Ask any freelancer what they love most about their job and they’ll probably mention freedom and flexibility. But, as with any profession, freelancing does come with its downsides. Some of which are the consequences of having a client who leaves you with an unpaid invoice.
After all, late or missing payments cause cash flow problems, rocky client relationships, and a lot of stress.
But, by working preventative measures into your freelance business, you can not only get paid in full and on time more consistently but you can boost your professional reputation in the process.
14 Ways to Get Your Freelance Clients to Pay You in Full and on Time
Late payments and unpaid invoices aren’t always a client’s fault. Sometimes they can be attributed to a freelancer’s lack of organization or haphazard use of professional documents like invoices and contracts.
Before starting a working relationship with a new client, review your freelance business practices to see if you can adopt and benefit from any of the following tips. Together, they work to keep your cash flow predictable and steady and make your small business look more polished.
1. Quote Correctly
Quotes are an important tool to use with new clients. Not only do they outline project details and scope, but they also include information about pricing and payment terms.
When done correctly, quotes are helpful to both freelancers and their clients because they provide an accurate and detailed cost for a project or service.
Not providing a quote to your clients leaves many ways for things to go wrong. For example, you could:
- Lose control of project scope
- Fail to discuss an hourly rate
- Surprise a client with an unexpectedly high invoice
- Do work the client didn’t expect to pay for
- Not be on the same page about the overall project budget
All of these situations can lead to nonpayments, forcing you to attempt to find a solution after you’ve already done the work.
Effective quotes help to avoid them by including:
- The total cost of the project, estimated hourly rate, or retainer fee
- A time estimate
- The list of tasks or deliverables expected from you
- Whether a deposit is required
- How and when you expect to be paid
- What the cost does and does not include
Providing a quote gives the client a chance to review, discuss, and accept the cost of a project before signing on. They’ll know what to expect when your first invoice arrives and are more likely to pay it without a hassle.
2. Invoice Consistently
Your invoices are how you notify a client it’s time to compensate you for the freelance work you provided. Just like the bills you receive in the mail for your phone service and other utilities, your invoices should be consistent, clear, and predictable.
For your invoicing strategy to work in your favor, you need to make some upfront decisions, such as:
- How frequently will you send invoices?
- How much time will you give clients to make a payment?
- What are the two or three easiest ways for you to receive payments?
- Will you make your own invoice templates or use invoicing software from a service like FreshBooks or QuickBooks?
Once you know the answers to those questions, you have the beginnings of a solid invoicing strategy. However, it’s important that these decisions remain consistent for each invoice and client. Don’t change your invoicing process unless it’s necessary to improve your accounting practices, accommodate a specific client, or keep it up-to-date.
Consistent invoicing helps you to get paid by:
- Providing clients with predictable due dates and payment methods
- Telling clients exactly what they’re paying for
- Outlining any payment terms, like late fees or interest charges
- Adding professionalism and legitimacy to your small business
It also allows you to have a more reliable payment schedule, giving you the opportunity to improve your cash flow and have more financial freedom.
3. Request Deposits
Although deposits aren’t necessary for every client, they are useful when bringing on new clients who are new to their industry or have little experience with freelancers.
For example, it wouldn’t be unreasonable to request a deposit from a startup or new small-business owner.
The best thing about deposits is that they offer you some security in the event a client turns out to be unreliable or goes MIA. They also help to keep new clients both financially and emotionally invested in projects.
And if a prospective client refuses to pay a deposit, take it as a warning sign for how your relationship may go in the future.
Consider which clients to ask for a deposit carefully and be upfront about your expectations and requirements. While deposits make sense for new clients who haven’t yet built a reputation, they aren’t as necessary for larger companies or businesses who already work with a number of freelancers.
4. Collect Upfront Payments
Sometimes deposits aren’t enough, either because the project is too small or because clients in your industry have a reputation for being unreliable.
In that case, consider asking for full payment upfront. Although this may be less feasible for new freelancers, those with a solid reputation and proven experience typically have more luck.
As with deposits, don’t unnecessarily ask clients for full payment upfront because it can sour an otherwise good working relationship. For example, it wouldn’t be appropriate to ask an existing, trustworthy client to pay you in advance for an ongoing contract.
Collecting payments upfront means you don’t complete any work before payment has been received, completely removing the risk of providing your services in good faith.
5. Request Milestone Payments
Milestone payments land somewhere between deposits and upfront payments. Instead of a client paying you in advance, they pay you for a specific deliverable or milestone at a time.
For example, let’s say you’re contracted as a graphic designer to provide a branding package for a client that consists of designing a color palette, logo, and business cards.
Instead of paying you upfront or at the end of the project, a client could pay you for each milestone you complete, such as sending in a proposed color palette. You would receive another milestone payment after providing the logo, and the last once you completed the business cards.
Milestone payments are a good way to handle large projects with multiple steps but don’t make sense for small, one-off projects.
6. Include Payment Terms in Your Freelance Documents
Payment terms outline what happens if and when a client fails to pay you on time and in full for the service you provide. They can address payment-related expectations, such as:
- Late fees and interest charges
- Your billing cycle and payment due dates
- Accepted payment methods and currencies
Including these terms in your freelance documents makes them accessible and clear to clients, keeping them aware of what the consequences for nonpayments will be.
You can reiterate your payment terms in documents such as your freelance contract, quotes, and invoices.
Payment terms also help if you ever need to take legal action to pursue a payment because they demonstrate the client’s agreement to and awareness of the terms you outlined.
7. Accept Common Payment Methods
Don’t make it hard for clients to pay you. You’ll only end up causing yourself a lot of grief. When choosing your preferred payment methods, make sure to select common, user-friendly options that your clients are likely to be familiar with.
For example, you can accept payment via:
- Bank transfers and wire transfers
- Credit cards and debit cards
- Direct deposits to your bank account
The easier it is for your clients to make payments, the more likely they are to do it how and when you want them to.
The payment options you offer will vary based on your business and clients.
For example, if you provide on-site services like computer repair, you may prefer to use a card reader like Square or Stripe for physical debit and credit card payments. If you offer freelance writing to clients in another country, you may prefer a service that facilitates international online payments like Wise.
8. Offer Early Payment Incentives
If you prefer early payments for budgeting or accounting purposes, discounts are an ideal way to incentivize clients to pay you well ahead of a due date. But they also take money out of your pocket.
If you choose to offer early payment incentives or discounts, keep them small — for example, $25 off every invoice over $500.
While these incentives won’t typically encourage large or established clients to pay early, they’re good motivation for smaller clients or those who are budget-conscious. Just make sure that you benefit enough from offering them. You don’t want to give up money for no reason.
9. Communicate Your Payment Expectations
Before you start a working relationship with a new client, don’t forget to discuss your payment requirements and expectations, such as:
- Your rate
- Your payment terms
- Your invoicing and billing process
- Payment due dates and methods
Give clients a chance to ask questions, and find out which processes work best for them. Upfront communication leaves less room for error and keeps both you and the client from encountering payment-related problems in the future. Plus, it allows you to adjust your process if need be, to better accommodate a worthwhile client.
10. Track Your Payments
Although freelancing may be your full-time job, at least part of it is made up of business administration and accounting tasks, one of which is keeping track of your payments. Once an invoice is sent, it’s up to you to track when and how it’s paid, or whether it goes past the deadline.
Tracking your payments helps you to stay on top of them, giving you a chance to send a payment reminder or invoice follow-up before a late payment occurs. You can track your payment records in a spreadsheet or use accounting and invoicing software if you have more invoices than you care to track manually.
11. Offer Flexible Rates
Offering flexibility on your rates isn’t to say you need to accept lowball offers to work for a pittance. Instead, it refers to how you present your pricing. For example, you might offer clients flexibility via:
- Hourly rates
- Retainer fees
- Project fees
- Per-word rates
Some clients prefer predictable, consistent bills that stick to a budget. In that case, they may prefer a retainer or project fee. On the other hand, clients who are unable to anticipate the amount of work they may need you to complete may prefer an hourly rate.
Simply changing how you present your pricing to clients can facilitate more timely, consistent payments by accommodating their needs and preferences.
When a client asks how you bill, you can provide examples as to how you charge similar clients, but let them know you are willing to work with them to find a pricing structure that works for you both.
12. Don’t Cover Large Client-Related Expenses Yourself
While it’s important to accommodate your clients, covering large project-related expenses upfront can leave you strapped for cash. Especially if a client doesn’t reimburse you on time.
When you need to make a large purchase to complete a project, have the client pay for it directly. Not only will it keep you from potentially having to cover the expense out of pocket, but it will also prevent the client from balking at an unexpectedly high invoice.
This doesn’t just go for one-off purchases like software or materials, but ongoing ones as well, such as client-specific subscriptions or services you need to get the job done.
13. Build a Professional Reputation
The more you build up your reputation as a professional freelancer, the more quality clients you’ll attract. And the less likely they’ll be to try to take advantage of you.
Conducting yourself professionally through networking, your client relationships, and even the documents and processes you use encourages clients to take you seriously and gives you a competitive edge. The more you build a name for yourself, the choosier you can be when it comes to the clients and projects you take on.
This helps you to get paid on time and in full by bringing in high-quality clients and discouraging those who aren’t interested in keeping things above board.
14. Drop Bad Clients
The tough thing about bad clients is that they aren’t always bad people, which can make ending your professional relationship with them a difficult decision. But clients who consistently make late payments or who are unable to pay you in full aren’t good for business.
Not only do they affect your personal finances, but they also take up space in your schedule that could go to a more committed or financially stable client.
If you happen to work with a client who suffers from perpetual payment problems, it’s time to let them go. As much as you may like them or their business, it’s going to be hard to grow your freelance career and gain some financial freedom if you can’t get paid on time.
If their problems are typically budget-related, consider setting them up with another freelancer who offers a lower rate, like a student or part-time contractor. Dropping a client doesn’t have to mean destroying your relationship. Provide alternatives and suggestions when you can to soften the blow and facilitate a solution.
From developing standard invoicing processes to keeping and maintaining organized freelance records, ensuring you get paid on time and in full involves a lot of upfront work.
But, if you put the time in, you’ll benefit from having a more predictable, consistent cash flow and building a strong professional reputation. Focus on consistency, communication, and quality clients to prevent past-ue invoices from becoming a regular part of your freelance business.