If you’ve been a freelance designer for long, you know that getting paid well and on time can be one of the biggest frustrations you face.
Whether you’re freelancing on the side or you’ve started your own design business, it almost never fails: you’re going to have at least one client who just can’t seem to pay their invoices on time.
But don’t despair, there are a number of things you can do that are quite simple to ensure you get paid on time more often.
Getting paid on time relies quite a bit on your understanding of how clients process invoices and manage payments.
So below, I’ve included a few common reasons freelancers and small design businesses often get stiffed on their invoices with actionable advice for solving the problem if you ever face it yourself.
Reason #1: Your client forgot about your invoice altogether
Unfortunately, sheer laziness and forgetfulness are often the most common reason your invoices end up going past-due.
Clients are busy. This is especially true if your clients are small business owners or entrepreneurs. It’s likely your client has a lot of plates spinning at one time and, if they’re not extremely organized, processing invoices just doesn’t typically fall at the top of their list.
To solve this common problem you’ll need to master the art of client follow-up.
Try setting reminders in your calendar or phone to follow-up with unpaid invoices 3 days, 7 days, or 14 days after they’re due.
If that process seems too manual, you can use some sort of freelance invoicing software to send automatic reminders to clients who forget to pay.
You should also avoid getting angry with clients who are forgetful and offer other motivation to help them pay on time. Incentives for early payments or consequences for late payments may be a nice place to start.
Once you’ve been in business for a while you may want to consider requiring upfront payment for the work you do for clients. The constant nagging of an unfinished project is a great way to get clients to pay their invoices quickly.
Reason #2: Your client isn’t responsible for processing payments at their company
If you work for a lot of corporate clients, you’ll find that the contact person who hires you most likely is not the actual employee to process your invoice and send your payment.
Most large clients (and even many small clients) have accounts payable departments that process invoices when they come into the building.
So while you may be following up on a regular basis (see reason 1), the question becomes: is your client following up with the accounting department just as often?
Unfortunately, office politics can come into play here and people can shy away from “bothering” the accounts payable department depending on the company culture.
But that’s absolutely no excuse for not receiving payment for your work.
To take matters into your own hands, find out who’s actually responsible for processing payments at your client’s company. Become their friend if possible and find out if there’s anything you can do to make their life easier.
By staying in touch with them, you’ll be more than a stranger if there’s ever a difficulty in getting paid.
As your business matures, you may even want to offer a direct deposit or recurring payment structure with your accounts payable department to speed up payment processing and make the entire process more streamlined.
Reason #3: Paying your invoice is too complicated
Have you ever taken a moment to think about how you design your invoices? Are they clear and concise? Are they accurate? Do they have all the relevant and important information?
Remember, the job of a design invoice is not necessarily to look visually stunning or use the latest graphic design trends.
The goal is to communicate quickly and efficiently the important information that your client needs in order to process your payment in a timely fashion.
By including more information than needed, using fancy colors and fonts (which are usually printed in black & white anyway and make it harder to read), or otherwise making your invoice too complicated, you decrease the chances of it getting paid on time.
If you think this might be a problem you’re facing, try simplifying your graphic design invoice by removing most colors and elaborate brand elements. Keep it simple and easy to read, copy, or print.
You should also make it easy for clients to pay your invoice. By using some sort of freelance invoice software, you can have a “Pay Now” button directly on your invoice (although, you should still include payment details in case they choose to print it out instead), making it a simple one-click action to make a payment.
As your business matures, you’ll find the right balance between too much information and too little; too much color and too little; and what the overall design of your invoice should be.
Reason #4: You don’t understand your own payment terms
Sadly, one common reason freelancers have a hard time getting paid boils down to their own misunderstandings about how companies process invoices.
If, for example, your payment terms are “NET 30” (a very common invoice payment term), means you’re giving your client up to 30 days from the time they receive the invoice to make a payment.
If a payment takes another 7 days in the mail, for example, and your client takes full advantage of NET 30, you’ll be waiting 5 weeks to get paid for your work.
So when it’s been 3 weeks since you sent the invoice and you still haven’t been paid, you’ll be tempted to reach out (in anger?) to your client when, in reality, they’re just following the terms you set for them.
To resolve this, make sure you’re watching the default terms used in your invoice generator. I recommend setting them to “due on receipt” because most businesses will still take a week or two to process the invoice.
As your business matures and you get more reliable clients, you might even extend longer payment periods of offer discounts for paying before the payment term is completed.
You deserve to get paid (on time)
Above all, remember this: you never need to apologize for asking to be paid for work you’ve agreed to or completed.
Getting paid is a basic activity of business.
As creatives, asking for payment can sometimes feel awkward or overbearing, but as you work more with clients, you’ll begin to see just how natural it is to talk about money and payments together.
You deserve to get paid just as much an employee at a company. If a company stops sending paychecks to its employees, they hear about it—no doubt.
So if your clients aren’t paying you what you’re worth, they should hear about it from you too.
Stay professional, but be persistent and, over time, you’ll get better at it.
**The views & opinions expressed in this guest post are of the guest author’s and do not necessarily reflect the opinions & views of the Design Roast community as a whole.**
Preston Lee is the founder of Millo where he and his team have been helping freelancers thrive for over a decade with their in-depth articles, free guides, podcasts, and social communities. Join nearly 120,000 freelancers who rely on Millo for support by subscribing to their weekly newsletter for freelancers.