Inspiration For This Article
Recently myself and Clive Walker both mentioned on Twitter how frustrating it was chasing up clients for payments. Clive asked me if I had any tips to ensure clients pay but I couldn’t think of any good advice at the time (other than getting a deposit and signing a contract).
This got me thinking back over the five years that I’ve been freelancing . I’ve worked with some great clients who pay on time and, like most freelancers, I’ve also had the occasional bad client who either takes forever to pay or simply disappears without paying you.
This post is a collection of things I’ve learned (sometimes the hard way) while freelancing.
1. Always Get a Contract Signed
This one is a must. It took me far too long to realise a contract is required for every single project not just the big ones. Now I always get a contract signed because it protects both myself and my client. Everyone is on the same page and the client knows what they will be receiving, how much it will cost and when the deadline is. I also include a copy of my standard terms and conditions with every contract I send out.
One thing that put me off with getting contracts signed for smaller projects is the time required to send the contract to the client, wait for them to sign it before finally receiving it back. That was until I discovered Right Signature which takes all the hassle. You simply upload your contract to Right Signature, send an e-mail to the client with a link to the document and they then digitally sign the contract. The final document contains signatures from all parties with a unique reference number and is legally binding. Right Signature have a 30 day trial so give them a go!
- Contract Killer – Andy Clarke shares some wonderful advice on writing a contract that is both easy to understand yet still legally binding.
- Writing Your Service Contract – Anna Debenham shares her service contract process.
2. Get a Deposit
Perhaps this one is pretty obvious but I only started requesting a deposit from my clients after three years of freelancing. I’d never experience a bad payer and foolishly assumed all clients would pay for the work I’ve done. It took just one client to disappear off the face of the planet without paying to make me change my ways. I now charge 50% up front (sometimes less on very large projects) which my clients have never had a problem with. I just wish I started doing it sooner!
Getting a deposit is beneficial not only because it will help with your monthly cash flow and financial planning but it also helps filter out time wasting clients who have no intention of paying for your services.
Don’t fall in to the trap of assuming the deposit will be sent even if a client tells you it is in the post. I know it can be tempting to start designing straight away but I highly recommend you wait until the payment is received and safely in your bank before you begin any complex work.
- FreshBooks – I’ve been using FreshBooks for around 18 months and it has made such a difference to the way I invoice. My clients find it easy to use and I’ve integrated it with PayPal Website Payments Pro so they can pay easily online. Invaluable for sending deposit invoices.
- FreeAgent – If you are looking for a full invoicing and accounting package then look no further! In addition to invoicing you can also control all of your accounting needs and upload bank statements with ease. If you need convincing click here to read John O’Nolan’s recent review.
If you haven’t worked with the client before it may be worth researching their business. How long have they been established? How is their business being run? What do their customers think of them? Do their suppliers think they are reliable?
I recently had a meeting with a potential new client who told me how frustrated he was with his old web designer and how he had to shout down the phone at him recently. That’s not something I would like to happen to me if we worked together! Also in the meeting the client joked that he hasn’t paid a couple of his suppliers and they are getting on his back. These flippant and irresponsible remarks set all kinds of alarm bells ringing and I didn’t take the project on in the end.
Sometimes you have to trust your gut instincts but as long as you get a deposit and contract signed then you are protecting yourself as much as possible from the start.
4. Keep Your Client Informed
Although not directly related to ensuring you get paid I think it is important to keep your client informed of the process of their project at every available opportunity. Not only will this look favourably on you but it will ensure the client stays in contact with you.
If you bury your head in the sand and keep ploughing on with the project without getting feedback from your client at regular intervals you may find they’ve changed their mind about the job or even decided they don’t want to proceed.
Regular feedback e-mails, telephone calls or meetings can prevent this. Stay in touch and stay on top!
5. Develop on Your Server
A very important point indeed. I always insist that I develop the website on my server. This way I have the added security that only I can access the files so the client can’t run off with my hard work! This can also speed up development because you will be familiar with the server technologies and any admin panels that you have to work with.
If I’ve registered a domain name and arranged hosting I will often develop the site in a sub folder for the client to view (eg. www.domain.co.uk/preview). I will then move the files to their correct location and pass on the FTP details on completion and payment.
Sometimes this may not be practical for the project you are working on but always try to secure your files and work until the final payment has been received.
6. Get Sign Off
Getting the client to sign off at specific milestones is very important as it lets you progress with the project safe in the knowledge that all previous design work and decisions have been accepted. If you’ve got a concept design signed off it gives you the security that if the client wants to make significant changes to the design at a later stage they will need to pay extra for it.
Again, this is another point to consider for inclusion in your contract. Make sure the client knows exactly how many revisions and re-designs are included in the price.
There are lots of online resources that help getting sign off a simple procedure:
- GetSignOff – Online sign off app from the guys at Headscape.
- 10 Ways To Get Design Sign Off – A 2007 article by Paul Boag for the 24 Ways blog.
- Proof HQ – Another online sign off app with excellent client feedback options
7. Don’t Release Files Until You Are Paid
Perhaps something I am guilty of if I am honest! It is easy to upload or launch a website as soon as the client tells you they are happy and have told you the cheque is in the post. After a few occasions where I’d launch a site and the final payment never actually arrived I now operate a much stricter policy for releasing the website files and images.
This isn’t such a bad thing as it promotes faster payments in some cases when a client wants to launch the site straight away. Make sure you include this in your original terms and conditions or contract so the client understands from the outset that the work must be paid for in full before the files are released or copyright is transferred.
Also, before you “go live” make sure you’ve read 15 Essential Tips Before Launching Your Website
8. Chase, Chase, Chase
Got a non-paying client? Well, don’t give in. You’ve done the hard work and deserve to be paid for it!
If this has happened to you the best way is to get in contact with the client as soon as possible. If they are not returning your e-mails give them a call or send them a letter to establish what the problem is. There may be an innocent explanation. As long as you’ve stuck to the key points at the start of this article (namely getting a contract signed and a deposit) you can be confident you have done things correctly.
If you are in the UK you can use the HMCS Money Claim Online service to file a claim that someone owes you money. Luckily I’ve not had to go down this route but I’ve heard good things about the system from other freelancers.
9. Thank the Client!
If you find a client who is a pleasure to work with and pays up promptly then you are going to want to keep hold of them! When you receive the final payment make sure you thank the client for choosing you and for paying promptly. You can do this by e-mail but I’ve found sending a simple thank you card really leaves a wonderful lasting impression for very little cost and effort on your part. After all, you need to look after your best clients! 🙂
- Freelancer’s Tips For Getting Paid On Time – Suite101
- 6 Ways To Kickstart Your Customer Service – Web Designer Depot
Image credits: iStockPhoto and stock.xchng