Caroline Gibson

PRO

18 May 2015

How to get paid on time, every time

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

Scrabble tiles spelling 'money'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.

Date circled on calendar pageKeep 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.

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Hannah

May 18, 2015 at 5:33pm

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

Jackie Barrie

May 21, 2015 at 11:24am

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

Caroline Gibson

May 21, 2015 at 12:08pm

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!

Beth Ritter-Perry

September 4, 2015 at 8:05pm

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!

Stephen

August 25, 2016 at 10:17pm

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

Caroline Gibson

August 26, 2016 at 8:43am

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!