients, this also means that you are able to manage your time better.
Make sure that you are always documenting work done, similarly to you want to be paid, make sure you can prove what has been done for the client regarding what they’ve paid for, a statement of work and intention can show what is expected and the more thorough, the less chance of any conflict when it comes to getting paid.
Strategy to be paid on time
- Agree payment terms
- Agree payment dates
- Be confident, and be firm, regardless of emotion or relationship
- Communicate clearly what is expected
- Get paid in advance if that works for you
- If late, charge your client and communicate this with them immediately