How To Make Sure You Get Paid (Part 1)

Steve details how you can avoid payment delays by taking the proper steps up front to ensure that your invoices to clients get paid promptly.

You've completed a client project. And now you're waiting, waiting, and waiting to get paid.

Not a great feeling.

But you can avoid payment delays (and the lost sleep that goes with it) by taking the proper steps up front to ensure that your invoices to clients get paid promptly.

Here are some ideas:

1. Set Clear Expectations Up Front

In your fee agreement, make it clear exactly when your invoice will be sent and when payment is due.

In my agreements, I explain that my invoice is sent one week after I submit the copy and that payment is due in 30 days.

2. Get the Name of the "Accounts Payable" Contact

Ask your client who in the accounting department takes care of "accounts payable". This is the person responsible for vetting and paying invoices.

You want to make friends with the accounts payable person! He or she will be able to give you the status of your invoice and tell you when to expect payment. In certain circumstances, he or she can speed things up for you, too.

3. Ask For Part of Your Fee Up Front

It's standard practice in the creative freelancing world to get some of your fee up front; usually 50%.

Now I admit, for clients that I trust and have dealt with for years, I waive that requirement. But for new clients, I always ask for that 50% payment. You should, too.

A simple way to word it in your agreement is: "The payment schedule is 50% now and 50% upon completion of the project."

If a new client balks at paying part of your fee up front, that's a red flag. Think twice about taking on that project!

4. Try the 10% Technique

I learned this technique in Alan Wiess' book, Million Dollar Consulting. And it's amazing how often it works!

You simply put a clause in your agreement that states, "A 10% discount can be obtained when paying the full quoted project fee in advance."

I've had many clients pay my entire fee up front to get that 10% savings. In fact, some corporate accounting departments are required to take advantage of all discount opportunities from vendors.

5. Trust Your Gut

If you get a sense that a potential new client is going to stiff you for payment, don't take the project!

Early in my career, I had a meeting with a potential new client. Just as I was about to take on the project, he said, "Don't worry about being paid. I wouldn't think of not paying a freelancer if I was 100% satisfied with his work."

Oh-oh. I didn't like the sound of that. At the time, I needed the work. But I walked away. And I'm glad I did.

6. Look Like a Real Business

If a company sees you as a fly-by-night freelancer, it may not pay you as promptly as it would a real business. That's not fair, but does happen.

So make the right impression by making your invoices look "Fortune 500 professional".

There are plenty of excellent invoice templates, software and online invoicing services that will enable you to do this.  I've heard that FreshBooks is very good. QuickBooks, too.

7. Make It Easy For Clients To Pay You

Send your invoices promptly. (Remarkably, some freelancers don't!) Make sure your invoice includes all the information the client needs, such as the project name, reference number, purchase order numbers, etc.

Also, accept PayPal and credit cards. You can do that simply by setting up a PayPal merchant account -- which is free.

8. Follow Up the First Day Your Invoice Is Overdue

As soon as your invoice is due -- say, 31 days after you've sent it -- call your client or the accounts payable contact. Ask about the status of the invoice and when you can expect to receive payment. Don't settle for vague assurances like, "A check will be cut in a couple of weeks." Get an exact date. Then follow up again a few days before that date to make sure your check gets processed and mailed.

9. Hold Back Creative Rights

In your agreement, state that the creative rights to your work automatically goes to the client once the project fee is paid.

So, if your project fee is not paid, you still own the rights. And, technically, the client can't use your copy without your permission.

This technique doesn't guarantee you'll get paid. But it is something you can use as leverage when an invoice become long overdue.

Years ago, my invoice to an ad agency client went more than six months overdue. I finally reminded them that I still owned the creative rights to the copy and may have to notify their client to stop using my material. (A series of brochures.) It was hardball. But it worked. A few days later, I got my check.


So those are some ideas on how to get paid promptly. But what if the worst happens? You call, email, call again, but don't get your check? In Part 2 of this series, I'll explain a step-by-step strategy that works well.

Steve Slaunwhite coaches freelancers in how to find a niche, attract great clients, and build a dream business. For more information, visit