As creatives, we put our heart and souls into our work. Not to mention the majority of our time and energy. So when months go by without any payment, with clients either stalling or outright refusing to pay, it can be hugely dispiriting, to say the least.
The good news is, there are ways you can get invoice disputes resolved more quickly and, even better, methods you can apply to prevent them from occurring in the first place. For this article, we’ve teamed up with online accounting software provider
We’ll start by looking at some common reasons why invoices get forgotten or delayed. Then we’ll go on to explain how you can reduce your risk of non-payment, and ensure invoices get paid properly in future.
Common reasons why invoices get forgotten or delayed
1. The invoice didn’t reach the right person
People at your client’s workplace are busy, and mistakes are made. So don’t necessarily jump to blame the accounting department. “Sometimes late payment means the creative director forgot to forward the invoice on,” points out creative recruiter and D&AD judge
2. You didn’t complete the invoice properly
Often your unpaid invoice will be sitting on someone’s desk because it’s missing a piece of vital information, such as a purchase order number, and can’t be processed. Yes, someone should have contacted you and chased this up, but there are so many hours in the day, and things get forgotten. Or maybe they emailed you, and it went to your spam folder. Either way, this kind of error is much more likely to happen if you create your invoices yourself in Word, rather than use automated accounting software such as
3. You didn’t agree with everything properly beforehand
Another reason why your invoice might not have been paid on time is that you and the client have a very different view of what they owe you. For example, you may have assumed that the price you’d agreed on for the work didn’t include VAT, but they may have assumed it did. For this reason, all these little details must be hammered out carefully beforehand. And of course, this agreement needs to suits both parties.
“I make sure I communicate with the client at the contract stage to find what works for them,” says
4. You didn’t keep everything in writing
It’s natural to assume that if you’ve discussed something over the phone or on a Zoom chat, it’s set in stone. But your client’s recollection of that conversation may be different. So once you’ve agreed on something in person, always follow it up with an email restating what you’ve agreed. “I try to be as clear as possible with setting boundaries at the beginning of a project, including talking about payment terms, setting up a payment plan if needs be, and late fees are a godsend,” says designer and illustrator
How to ensure your invoice gets paid
1. Use online accounting software to keep track
Want to ensure your invoices get paid like clockwork? Then it would help if you invoiced like clockwork, too, using online accounting software like
This will hugely reduce your likelihood that payments will be missed. And of course, it makes managing all your finances much easier overall, saving you time and energy you can put into your creative work instead. So with
2. Understand what your client needs
Being a creative freelance is all about understanding your client’s business and crafting work that meets their needs. So it would help if you did the same thing when it comes to their finance system too. For example, is there a PO (purchase order) number you need to include on your invoice? Are they set up to deliver money to the place you ask for, whether that’s PayPal or an international bank account? Does your preferred due date ally with the times of the month the company normally sends out payments?
In short, it’s useful to get to know the accounts dept of your client, and how it works. As graphic designer
3. Have chasing system in place
It would be nice if generating invoices and delivering them was all you ever needed to do. But we live in the real world, and chasing clients to pay is a necessary practice if you want to keep your payments on track.
Automating reminders also has the added attraction of de-personalising the process. After all, however politely you think you’ve written a reminder email, words can be misinterpreted, and sometimes people can feel ‘under attack’. In contrast, the anonymity of automated software feels much more business-like and non-personal.
4. Make things simple for the client
Every client has a different process, but one thing unites them all. The clearer your invoice and associated communications, the better. Again, this is a good reason to use
Reduce your risk of non-payment
1. Ask for deposits upfront and staged payments
Ask any creative freelancer how to avoid non-payment will be the same: asking for payments in advance. “Always take a deposit!” urges web designer
Content, PR and strategy guru
And of course, there’s no reason you can’t ask for more than that. “I invoice 100 per cent at the beginning of the month,” says social media manager
2. Make the due date clear
Many freelancers will include a demand on their invoices such as ‘must be paid within 30 days’, without making it clear when that 30 days starts. So it saves everyone a lot of time if you can put that down in black and white. “I always put the ‘due by’ date on the bottom of invoices, rather than just the terms,” says Dee. “That way there can be no confusion over business days, etc. This is the date the money needs to be in my account by.” Illustrator
3. Incentivise the client
Everyone responds to incentives, and the carrot can sometimes be more effective than the stick. So consider how you might incentivise your client to pay on time. For example, filmmaker
4. Include a usage clause
One of the most common ways creative freelancers encourage prompt payment is by specifying that work (such as an illustration) cannot be used until it’s been paid for. “Called a usage clause, this should go in the terms and conditions on your estimate and invoice, and basically makes it illegal to use your work until they’ve paid for it,” explains Chris Page, owner of illustration agency
5. Be persistent
When dealing with problem payers, it can be tempting to let it go. But as all experienced freelancers will tell you, persistence will pay off in the end. “Just keep chasing with a polite but firm tone,” advises writer, PR and marketing professional
Even if they’re not, illustrator and designer
Talk to freelancers up and down the creative industries, and the same message keeps coming back. Yes, getting paid on time shouldn’t be an issue. But in the real world it is, and hiding away from the problem won’t help.
Instead, it would be best if you took action, by nailing down an unambiguous and comprehensive agreement at the start of your client relationship and then keeping on top of invoices for each commission.
Online accounting software such as
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