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.