How to invoice projects, get clients to pay, and see results as a freelancer!

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Have you ever had trouble getting clients to pay invoices?

Have you ever felt anxious, fearful, or “weird” about billing a client for your time?

Have you ever had to haggle with a client over an invoice?

If so, this is the post for you. (Trust me, you’re not the only one.)

Good communication

Invoicing projects and getting paid starts out with good communication between you and your client. Don’t be shy about your pricing – but don’t be afraid to negotiate, and let your clients know up front what their work is going to cost. (Don’t you hate getting a “surprise” bill? So do your clients.)

Tips:

  • Ask for a budget up front. Sometimes you get lucky, but most clients are going to tell you they have no idea and little money. This plants the seed that they should think about it and reinforces that you are a serious designer who is going to charge them. (You’d be surprised how many people try to get something for nothing.)
  • Don’t be afraid of talking about money. If the roles were reversed, they’d have no problem charging you for their products/services.
  • Stipulate that work begins when their deposit clears the bank. This is a real motivator for them to get your deposit in quickly.
  • For a continuous client, discuss a price at which you’ll notify them if a project is going to meet or exceed their price point.
    Example: If any project is going to cost more than $300, you’ll give a heads up before you begin or as soon as you know you’re approaching that price point.

Create a professional invoice

I know it’s a lot easier to send an email asking for money, but it’s terribly unprofessional not to provide an invoice. Whether you fashion one in InDesign or invoice using your accounting software, you absolutely must send an invoice.

Tips:

  • Use professional payment due terms like “Net 10” or “Net 15.” (This means that they have 10 or 15 days, respectively, to pay the invoice.)
  • Provide ways to pay on your invoice or links in the accompanying email (PayPal info, address for a check, Square, etc.) to minimize the “work” your client has to do to pay you.

Send a reminder

If your due date comes and goes without payment, send a reminder promptly – the next business day.

I recommend simply sending a second invoice or, if your accounting software allows, a reminder. Often times they mean to pay and simply didn’t realize the day.

If your client doesn’t respond within the next two-three business days, call them. Find out what’s going on as soon as possible – maybe the owner is out of town until Friday and he’s the only one who can sign checks.

Remember, the longer you wait, the harder it gets to secure payment.

Handling clients who can’t pay

We’ve all been there, and it’s no fun. This is one of many reasons why we always get deposits up front…because partial payment is better than no payment.

If your client can’t afford your bill, discuss options with them.

  • Suggest a payment plan over a series of months until their bill is paid off (don’t forget to write up a contract!).
  • Negotiate a trade in goods or services – at least it’s something.
  • Depending on the size of the bill, you may threaten legal action.

Personally, I’ve never found late fees to work. If a client can’t pay, they certainly can’t pay more, so adding to the bill makes it even less likely that they’ll believe they can ever pay it off.

Finally, terminate your working relationship with them or refuse to do further work without 75% – 100% payment up front until they’ve paid reliably for a full year.

Save all correspondence

Save everything – all of your emails, a journal of when you tried to contact them (and how), what was said, and exactly where the project stands.

This covers you in the event that you do have to take legal action, and it shows due diligence in collecting payment.

What tips can you share?

Have any secrets to share on invoicing and actually getting paid? Share them in the comments on this post!

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About April Greer

April is a go-to freelance designer with a rare combination of creative expertise and technical savvy. She is available for subcontracting and speaking engagements – visit Greer Genius for more information.

Comments

  1. Priscilla Biju says:

    What a great article; totally agree with your comments, your timing is uncanny! Normally I work on projects more than $300 and require payment in instalments (50/50, or 40/30/30 for larger projects), but recently I’ve gotten a few requests for small jobs (ie. $200-250); I feel that it’s not worth the hassle of requiring two payments. However, I was worrying last week when my client didn’t pay me right away, as I’m used to getting paid the same day (if by PayPal) or within a week or two if they write a cheque.

    Question: How do you go about charging for small jobs ($250 or less)? I don’t really want to ask for prepayment, because I know that some contractors (home/building, etc.) take people’s money and run, and I want them to feel comfortable giving me money for work I haven’t yet performed. In the past, I’ve always withheld the digital files or wouldn’t launch a website until I was paid the final amount, but the last job was a simple cosmetic job for a pre-existing website that the client already owned. Do you still send a contract for a job that is $200? (I didn’t because the paperwork wasn’t worth the small amount.) What do YOU do this situation?

    • Priscilla,

      Every new client, regardless of price, gets a contract (my contracts are only a couple of pages at most, usually 1 page) and requirement for a prepayment up front. My main reasons are:

      1) If you treat their project professionally, they’ll treat you as a professional. If you don’t, they won’t.
      2) I still don’t want to get stiffed, even for $200.
      3) Scope creep happens BIG TIME with small projects. What was “oh, I just want you to update the color scheme” turns into a few other minor changes turns into a new design, you want to make sure you have in writing exactly what their money buys them.
      4) Clients are much more likely to finish projects if they’ve put money down, even a $50 dollars. See #2.

      Also, to be fair, almost never would a project through me cost less than $50, and rarely less than $100. $150 is probably the lowest I would go for a project because it’s just not worth my time discussing the project, setting up the files, getting access to their site, etc. and actually doing the work for less.

      Once I establish a good rapport with a client and they pay on time, then I’m more lax on prepayment for small projects.

      Does that help?

  2. Having a contract is always a good idea, for your safty, and the clients.

    I’ve found tha clients don’t like the word “contract” as much as “agreement” so I’ve recently started creating “agreements” over contracts. This has worked well so far and I’ve found that most clients are far more likely to sign and agree with the “agreement” over documentation labeled as a contract. After all, your contract is a writen and signed agreement between you and the client, so it seems like the word agreement sits well with more people than “contract”

    I hope that this helps some of you having difficulties with contracts. Try it out, what can you lose if clients don’t want to sign your “contract” anyway?

    Ps: I always refer to the agreement, as an agreement. Hovever, I’ve found that about 50% of my clients that sign agreements eventually call it a contract sooner or later, just proving they know the deal is binding.

    • Joe,

      Interesting insight. I call mine contracts, and most people expect such an agreement from a professional. However, if they do get nervous, I explain that it protects both of us and provides me with a road-map of what we want to accomplish.

      My contracts are super-easy to understand and quite short, so I’ve never had a client not want to sign one. If I did, I’d tell them to go elsewhere because anyone who is squeamish about a binding deal probably isn’t planning on paying.

  3. Great advice, as always! Just wanted to include an option that others might not be aware of. A newer feature through PayPal is a program called ‘Bill Me Later’ that allows you (the designer) to get paid up front, while your customer will receive 6 months to pay back the amount due. It’s a free service to sign up for and is a great alternative to threatening emails demanding payment. PayPal even provides banners that you can include in your email and on your website to let customers know that this an option for them even at the start of their design request.

  4. Samantha says:

    Hi April!

    I recently joined GDB and I really enjoy reading your articles. I’m a very young (and inexperienced) freelancer and hoping to learn a lot from this website.

    As for deposits, I absolutely agree with what you had to say. What would be your “formula” for determining the deposit amount? I think paying in instalments overtime is a great idea for larger projects, but I came across a client who didn’t want to write that many cheques (not sure why). If i want a deposit, what is the best percentage of the overall project so that if they refuse to pay in the end, you end up getting enough money that it covers your costs.

    • Samantha,

      The simple answer is 50%. Half up front. This way both you and your client are taking equal risk.

      For large projects, I offer payment in thirds. Large is relative to the client’s budget, but I start to offer this in the $1200 range.for smaller clients.

      If you’re going to offer a payment plan, make sure it’s in writing and signed by both parties. That’s for you and your client to work out – $100/month, $50/month, etc. and it all depends on the client and the project.

      Hope this helps!

      April

  5. Question if I may.
    I have recently supplied an invoice to a client for a job that was completed. Somehow the invoice managed to find its way into the hands of my other employer which has nothing to do with my personal business at all, they were not mentioned on the invoice and I have no way of knowing how they managed to get hold of it. Is it illegal for a third party to give out a private invoice without my permission to someone else? It has caused a massive issue between me and my employer now, not that I did anything wrong but I am worried about the possible outcome. Cheers,
    Nigel.

    • Nigel,

      Doubtful that it’s illegal for someone to share an invoice with anyone else. Sorry that it happened…perhaps they know each other personally?

      Good luck, and I’d have a good meeting with your employer to smooth things out and determine future expectations.

      April

Trackbacks

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