12 Things You Are Doing That Are Stopping You Getting Paid

As many of us are self-employed, freelancing and/or independent workers in some way or another, the requirement for getting paid in a timely manner is paramount to our very professional existence.

As such, getting paid properly is one of the most important things to get right as you navigate your way through the sometimes stormy seas of creative independence. Sometimes, if not fairly frequently, people do come across some snags, even nightmares, that revolve around clients taking a long time to pay up, or in some cases not paying at all.

Once you’ve completed a project for someone, it would seem that whether you get paid or not is completely down to your client. There are, however, several things that could be down to what you do that would have a significant bearing on this.

Here are 12 things you could be doing that resist the flow of money coming your way from your clients:

1. Forgetting to create your own contract, or ask to sign one made by the client

It’s best to create your own terms in your own contract, to be signed by both parties (even on top of a contract that might be provided by the client). Not using one will tempt less worthy clients to pay late, or not at all.

So make sure you build a contract into your policy with all projects, no matter how small.

2. Being indirect about getting paid

Many of us tend to get coy when it comes to discussing issues surrounding getting paid. If you’re doing a job for someone, this should be a mutual agreement in which a service is exchanged for money. This means money should be discussed openly as part of the deal.

Be clear early on exactly how much you intend to get paid, within what time-period, in how many intervals and payment method used.

3. Not including your terms on late payment

You should have a strict policy on late payments, included in your contract, or mentioned to the client early on, with a certain percentage of the project cost, to be paid by the late payer per day/week/month of payment received after an agreed grace period.

4. Offering too many payment options

Offering a large range of payment choices could be having an effect on your client’s ability to make a decision on how to pay you, thus leading to a delay in payment. Keep your options to a minimum, using the most popular methods.

5. Being impersonal surrounding payment

What I mean here is that you need to adopt a certain degree of grace, and politeness when it comes to asking to be paid, and sending out your invoice.

Even though it is your right to get paid after having done the work, being polite about it, will give a better, more grateful impression, leading to a better, and hopefully quicker response from the client.

6. Being too slow to send your invoice

The longer you leave sending over your invoice, the longer it will take for you to get paid, obviously. Secondly, if you leave it late, your client will be under the impression that you are not rushed to get paid, and maybe take a while on their side too, using your slowness as an excuse.

7. Being unclear about what you are charging for

It can be easy to write a quick, yet vague description of the project you worked on in your invoice and when asking for payment. The client needs to be totally clear on exactly what you worked on to know they are getting a fair deal and to know what they are paying for.

You wouldn’t pay for something you didn’t really understand at the mall would you?

8. Not dealing with the person in charge of payment

Be clear on who exactly in your client’s company is supposed to deal with payment and make sure your invoice gets to them, to avoid constant passing around and further confusion.

The larger the organisation, the more important this is.

9. Forgetting to chase up

Chasing up a late-paying client is perfectly reasonable if it’s been a while and need only be an email, at least to start. Consider calling up clients during work hours, to really amp up the pressure. If these don’t work, consider moving to formal letters, even the small claims court over it.

A useful article on how to chase up late payments in more depth is on the journalism.co.uk site here.

10. Being hesitant about what you charge

Changing your rates mid-project or being vague about what you charge can encourage some clients (often subconsciously) to feel they have the upper hand in terms of your professional relationship. With this, could come delayed payment.

11. Forgetting to ask for a deposit payment at the start

Particularly for larger projects, with larger fees, it’s a good idea to ask for a percentage fee of the overall charge, such as 30% paid, before starting.

If a client doesn’t agree to doing this, you’re probably better off without them, and would avoid payment issues with them after you’ve completed the work.

12. Not accepting payment when it is offered

You can really be missing an opportunity when someone asks whether it would be ok to pay there and then. They might say something like ‘can I pay you by bank transfer right now?’ and you say ‘no, no that’s fine, we can leave it till the work is done!’

Accept payment whenever the opportunity arises.

Any nightmare stories or further ideas are welcome in the comments section below!

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  1. Great tips and pointers, Alex. I’ve been guilty of some of them and learned others the hard way. This should be required reading for creatives.

  2. Definitely ask for a deposit before starting work. This really does help weed out bad clients. I used to work in-house for a company that thought it was outrageous for freelancers to ask for 50% up front. They turned out to nit-pick every single project when payment was due, and were “sacked” by at least two agencies that I know of in the 6 months I was there.

    Also I recommend including a “kill fee” in your contract to ensure you still get paid for work you’ve done so far, even if a client decides to cancel a project.

  3. it’s always a pleasure reading your great tips,it’s not only useful for beginners but also for professionals since long time ,just I wonder how you can find the time to do everything in such a great way…thank you

  4. following your advices is quickly become a ‘must’ for anyone who work in illustration, thanks again and I ‘ll keep follow you
    (how can I add an icon on side to not be so anonymous when i leave a comment?)

  5. I’d add to this list: not keeping track of hours for hourly payment. Then estimating on the low side because feel guilty.

    • Thanks Anna, good point, tracking time is important. Can be done nicely through Freshbooks I think.

  6. This is great stuff but let me add that this remains important even with clients who have a running history. Stay on top of them and don’t let the system gain slack.

    I’ve had a couple different clients in the past that I’d worked with for well over a year. Many projects had been completed and paid for. I “trusted” them because of our history. So when they needed a bunch of work last minute, I jumped on it to save the day.

    Well, one client was about to file bankruptcy and the other was about to close his business. None of this was told to me until they just stopped answering emails and basically disappeared. Neither paid their last billings. Combined it was just shy of $30K.

    I don’t need to explain how that affected me, it’s pretty obvious. It took me 2 years to catchup to all the dough I had lost, not to mention trying to fill those client slots with other paying work.

    I no longer let last minute rushes change my methods and it’s really helped. I think the client respects you more too for keeping your ducks in a row.

    • Thank you Mr A for an extremely valuable comment and word of caution. That sounds awful. Could you tell us what you now do to keep things secure when dealing with clients? Are you taking deposit payments prior to starting and so on?


      • We actually had a very similar story with client filing bankruptcy and owing us £20K… Our T and C have changed since and no matter who is the client, we require 30% prior any work, full payment before completion of work…We d rather loose a client…

    • I’m seconding this. I’m currently in a slight predicament where a long-standing client (and friend) has decided that they’re rolling two of my projects into one fee, when I’ve obviously never agreed to any such thing and I’ll be getting seriously short-changed if I go along with it (although not to a $30K extent!)

      I made the mistake of assuming I would be able to charge the same fee for this project that I have for the past 3 years, without ever setting that out clearly in writing before I started (and completed) the project.

      Withholding the final artwork is an option, but it has the potential to destroy both business and personal relationships in one swoop. Lesson learnt.

  7. Thanks Alex, another very useful post and, as I come from a collections background, so I can really vouch for these.

  8. I’m particularly interested in the last point. There are times one may feel a little skeptical about a project – not knowing whether he would be able to bring up a good work to meet the expectation of the client, and therefore may choose to accept payment at the very last end, when he does a good job.

  9. One thing I have decided to include in my billing process is small claims. There needs to be a few ground rules as to whom I will file against, and I don’t paddle around the issue any more.

    I can’t accept that a running business or company has any doubts that services rendered = pay for it. If a due date in my agreement passes, I make one round of contacts, then, depending on the reply, I go file small claims. If the invoice is for over the amount, a legal paper will be sent.

    My legal notice also includes that I will notify all channels of communication that are both ethical and legal about the claim being filed.

    If they go ballistic and get pissed off, I just ask them if they were under the impression that the work was free. Many companies don’t want to have a record of being sued in order to cough up payables.

    • Well said, Jeremie. When it comes to chasing payments, I see it as a good thing to act with more of an ‘iron fist’ – getting paid is ultimately the most important part of running a small business.

  10. I’ve recently had trouble getting my last progressive payment from a client and it was such a stressful ordeal. I’ll keep these points in mind for my next projects. Thanks so much for the tips.

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