Ensure You Get Paid As A Freelancer

AKA, F*** You, Pay Me

One of the toughest parts about being a freelancer is the possibility that you'll have to chase down every single paycheck you ever earn. However, there are some steps you can take ahead of time to prevent you from having to chase too hard.

Keep in mind, I'm a freelance web developer (and not a lawyer) so some of this advice may not apply to other freelance fields. These are all avenues to help you get paid promptly, but you'll need to make some personal tweaks according to your specific situation (and you should consult a lawyer).

ALWAYS. GET. A. CONTRACT.

I repeat:

ALWAYS. GET. A. CONTRACT. PERIOD.

None of this other stuff matters if you don't have a written document signed and dated by both parties, agreeing to any of this. Verbal agreements and a handshake don't mean anything anymore.

Not only does having a contract give you a leg to stand on in court (if you ever have to sue for non-payment), it outlines to your client expectations for BOTH parties. You have to do things a certain way, and your client has to do things in a certain way. Being detailed about the business relationship up front helps prevent issues down the line.

Any time I have to tell a client "Per the contract..." I'm reminded to be grateful for having one in the first place.

Deposit

Getting a non-refundable deposit before you even begin working, ensures you get paid just for blocking out the time. Depending on the size of the project, you can do a different percentage. I usually do 50%. This one's a non-negotiable for me. No Deposit? No Work. (Or I'm just going to charge by the hour and bill you weekly to minimize my risk of getting ghosted)

Now if you get to the end of the project, and they won't pay up for whatever reason, at least you got some cash for your time.

Milestone Payments

If the scope of the project is large, another option is using Milestone Payments. Milestone payments are partial payments of the project total that are paid out throughout the duration of the project. The milestones you choose will depend on the size and type of work you're doing.

For full website builds, I usually do a 3 part payment:

  1. 33% Non-Refundable Deposit.
  2. 33% Milestone Payment once the site's design is approved.
  3. 33% due after the site gets final approval, but before it's deployed live on their servers (I'll go over this in a bit).

If the project is massive, you can break things up even further or adjust the ratios to get a larger deposit up front (50%, 25%, 25%). Quick and easy projects typically get broken up into 50% deposit, 50% at the end.

There are a couple advantages to using milestone payments.

  • If the client ghosts you halfway through the project, you at least got a chunk of the payment.
  • Keeps the client engaged throughout the middle of the project with clearly defined phases.
  • Makes the invoice a little easier to swallow for clients, giving them smaller payments over a period of time instead of one lump sum on either end of the project.

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No Final Payment, No Final Work.

You should withhold any final work, until the last invoice is paid in full. Make this part of your contract and spell out the handover process explicitly.

This one definitely depends on what type of freelancer you are. As a freelance web developer, it's fairly simple to withhold the work. For preview during the development phase, I upload the code to my own server (for WordPress builds) or a throw-away development store (for Shopify / BigCommerce projects). The client can access the site to approve the work, but doesn't get access to any of the code until they've finished paying me. After they approve the final project, I send the final invoice. Only once that's paid, then I get things pushed over to their live site, store, or whatever.

If your an artist or a writer of some kind where work samples you send over for review could easily be used without actually paying you, you'll need to adapt this process for yourself.

No Final Payment, No Final Work.

Automate Payment Reminders

I use Bonsai to manage all of my invoicing and time tracking. It makes it insanely easy to charge late fees,send out email reminders. Bonsai helps manage pretty much every step of the freelance process from Proposals to Contracts to Getting Paid. Check 'em out if you need help automating your freelance business.


Use some of these steps, use em all, but if nothing else:

AlWAYS. GET. A. CONTRACT.

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