Do you remember how excited you were when you got your first client as a freelance writer?
There’s nothing like it.
The adrenaline that pumps through your body as you realize you just convinced someone to actually pay you to do something you love.
It’s a dream.
Unfortunately, for many freelance writers, it’s a dream that doesn’t last long when getting paid turns out to be much more of a headache than they ever imagined.
According to research from the Freelancer’s Union, over 70% of freelancers have had difficulty getting paid as a freelancer at least once in their career, with an average loss to unpaid freelancers of $6,000 a year.
And while I love that organizations like Freelancers Union are fighting for stronger laws to get freelancers paid, the person who has the most control over whether your invoices are paid on time or go way past-due is YOU.
So today, I want to share with you some of the most effective tactics I’ve used and seen as I’ve coached freelancers for over a decade.
If you follow my advice here, I can almost guarantee your invoice payment problems will all but disappear which means instead of spending your billable hours chasing down late payments, you can get back to more writing.
Here are a few reasons your clients aren’t paying on time (and how to fix it):
1. Your client isn’t motivated to pay
Far too many freelancers are still giving away the proverbial farm. They deliver the full project (article, blog post, short story, email copy) before asking for payment.
While most clients don’t intentionally seek to leave you without payment, if you deliver everything they need before they pay for it, their motivation to pay you disappears.
To solve this problem there are a few things you can do:
Send your invoice before the project starts
Start by sending your freelance invoice before you even start on a writing project.
You don’t necessarily have to wait for payment before you begin (although you could), but sending the invoice immediately shows your client you care about getting paid for the hard work you’re going to give them.
Hold final deliverables until payment is received
When sending your final files, you may want to hold back until your payment is processed. You don’t want to be an annoyance, but you do want to get paid for your work.
Consider holding back a portion of the work until payment is made or sending as a watermarked or redacted image file so the client can review but not use as easily.
Of course, it’s important to keep in mind that you should only do any of this under the umbrella of clear, honest communication.
Notify your client ahead of time that they’ll need to pre-pay their invoice before you’ll start work on their project or that you won’t deliver the final files until you’re paid.
The goal here is not to make an enemy out of your client—just to maintain their motivation to finally process your invoice.
2. Your client is simply forgetful
If you take a minute to think about it, a client who forgets to pay their invoice makes a lot of sense.
It’s infuriating, but at least it makes sense.
That $500 means a whole lot less to them — as they sit in their cubicle and collect their paycheck — than it does to you.
With a boss breathing down their neck and a full plate of projects, it can be easy for them to simply forget about paying your invoice.
To solve this problem try this:
Set up regular reminders
For most good-hearted clients, all they need are a few friendly reminders.
You can certainly set these up manually if you want, but you run the risk of forgetting yourself and never getting paid for the work you’ve delivered.
Instead, I suggest using an invoicing tool like Freshbooks or Bonsai to process your invoices. There are two key benefits to using a tool like these:
- You personally keep track of every paid and unpaid invoice.
- The software automatically reminds clients who forget to pay.
This allows you to continue finding new writing jobs and building your freelance writing business.
Institute late fees (or early payment rewards)
In addition to regular reminders, you may also want to experiment with instituting late fees or reward for early payment.
Again, this requires early, honest, and upfront communication with your client so they know about any reward or penalties for prompt payment.
You may even want to research NET 30 payment term variables that you can include directly into your invoice.
For example, if your invoice says 2/10 Net 30, that means your client has 30 days to pay for your services. But if they pay within 10 days, they get a 2% discount.
You can also offer a discount on future work as a reward for paying an invoice early.
3. You’re talking to the wrong person
If you’re working with a client at a large company, as many freelancers do, you may not realize that the person you communicate with regularly about the project, may not be the same person who is responsible for paying your invoice.
So while you’re emailing one person every few days to ask about the status of your payment, it’s someone else entirely who has the invoice in a pile on their desk getting more and more buried.
To solve this issue:
Learn who processes invoices at your client’s company
Make an effort to figure out who is responsible for processing invoices at your client’s company. It’s probably as simple as asking your client contact.
Make friends with that person. Stay on their good side. Ask if there’s anything you can do when writing your freelance invoice to make it easier or clearer for them.
4. Your client is deliberately ignoring you
Next we come to one of the most difficult scenarios possible — your invoice isn’t getting paid because your client is deliberately ignoring you.
Why is this such a tough pill to swallow? Because it forces you to come to grips with a few possible realities:
Either your client didn’t like your work (and refuses to pay for it) or they ran out of money (and can’t pay for it).
Neither one is a good option.
If you’ve followed some of the advice above (like waiting to deliver the final product until you’ve received full payment) this won’t be much of an issue.
But if you think your client might be deliberately ignoring you, here are a few things you can try to solve it:
Identify why they’re ignoring you
The first step is to try and identify why they’re ignoring you in the first place. This can be difficult because…well… they’re ignoring you.
Start by reviewing past emails or conversations and seeing if there was a moment when they seemed less receptive to working with you.
In the moment your client became unresponsive they may have been disappointed with your work, they may have been pulled onto a different project, or they may have run out of budget.
Oftentimes, the conversations surrounding these pivotal moments can open your eyes to what’s really happening.
Offer alternatives or ultimatums
The next step is to begin offering ultimatums or alternatives to your client.
If you sense they don’t have money to pay your invoice, consider offering them a payment plan so they can pay the invoice over time instead of all at once (that is, if your business can support it). You can choose to charge a fee for this service too.
If you sense they’re dissatisfied, see if there’s something you can do to make a quick fix so both parties are happy with the end result.
And if polite alternatives don’t work, you may have to send ultimatums ranging from contacting their direct superior to sending letters of intent to take legal action.
5. Your client never saw your invoice in the first place
Believe it or not, one reason your client hasn’t paid you yet could be because they never saw the invoice in the first place.
If they are a busy small business owner or a typical office worker crammed in a cubicle juggling hundreds of things every day, it’s possible they just didn’t see your invoice come through.
It could, very easily, be buried in piles of unopened mail or sent to the wrong folder in their email software.
To solve this common problem:
Contact your client as soon as you send the email
As with many issues addressed in this article, this one can be resolved with clearer communication.
If you send your invoice via email, pick up the phone and call or text your client to let them know the invoice is headed their way.
If you mailed or faxed a physical invoice, send a quick email so they can keep an eye out for it.
Make it extremely clear
There’s no need to get creative or cute when it comes to sending an invoice. If you mail it or fax it, make sure it says “INVOICE” in bold letters across the top of the page.
If you send your invoice via email, use one of these extremely clear subject lines so there’s absolutely no question about what you’re sending.
You have a right to get paid
Sometimes, we creatives start to feel a little awkward about money. We’re artists. And we enjoy the work we do. Asking to get paid for it can sometimes present feelings of anxiety.
But remember: you have a right to get paid.
Just as much as an employee who works hard and expects their paycheck every 2 weeks, you deserve to get paid for the work you do for your clients.
And while getting paid as a freelancer can be a struggle sometimes, the more you freelance, the more comfortable you’ll get with it and the more you’ll get paid on-time.
Photo via Elle Aon / Shutterstock