“Well, maybe just one more day to see if they pay.”
Have you ever said this to yourself? (I have.)
One of the most troublesome parts of freelancing is invoicing and collecting payment. Nobody likes to be the bill collector, but sometimes it has to be done – and as freelancers, we get to wear that hat, too.
If you’re anything like me, you know that anxious knot that forms in your stomach when you expect a battle over a bill.
You also know the frustration and anger that comes when a client tries every trick in the book to get out of one.
So I’ve developed these few tips that have saved me time and time again when gently but firmly rejecting invoice disputes. For sure, the haggling isn’t any less unpleasant, but armed with these tactics, you’ll have the upper hand.
Get paid first.
Every time I’ve ever started working for a client without getting a deposit first, I’ve kicked myself. Not only does it set a precedence and make it very hard for you to get a deposit on your second project, it also leaves you stressed about the possibility of having unintentionally done work for free.
Repeat this to yourself: “NEVER start a project without payment.”
Getting payment first also helps to establish time frames. In my contracts, I stipulate that work begins when I receive the deposit. This helps define when a project officially starts.
So when your client says,
“But you said three weeks on April 30! You missed the deadline,”
you can respond with,
“I didn’t receive the deposit from you until May 15, which is when, per my contract, the project starts. I finished the project within the time frame.”
Get it in writing.
The longer I freelance, the more wary I am of verbal discussions because there is absolutely no record of what was said. So whether in-person, over the phone, or via Skype/GoToMeeting, be sure to take notes.
As soon as possible (while it’s fresh in your mind), email your client summarizing the conversation. Ask them to respond if they perceive your meeting differently.
This way, if you have a dispute in the future, you can point back to the email and show them what they agreed upon.
Example email: “Hi Andy, Thanks for calling today – I think we’ve developed a great plan of attack for the following revisions: <insert revisions here>. As we discussed, the total cost for these will be $385. If you have any questions or concerns regarding this or any portion of our project, please contact me as soon as possible.”
Always have a written record for the following:
- Requested project changes
- Budget/price negotiations
- Time frames & due dates
Save all email correspondences.
No joke, recently a client of mine actually tried to claim I owed them in an effort to get out of an invoice!
I got the better end of a deal on trade services agreement for a previous project that wound up falling through, so I agreed to apply some of the invoice to that previous deal, which left them with a reduced invoice of less than $250.
A month passes of me trying the “friendly reminder” invoices. Then they come back with me owing them for the original lopsided trade services agreement. Perhaps a simple oversight, but I saved the previous emails where we both agreed to the reduced invoice.
After showing them the conversation history, they relented and cut me a check that day.
Moral of the story – SAVE YOUR EMAILS. You never know when you might need to refer back to them in an invoice dispute.
Add a usage clause to your contract.
I’m always amazed by this, but I’ve had the following conversation multiple times:
Client: “Hi, I got your invoice for <insert project here>, but we decided not to use it.”
Me: “I’m sorry to hear that, but per my contract, payment is due regardless of whether or not you used my design.”
Client: “But we didn’t use it.”
Me: “I understand that, but I still did the work, and per the contract you agreed to, your invoice is still due.”
For some reason, many clients feel that if they don’t use your work, they don’t have to pay for it. So I’ve added a usage clause to my contract explicitly covering design work that’s ultimately not used. It goes like this:
“All payments are non-refundable and required even if deliverables are not used by client.”
The dos and don’ts of invoice disputes
- Always be professional and mature, regardless of your client’s behavior.
- Don’t be afraid to confront the issue – the longer you wait, the harder it is to collect payment.
- Start out friendly and understanding. You’ll have plenty of time to dig in and express your disappointment as the situation drags out.
- Phrase your statements as the choice your client has made (e.g. “I have no choice but to,” “I’m disappointed that I’m forced to,” etc.)
Tell us about your invoice disputes.
Have you ever succeeded (or failed) in invoice dispute negotiations? Do you have specific situations you’d like advice on handling? Leave a comment on this post and share your situations!