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You can be world-class at your job but when you first freelance for yourself it can be difficult talking about money with clients. I recently finished my tenth year freelancing full-time and while I’ve always enjoyed designing and developing websites; the admin side of things has been less fun, however.

I have found that most clients are such good payers the following tips are almost irrelevant. However, if you don’t apply the following firm principals the minority that aren’t so good with payment can really impede your cash flow. The thing to bear in mind is, as much as you love your job and your clients, this is business and it all boils down to the fact if you do your job you should get paid for it within a reasonable, agreed timeframe.

Don’t accept cheques

This probably isn’t as big a deal in this day-and-age but don’t even entertain accepting cheques. They’re antiquated and have no place in the world of digital. All payments should be done by bank transfer and possibly credit or debit card (though the fees tend to be higher on cards).

Never work without a contract

Your contract should cover, among other things, payment terms and should cover things like who is responsible for paying bank fees, what payment methods you accept and anything else that is relevant. I have covered contracts in more detail here. Don’t even think about working without one.

Never change your payment terms for a client

Decide on your payment terms and then stick to them. If a client asks for more favourable terms (such as thirty, sixty or ninety days) politely refuse. You can’t go to a supermarket and negotiate payments terms; your business should be no different. I personally would never offer more than seven days. Anything longer and the invoice is just asking to be forgotten about. Also, some people never consider an invoice until it’s overdue so the shorter the payment terms, the better.

Never start work without a deposit

For small-to-medium size jobs I ask for fifty-percent upfront. New freelancers are scared of doing this but in all this time no one has ever questioned it. It shows you’re serious and it makes them committed to the project. As a job gets larger the payments (in terms of percentage) are smaller but I won’t start work until I get some kind of payment. If a client objects to paying a deposit then it can be a sign they don’t value your offering and that they could cause problems further down the line.

If you carry on working when you’re owed money it negates your invoicing policy.

Never work on an overdue account

Once an account becomes overdue stop working for the client. That doesn’t mean you’re being difficult, it means you’re being fair. If you carry on working when you’re owed money it negates your invoicing policy.

Never apologise for your pricing

Saying things like “sorry it’s so expensive” weakens your offering because it comes across as though you’re admitting your initial quote was overpriced. Be firm and if your prospective client can’t afford it you can either work with them to create a cheaper alternative (by maybe removing features or relaxing the deadline) or simply wish them well with their project.

Never give a discount for paying “early”

Giving a discount for paying early gives the impression that the client is doing you a favour. They’re not actually paying early, they’re simply paying before the final deadline. By all means charge interest on late payments as the law allows but better to set things up so that people don’t pay late in the first place (in my opinion the meagre interest you are allowed to charge is not usually worth the hassle of constantly increasing your invoice).

Use invoicing software

Invoicing software will pay for itself almost immediately. Invoicing software makes issuing invoices faster and sends reminders automatically. When I switched to invoicing software the amount I was owed at any given time went down by over a third within the first month.

Keep emails chasing invoices neutral

If you do need to manually chase invoices (this shouldn’t happen often if you use invoicing software) then don’t grovel or be aggressive. Keep it neutral and to the point.

“Sorry to bring this up be if you can maybe sort of see your way to possibly paying me some time soon that would be great” isn’t firm enough. “You’ve had the service now pay up — this is completely unprofessional” will just make the client dig their heels in (and it makes you look unprofessional). Keep requests for payment to the point and don’t editorialise the situation. “The attached invoice is now four weeks overdue. Please settle immediately” is all you need to do to get the message across without causing further problems.

Tim Bennett is a Leeds-based web designer from Yorkshire. He has a First Class Honours degree in Computing from Leeds Metropolitan University and currently runs his own one-man web design company, Texelate.