Hassling clients to pay invoices is an inevitable part of being a freelancer or entrepreneur. You must allocate sufficient time every month to keep on top of your invoices and payments.
The business that commissioned the work from you may be struggling with their own cashflow, and freelancers and contracts can be right at the bottom of the priority list when it comes to paying out.
Here are a few tips on chasing up the cash without burning your bridges when it comes to future work.
Be clear about payment terms
A 30 day payment period from submission of the invoice is fairly standard across the creative industries. To make this clear, put ‘Payment expected within 30 days’ somewhere on your invoice. However, make sure you check with whomever commissioned you what their payment terms are, and in particular look at any contracts you sign. Some businesses may want longer payment terms, or to pay you 30 days after publication or use of your work. You can always ask for different terms at the outset (or if it’s a lot of money or an important client, accept that the cash will arrive later).
Chase straight away
Don’t wait to pursue the money you’re owed – do it as soon as the invoice is late to be paid. Use alerts, calendar reminders or accounting software to let you know when the payment is due, and make it part of your daily and weekly routine to check the schedule.
Be polite and professional
You’re not doing anything wrong in chasing payment! Just send an email that’s polite and to the point: “I’ve just noticed that my invoice for [work] is overdue for payment. Can you let me know when it will be paid, or let me know if there’s somebody else I can check this with?”. Often the person who commissioned you won’t be in charge of payments – so try and get through to the accounts department.
Get a firm date for payment
The accounts department should be able to tell you exactly when the money will be coming through – keep pushing for a date, not a vague “it’s on it’s way”. In these days of digital banking, “the cheque is in the post” is not an acceptable excuse.
Lost invoices and banking problems
In some cases, invoices get lost or bank transfers are delayed. Don’t accept these as repeated excuses over multiple different pieces of work, but the best thing to do if this happens once is simply to accept that the money will be late and move on. When you’re planning out your finances, don’t assume every invoice will be paid on time – give yourself some runway.
Don’t shoot the messenger
However frustrated you are, don’t take it out on the person who commissioned the work. It’s highly likely that it’s not their money to pay out, and they’re not the person who clears the payments. Keep everything polite, and offer to speak to their accounts department directly. If you’ve been completely understanding to the person who asked you for the work (and they’re feeling apologetic and embarrassed) this may actually put you in a good light for future work.
Ask for alternative payment
If the invoice is really far overdue, see if you can ask for payment in instalments. If things are seriously late, you could also ask for payment in kind or contra – is there a service or product that the company can provide you in lieu of payment? This may mean giving up on the cash, but would be better than nothing.
Keep a note of late payers
If you’re working for multiple clients, you may find it more productive to work with those that pay less but do so on time (or even early), than those who seem more lucrative but take an age to cough-up the cash. Keeping a note of who pays when will allow you to balance the two.