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:
- when you’ll invoice
- whether you’ll invoice in advance or in arrears
- how long they’ll have to pay
- 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.
- Don’t continue to work for a client who hasn’t paid you.
- 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.
- 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!
- Don’t fail to make it clear how important the payment is to you, no matter how small it may be.
- 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?
Georgina has more than fifteen years' experience writing and editing for web, print and voice. With a background in marketing and a passion for words, the time Georgina spent with companies like Sausage Software and sitepoint.com cemented her lasting interest in the media, persuasion, and communications culture.
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