Getting paid when you’re a freelancer is quite the process. Not only is every client different when it comes to how they pay, when they pay, when you can invoice, etc, but it’s up to you to keep track of all the requirements in order to submit invoices properly. Even then, sending in an invoice with a deadline for payment does not guarantee you’ll get paid on time.
Actually getting paid as a freelancer is a three-step process. You need to keep track of everything, send invoices in correctly and on time, and keep track of when you’re paid/not paid on time. Here’s what I do to make sure this process isn’t as time consuming as the work itself.
Track your projects
There are a million different ways to keep track of your projects in order to properly charge for them. I have some clients who charge by content piece (flat rate), some who charge by the hour, and others who charge by the word. Regardless of pricing, I keep track of all my open projects in a single space. It makes it so much easier to generate invoices at the end of each month. What’s my magical solution?
It’s not the most glamorous option out there, but it’s the easiest to customize, it’s always available offline, and it works for me. I have a single file for project tracking, with one tab per client. Each line item lists a specific project, the pay rate, the due date, and any pertinent client notes. If I’m getting paid for my time, I track my minutes each day I work on the task. For other clients who pay by the word, I make a note of the total words requested per project. For those who pay a flat rate per content piece, the cost per project is included. I then leave a column open at the end for project status, so I can note when content goes out for review or has been finalized.
Once I send an invoice, I replace any notes from the client with INVOICED, big and bold. Once the invoice is paid, I turn the entry red. If a project is ongoing to a point that I will bill the client more than once, I change the time I’ve already invoiced red to differentiate without having to create a separate line item each billing cycle.
Clients with active projects are at the front of my spreadsheet, in order of how on-going my work will most likely be. Those that I’ll probably work with again come next in the order, with those that infrequently contact me at the end. The order of tabs on my tracking spreadsheet constantly change, but I’ve got everything in one place.
I prefer to invoice once per month, at the end, but have two clients who require me to fill out weekly time sheets. Those clients are my most regular, so I am happy to accommodate them. For everyone else, I bill monthly with between 15-30 days to pay based on client specifications. Most business want a month to issue your check, which is fine as long as they pay on time. Otherwise, you could be waiting quite a while.
Rather than generate invoices on my own, I use an invoicing service - Invoicely. It stores client information so I can easily send out invoices. Plugging in my work is quick thanks to my tracking spreadsheet, and an auto-generated email, that’s easy to edit if need be, is ready to go once I’m done totaling up my time.
The best part of this type of service is the dashboard. A single section tells me how much I’ve invoiced, what has been received, and what is still outstanding.
I can then go to a list of individual invoices and see which ones are past-due. The system automatically generates another email as a payment reminder if I need to send one. I manually go in and mark when invoices are paid before I deposit the check so that I don’t accidentally bill someone more than once as well.
Stay vigilant and get your money
A quick note on getting paid: I’ve had clients who pay on time without me having to say a word. I send in an invoice and get a check within a reasonable amount of time. Then, we move on to the next project. For every three clients I have that pay like this, I’ve got one that presents a challenge. If someone isn’t paying you on time, or even within a reasonable timeframe after that, you have to be persistent. Resubmit your invoices, email your contact asking for an update on when you can expect payment. I’ve even lumped multiple invoices into a single email letting a client know they could pay them all at once if that would be easier for them.
The secret here is to be polite and professional while still making it apparent they owe you something and it has already been a long wait. Be prepared for some clients to take months to pay, it just happens like that sometimes. You do, however, have the ability to not work with someone who is too slow to pay, or to not accept big projects so you’re only waiting for a smaller sum to arrive whenever the client processes your invoice.
Accepting payment, be flexible
When you do send an invoice, it’s important to remember that all business have different preferred methods of payment. While I don’t say on my invoice what forms of payment I accept, most clients will come back to me and ask if they can pay in a certain way. To me, an invoice suggests checks are preferred, but with today’s digital options, other methods will get the money into your account much faster. Currently, I’ve been paid through:
- Bank transfer
Each has been an easy experience. No one form is better to me than the other, but do keep track of client preference. I send payment requests through apps like PayPal or Venmo, when applicable, as a way to remind the client about a payment. It can help speed up the payment process talking to them in the format they prefer to pay through.
Managing your compensation for work done is just as integral of a daily task as the actual work when you’re a freelancer. It’s up to you to keep accurate account of your costs, charge in a timely manner, and stay on top of collecting payments. If you’re new to freelancing, be prepared for this added investment in your time, however frustrating it may seem at the start. As long as you’re organized, I promise the process won’t be too stressful.