Payment Process Rules for Freelancers: Set a Deadline

October 12, 2009

PayingMoneyPreviously we visited the practice of asking for deposits upfront when dealing with your clients. Next, we’re going to talk about payment deadlines.

I’m preaching to myself with this post because I still have outstanding payments from clients that should have been collected by now. I think every freelancer does. But what we need to focus on is not just how long you will give the client to pay but what clients will walk away with before payment and what will happen if they don’t pay at all. When we discuss deposit, we want to think of it in terms as the starting “shot” in your race to finish the project. The client shouldn’t receive any design work, not one peek before you have money in your hands. When you go to purchase a car, they don’t give it to you to take home with the promise of pay. When you go to purchase a house, they don’t let you go from touring the place to moving in with no money upfront. So why should it be any different with your services? The deposit is the client’s investment into the project. Yes, you’re doing the work, but if for some reason the client changes their mind (for reasons that have nothing to do with you) you shouldn’t be left out in the cold because you did the work you were hired to do. When moving on into deadline for final payment, we must also discuss it in similar terms. The client should not have any final designs in their hand before you have payment. Not a final email, not a design on disc, not the printed product, nothing. Whoever holds the artwork holds the power. They can’t use the logo design without paying if they don’t have it. Make a deadline for payment that is conducive to your monthly budget and financial needs. If you know that a certain project can take four weeks from initial consultation to completion of payment, you might not have that long to wait. Maybe you should make your payment deadline seven days instead of 10 or 15. Whatever your preferences, make it the same for everyone and enforce it, which brings me to my next point. There must be a collections time limit and a consequence when that limit is reached. After your client has missed their seven-day deadline and their three-day grace period, don’t be afraid to suspend the project. Clearly state the reason for suspension, reiterate your company’s guidelines on client payment and let them know the instructions to make payment in the future if they choose to do so. Do not go months and months on end begging people to pay you. Your time and effort are too valuable to waste and setting a standard of professionalism and stake in you and your company’s belief system will show future clients that if they want to do business with you, they must do it in just as professional a manner as you do.

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