Ask 100 freelancers if they've ever had issues with a late payment and 97 of them will respond with an eye roll and a "yes" (the other 3 were too busy chasing down delinquent clients to answer). Fifty percent of freelancers say they've had an instance of not getting paid at all.
Whether you're a freelance designer, illustrator, developer, writer--or any other type of contract worker--getting paid on time can be a challenge with certain clients. And that goes double if you don't stay on top of the process from start to finish.
And while you might think "I'm a creative person, I don't want to spend time chasing down invoices," (I hear you on that!), just know that if you're going to run a successful freelance business, you need to carve out time for accounting, paperwork, and following up. (Otherwise, this is just a hobby and not a business.)
Getting organized with your contracts and invoicing process will help you get paid faster and consistently in the long run. Following these steps can help freelancers get paid on time, every time.
1. Get an accounting contact early
Ask for your client's accounting department contact information, phone number, and email at the start of the project. That way, if your project manager goes rogue, you can reach out directly to accounting. Editors and project managers are busy. Some people (sadly) don't put "pay freelancers" at the top of their to-do lists. It's often the freelancer's job to stay on top of this. Don't be afraid to reach out. It's money you earned. If you're stuck, call the company and ask to be transferred to accounts payable and explain the situation.
2. Find out when you can send an invoice
Every company has a different process and your manager might not remember to let you know when it's okay to send over your invoice. In print publishing, for example, some magazine companies pay once an article is approved (meaning it went through fact-checking and copyediting, sometimes weeks after you turned it in). Other magazines "pay upon publication" so if you're working on a December magazine article in July, you might not get paid until that issue hits newsstands late November! Freelance illustrators might need to wait for an entire project to be complete in order to get paid. A freelance event coordinator might get paid in installments and not receive final payment until after the event. Ask in the beginning what your client's approval and invoicing process is and make notes on your calendar and process documents about when to follow up.
3. Don't get behind on your invoicing
I cannot emphasize this one enough! Look, I get it, you're swamped with work (a great thing as a freelancer) but don't neglect to send out invoices. Every year at Masthead Media (the content marketing company I co-founded with a fellow publishing alum) we get invoices several months--even a year--after the freelancer turned in their assignment. That makes things for complicated for everyone. As soon as you get a signed contract, use calendar reminders to nudge you to send invoices.
4. Save time and energy with an invoicing program
Use an invoicing program, app, or service that makes it easy for you to generate and send invoices. Lots of freelancers use QuickBooks, Freshbooks, Sage50 Cloud, and more. Of course, none of these programs will help you if you don't log into them--so put at least an hour on your calendar every month to create new invoices and follow up those that are past-due.
5. Negotiate the net
If a company says in their contract they have a "net 90" -- you'll get paid 90 days after the work and your invoice is submitted -- so you'll be waiting a long time for payment (sometimes even longer if you need to ask for and add a purchase order, or "PO," to your invoice).
Request a lower net (no more than 60) and try to get set up ACH (Automated Clearing House) payments also known as electronic transfers or direct deposit to your business account.
6. Make note of the payment date
Keep track of the date you sent an invoice to your client and when you actually received payment. If you send your invoice over August 1st and know they have a net 30 payment term, jot down that you received payment on September 6th. That will help you know when you can expect to receive payment in the future, and if something is amiss, you can flag it quickly
Even the best managers and accounting teams make mistakes. Sometimes an invoice slips through the cracks, but having this information helps you catch it faster so the client can send out payment ASAP.
7. Join a union
Recently, when Latina magazine stiffed dozens of freelancers, the New York Writer's Union went after them--and pressured the foundering digital pub into paying everyone. It only cost each writer his or her union dues. Freelance writers also went after Brooklyn magazine's publisher after not being paid, and had the backing of the organization, Freelancer's Union, and the Freelance Isn't Free Act, a law in New York City that protects freelancers to get timely and full payment.
By staying on top of your freelance business' accounting, you should be able to ensure that you get paid in a timely manner, every time. So you'll spend less time stalking your mailbox for a check or your bank account for that direct deposit payment and more time growing your business.