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How to get paid on time, every time

Caroline Gibson

Caroline Gibson

PRO

Ever feel you spend more time sorting out paperwork and chasing up invoices than actually writing copy? It’s time to let clients know that you’re not lost in a happy fluffy creative cloud and that you mean to do business properly. Here’s my advice on how to make sure you’re paid on time – and sometimes before you’ve even started work.

Get your terms and conditions signed

Before starting a project, draw up terms and conditions (T&Cs) for the client to sign, showing they agree to your terms. (I also have my full T&Cs on my website.)

Make sure your client provides the right address to include on your invoice. This will be important if you ever need to consider taking legal action to get paid. If you’re working with a limited company, you can check the registered address at Companies House.

Request a purchase order (PO) number

Sometimes easier said than done, and you only tend to get one with agencies or large clients. But persevere. Having a purchase order forms a contract between you and the client. Plus, some agencies won’t pay unless you can provide one.

Agree a payment date

Copywriting projects can sometimes drag and drag for months. Finally, you stick your invoice in at the end…and then have to wait another month to get paid. Yawn.

The Federation of Small Businesses recommends payment terms of 30 days as good practice. Personally, I always request payments under £500 to be made within 7 days, under £1,000 to be settled within 14 days, and over £1,000 to be made within 30 days.

The added advantage is that agreeing payment terms gives you wiggle room in negotiations. If a client’s budget is tight and they ask you to lower your quoted cost, you could ask for speedier payment in return.

Get partial payment upfront

Always worth a try. Ask for a downpayment of between 35% and 50% to be made immediately, with another chunk at an agreed point (usually after first draft is submitted) and the rest payable on sign off. That way, you can avoid your cash flow drying up.

If in doubt, bill it out

Some freelancers I know send out an invoice as soon as they’ve done the work; others prefer to wait politely in case of feedback. I usually hang on for a few days then email to say I’m invoicing.

Keep track of when payments are due

Make a note in the diary so you can check when each client should pay on time, and drop them a gentle reminder on the due date.

Always get paid by BACS

These days there’s no need to take the risk of being landed with a rubbery cheque. Always, always ask to be paid by BACS.

Avoid international bank charges

Working with clients abroad? Ask them to cover the cost of any charges for foreign bank transfers and currency conversions.

The payment date passed a month ago. Heeeeelp!

Don’t be afraid to chase up your invoice. There’s often a good reason for the delay, such as someone forgetting to pass it on to accounts. But don’t accept anyone being away on holiday as an excuse – every company has a duty to make sure suppliers get paid.

If you feel you’re being fobbed off and too much time is passing, whir into action. You’ve a variety of legal options to choose from, from simple to complex – keep an eye out for my next blog post to find out more.


Don’t miss Caroline’s next post on what to do if an invoice hasn’t been paid – sign up to our blog posts by email or follow us on Twitter to stay up to date.

Remember that before taking any major decision regarding the management of your business or freelance career, you should take advice from qualified professionals such as accountants, lawyers or business advisors.

Comments

18th May 2015

Hannah

Hi Caroline
This is a great article – thanks. I’ve read it and made notes 🙂
May I use your Ts & Cs as the basis for my own please? I see you’ve put a copyright on them…
Regards
Hannah

21st May 2015

Jackie Barrie

Two more tips…

To help maintain your relationship with clients, send your quotes, invoices and chasing messages from a separate accounts@ email address.

See payontime.co.uk for information about your right to claim late payment fees and interest, plus a handy calculator.

PRO
21st May 2015

Caroline Gibson

Thanks Jackie – payontime.co.uk is a great site and details of what to do are covered in my follow up blog! Funnily enough, your email suggestion is also in another blog I’ve just drafted. Great minds etc etc!

4th September 2015

Beth Ritter-Perry

Great advice- I’m a big believer in getting at least half up front. I’m a visual artist and I need (at the very least) to cover my costs to do the job. I teach high school and tell my students who are of an entrepreneurial bend to always get at least half on the front end, and be clear about holding onto the work until the client ponys up for the balance. Great article!

25th August 2016

Stephen

Thanks for your help!
It can be a surprise when your client of six years, holds back from paying you for three months, and gives you the excuse the company has been bought over, and they need time to deal with that, before they continue with your monthly invoice payments.
I think I need to suspend my services until my past three months worth of money is paid in full.
Thank you again.

PRO
26th August 2016

Caroline Gibson

Hi Stephen, I’ve not been in that situation but I’d be very cautious in case the takeover means they’re no longer responsible for payments owed. My advice is to contact the Citizen’s Advice Bureau to find out. (I think that, legally, the company is meant to write to you with details about the merger/takeover and what will happen.) Also, never provide a client with more work unless they’re up to date with payments – no matter how well you know them or have worked with them – I was badly caught out like that many years ago. Good luck!

6th May 2017

Claire Hawes

I once had a commercial debt collection agency as a client. It told me the earlier you invoice and the earlier you chase, the more likely you are to get paid. Also, terms and conditions absolutely vital.

And Stephen, you might want to check to see if the takeover is as a result of an insolvency process. Otherwise, there is no reason for your client not to pay you on time. In fact, you’re quite within your rights to add interest charges according to “The Late Payment of Commercial Debts (Regulations) 2013”.

9th January 2018

Fahad Mahmand

I love the way you give advice. One company have not paid my invoices. I have a company as well and I have delivered services for them. Its 3 months invoices due from last 3 months. Invoices were due to be paid after 30 days. We do not have any contract all communications was through emails. Every time he says he will pay next week but did not paid and break promise 3 times. Excuse was another company did not paid him. Can you please advice me.

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