Money. It's quite naturally the biggest concern for any discerning freelancer. You want to earn as much as possible, get paid on time and cover your bills without any hassle or stress. But alas, it's never that easy.
Clients often don't pay on time. Cash flow is likely to suffer. Sometimes, invoices don't get settled at all. Not surprisingly, money can be the biggest headache for many self-employed entrepreneurs.
To keep your business afloat and the bank balance healthy, we've joined forces with Zervant to bring you the ultimate guide to getting paid as a freelancer. We'll cover everything you need to know about money – invoices, client expectations, deposits, terms – so you can get on with being creative.
Manage expectations with new clients
Before anything else, lay down the law with new clients. Explain what you'll charge for (emails, phone calls, travel to meetings, etc.) and how and when you like to get paid. By managing expectations from the very start, clients will understand how you operate and hopefully be more accommodating in future.
Take note – it's perfectly acceptable to request payment upfront – if that's what you prefer – but the standard payment terms are 30 days. You're also allowed to refuse cheques, as they're a hassle to sort, or payments via services like Paypal or Stripe, as they can take a nasty chunk out of your bill (in the UK, the fee for each transaction on Paypal is 3.4% plus 20p of the amount you receive).
It's worth repeating your rules on every invoice you send. For example, "payment is due within 30 days" and "we accept payment via bank transfer only".
Where possible, ask for money upfront
If you're embarking on a new project, invoice the client for a percentage of the work involved. Fifty per cent upfront isn't unusual, but it's really up to you. You should then invoice the remaining amount before you hand over the goods.
For much larger projects – ones that will take many months to complete – it's wise to require staged payments throughout to ensure healthy cash flow. For example, charge an initial deposit of 50 per cent, and then another 25 per cent halfway through the project, with a final 25 per cent before the work is complete. It's peace of mind and covers those monthly bills.
Consider who you're getting into bed with
If it's not feasible for you to ask for payment upfront, because you track time and charge accordingly, then do some background checks on every client before work begins. Use the UK Government's free Companies House register. You'll be able to discover a lot about a business – company overviews, directors, registered office address, etc. It'll reveal if it's legit.
Because what you have to ask yourself is this – can you trust the client in question? Do you think they'll be able to pay you on time? A little research will go a long way, and perhaps save you from any hassle further down the line.
Otherwise, inform each new client that – as a precaution – you always charge upfront for every new account. If you charge for your time and not a fixed priced project, just request your agreed day rate as a deposit. You can then deduct this from the final month's invoice.
Track your time like a demon
As a freelancer, you'll know only too well the importance of time tracking. Without it, how can you know who and what to charge? Use a handy tool like Toggl or TimeCamp to track your time and create timesheets for your business.
Don't be ashamed to charge for things like phone calls or emails – you're dealing with clients, and that is part of your service. If a client doesn't like it, it's either because you didn't set expectations or they don't value your time.
Either way, time is money. It's imperative that you track it and charge clients accordingly. Just be fully prepared to explain your time, should any client query an invoice (this is where detailed, professionally written timesheets become so helpful).
Invoice like a pro
With so many great accounting tools these days, there's no longer any excuse to send basic Word document invoices to clients. You don't even have to pay for them – Zervant allows you to create and send unlimited invoices, estimates and quotes for free. Best of all, they're beautifully designed and super fast to sort, so you can look professional and also get on with your work.
Make sure you include all the necessary information on your invoice, i.e. you must clearly label the document as "invoice", date it and include: a unique ID number, your company name (preferably your logo too), business address and contact information, plus a clear description of what you are charging for, the amount being charged and whether VAT is applicable, along with the total owed. You must also include the company name and address of the business you're invoicing.
Don't think that you need to bother with the above? A quality looking invoice with all the professional requirements will be taken seriously. A sloppy, poorly designed invoice with missing information will only delay payment.
Clear the path to payment
Don't make life difficult for your clients to pay you. Move all obstacles out of their way, so they settle debts quickly. Provide your bank details on every invoice, include any PO numbers they've supplied. Send your invoices to the right person. Even figure out when they sort payment for suppliers, so you charge them on time.
You could even consider accepting online payments, so clients can pay you with a credit card – sure, you'll have to pay a fee, but at least you'll get paid! Paypal offers such a service, as does Stripe. Both integrate nicely with a wealth of accounting software tools.
Offer a retainer service
What's stopping you from offering a retainer service to reliable clients? It means you can provide a fixed number of hours or days each month for a fixed price, and your client knows what to budget for. You can ultimately plan the time into your schedule, and everyone is happy.
Zervant helpfully allows you to set up automated invoices, so you can sit back and relax – knowing that your retainer clients are getting billed every month, with little or no input from you.
Or you might even consider using an automated payment system, so you don't have to rely on sending invoices to get paid. Stripe offers a subscription service, where you can build and manage recurring billing. Bill.com is another service for those of you in the United States that allows recurring ACH payments.
Set up payment reminders
Sometimes, clients delay payment. It could be cash flow worries. It could be that they forgot. For whatever reason, you won't get paid unless you chase. Get savvy by setting up payment reminders.
Zervant helps you keep track of invoices by sending you automatic reminders to your inbox whenever they become overdue. It allows you to see who's paid, who hasn't and who needs chasing. Perfect. (Did we mention already that Zervant is entirely free?)
Don't jump to conclusions or get tough too soon
It's worth noting that clients are human too. Like any of us, they may need a little leniency when it comes to payment. In which case, don't immediately take a hard line if payment is delayed, particularly if they're usually reliable. Instead, pick up the phone and ask what's going on. That way, you can find out when the money's coming and plan accordingly.
If you really must get tough
If you absolutely have to, hire a debt collection agency to chase the money that is owed to you. But be warned – this will very likely kill your client relationship. So before you take this action, weigh up the value of the debt versus the value of any potential work in future.
It's also worth noting that under the Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Interest) Act, creditors have the statutory right to claim interest on late payments – as you will have warned in your initial payment terms.
Ready to upscale your accounting and ensure you get paid every month? Zervant offers free online invoicing software for freelancers, so if you want to try them out, you can quickly create a free account and get started today.