Most freelancers start to develop a radar over time for the clients who will pay them and those who will suddenly disappear when an invoice comes in. But every once in a while, even savvy independent professionals can get fooled by a seemingly sincere client who turns out to have no intention of writing a check.
While there’s no guarantee that any one strategy will get you paid in full and on time — even honest and steady clients can suffer financial setbacks, after all — you can protect yourself from deadbeats somewhat by putting smart business practices into place.
How? “Get a deposit up front,” advises Jasmine Sandler, president and founder of Agent-cy Online Marketing in New York City, where she advises small and midsize businesses on online branding and strategy–tapping a diverse career that has taken her from the giant ad agency Y&R to IBM and into the world of entrepreneurship.
Based on my experience, the deposit would range from one-third to 50%.
Sandler’s projects often last three to six months, so she will invoice at set intervals. “If they don’t pay, I won’t go into the next meeting,” she says.
Of course, each field has its own culture around invoicing. In journalism, publications often have a “pay on acceptance” policy and typically don’t offer advances on a single article, so it would generally be hard to get a deposit. But if, say, you’re writing copy or designing images for a small-business client’s website, asking for a 35% or 50% deposit up front would not be out of the ordinary.
Another tip from Sandler: Don’t take work that pays far below your usual rate because you’ve in a slow period. You’ll regret it. Instead, focus on building your business. Market yourself. Improve your LinkedIn profile. Have coffee with colleagues who may be able to direct you to better projects. “Those are the things you need to do on a constant basis to get business,” she says.
What’s your best tip for getting paid on time? We welcome your comments.