By Georgina Laidlaw

How to Get Paid

By Georgina Laidlaw

It sounds so easy, but getting paid can feel like pulling teeth sometimes. These are the basics — the essentials — of getting paid the amount you invoiced, on time, every time.

1. Outline your payment terms in the project estimate

Show clients you’re serious about invoicing from the get-go. List your payment terms in your estimate, including:

  1. when you’ll invoice
  2. whether you’ll invoice in advance or in arrears
  3. how long they’ll have to pay
  4. the payment method/s you prefer

When your contact approves the estimate, ask them if they’re comfortable with the invoicing terms, and whether they have any questions. If they have their own weird processes or requirements, this will give them a golden opportunity to let you know about them.

2. Invoice when you say you will

If you say you’ll invoice at the start of each month, do it. Put the time aside, and send those invoices. Send them independently of other communications: make your invoicing email (or letter) about invoicing only.

With each one, invite your client to contact you if they have any questions. Communicate your openness to discussing your invoices, and your clients will feel more comfortable if, in fact, they do have questions.

3. Check receipt of your invoice

If you don’t hear back within a few days of sending your invoice, follow up with your contact to make sure they received it. Don’t neglect this step: just do it.


4. Watch for payment

Whether you’re paid by bank cheque or electronic transfer, keep an eye out for the payment.

If you’ve completed steps 1 to 3, you should be paid, and paid on time, in every case. Hooray!

But if for some reason you don’t receive payment by the due date, contact your client as soon as that date has passed. As in, on the next working day. This shows that you don’t take matters of remuneration lightly. If the client is expected to pay more invoices in future, your diligence will encourage them to pay promptly from here on in.

5. Follow up overdue payments

Don’t get nervous: just send a polite email to the client. Reattach your invoice, state that it’s overdue, and, most important of all, ask when you can expect to receive the payment.

Don’t neglect that last point: ask when you will receive payment. Don’t be ambiguous about it. Make it clear that you feel this is an important aspect of your working relationship by being up-front about it.

Don’t send this as a PS to an email about another matter, where it might be overlooked. And of course, don’t complete any more work for this client until payment is made.

6. Follow up further

If you still don’t receive payment, it’s time to turn things up a notch. Call the client to ask personally about the invoice. Consider a collections firm if need be.

Invoicing don’ts

  1. Don’t continue to work for a client who hasn’t paid you.
  2. Don’t be sweet, charming, lovely, or not-really-that-worried in your invoicing emails. Just be yourself: a freelancer who’s delivered, and now needs to be remunerated.
  3. Don’t leave follow-up emails open to interpretation. If you’re following up an overdue invoice, don’t just say, “Hey Bob, just wondering about that last invoice. If you could get back to me, that’d be great.” What in heck does that mean? Whatever it is, it sounds ignorable to me!
  4. Don’t fail to make it clear how important the payment is to you, no matter how small it may be.
  5. Don’t think anger our outrage will get you paid. It won’t. Professionalism is what gets you paid.

What tips can you add from your experience getting — or not getting — paid by clients?

Image by stock.xchng user gabriel77.

  • Anonymous

    Great Article, We all get to know our worth by how willing our customers want to pay, and we all know there are some that ……

  • It’s always good to hold on to a final product until you get paid. This way there is a motivation for the buyer to pay. It’s always good to keep the balance so that you each have something to gain.

  • I think item 1 in the list of don’ts is (potentially) a bit over the top. Stopping work when someone is a few days late is a bit dramatic.

    • georgina laidlaw

      Maybe, Mike. I think it might depend on your relationship with them. If it’s the first time I’m working for a client, and they haven’t paid by the due date or responded to my contacts about the invoice, I stop. An alternative in first-time-client scenarios, though, is of course to get a part payment up-front. With repeat clients, I’m more flexible — but then they’d never leave my invoice languishing without discussing it with me :)

  • Thielonious

    I’m not sure about a few of the points, it really depends on what type of client you’re dealing with, you can’t really generalize. For some cases if you tell them “I really need to get paid as soon as possible” they will see you as a non professional. For some other cases it would work, usually smaller clients.
    For bigger clients you just have to email them many times because its all about bureaucracy

  • ……….I just got a $829.99 iPad2 for only $103.37 and my mom got a $1499.99 HDTV for only $251.92, they are both coming with USPS tomorrow. I would be an idiot to ever pay full retail prices at places like Walmart or Bestbuy. I sold a 37″ HDTV to my boss for $600 that I only paid $78.24 for. I use (Bidsget) . (com)

  • Stacey

    Depending on the project time frame this may not always work, but I try to generally only take clients that fit into this ideal situation. I take a deposit before I begin work, which helps mentally and emotionally bond them to the project even more than just a signed contract. I also withhold final files until I have received the final payment. But being able to negotiate and be flexible is also very important.

  • Good post! In regards to when you’ll invoice, I’ve found that lowering the amount of time until payment on an invoice is due has increased my chances of being paid on time. I followed a more general net 30 day window for a couple of years until changing this to net 15. Since then, I think I can count on one hand how many times I’ve had an issue.

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