Many challenges come with being a freelancer: finding clients, managing your time, and, the biggest of all, getting paid. While the first two are important, if you do them without the third bit, what’s the use? Though working in the gig economy allows for flexibility and casualness, your income flow and the bills you have to pay are nothing to be taken lightly.
Freelancers face a lot of problems surrounding money—some don’t get paid on time, some don’t get paid at all, some find the array of payment tools confusing, or some don’t know how to be the debt collector. For beginning freelancers, it can seem lonely and despairing when a client misses a payment due date or rips you off. Whether you’re a novice or a seasoned veteran, it happens, but don’t give up because of it.
Since not all of us live in NYC and are protected by the “Freelance Isn’t Free Act“, here are a few ways to ensure that you get paid for your work.
Nobody Freelances for Free
Before we get into getting paid, we need to start out with what you should be getting paid. While it can be nice to do a project or two pro bono while you’re building up your profile, you need to show you mean business from day one. Start charging as early as you can to get your name out there, to figure out pricing, what kind of clients to attract, and to determine if hourly, project-based, or another form of pricing works for you.
Everyone goes through pricing puberty, and it’s inevitable that ex post facto you’ll find you did an amazing job and at amazing price (for the client) and then realize you should have charged differently or more. Those who have gone before you have some experience, so make sure you do a quick industry search to see what people in your sphere are charging and learn how much you should charge.
The tl;dr: bad pricing leads to bad clients. If you’re advertising your services at low rates–clients may just try to take advantage of you, so be aware of how you present your services–it will save you headaches in the long term.
Always Get a Deposit
Getting a down payment from a client beforehand establishes a relationship that makes them more invested in what you are doing. They are more involved in the project, and you have a sort of insurance for potential financial issues. A word of caution: while this money is nice to have immediately–treat it like a liability; you’re not going to want to spend it all before you finish the project.
So how much should you charge as a deposit? Polled freelancers say they usually charge anywhere from 20-50%. Depending on the project and how you do your pricing, these are good rates to consider when asking for a deposit. Too little can make a client think you’re not serious about the job, while too much can raise red flags as if you’re planning to run off with their money! It’s important to know your clients, balance your prices, and then go for it: draw up a contract, get it signed, and start sending invoices!
Get It in Writing
Contracts and invoices are your best friends. Invoices are the key documents showing that you have an established relationship with a client and allow you to keep a record of what you’ve been paid. And contracts solidify terms and allowances for if you don’t get paid on time and lay out penalties and actions you can take if they neglect to follow through. Having these binding and upfront penalties can help deter subsequent shady actions on their part.
You can create your own contracts (or hire someone on Moonlighting to help you), or use a pre-written template to base your personal contract on. Once you’ve got that drawn up, be sure to put in a timeline on when you can start invoicing and getting money in the bank. It’s always good practice to invoice frequently, especially as many clients adhere to the net 30 rule. The faster you can get that invoice over to them, the faster that money goes to you.
On Moonlighting, invoicing is free and easy–you can do if from your laptop or the palm of your hand on your phone. Keep track of all your clients and their payments as you can scroll down and see which are unpaid, overdue, or pending!
Stay On Top of Your Client(s)
Communicate often (p.s. Moonlighting has instant chat!). Knowing what a client is doing will allow you to notice potential red flags faster. Are they avoiding talking to you (and not just because of a busy schedule or vacation)? Are they trying to switch up payments or due dates? If you do start noticing failed payments, you can take precautionary actions — like stopping work until they continue to pay you. No one freelances for free. Time on a project that you don’t get paid for is wasted time when you could be working and getting paid for another client’s project. So be wary.
In this case, communication will establish you as a trusted and professional freelancer and ensure they know you mean business. Also staying top of mind is good for long term relationships. However that doesn’t mean you need to update them on every step of the way–they expect you to be the expert here.
If this sounds like a lot of paperwork, it doesn’t have to be. Invoices, records, messages, all can be done right through the Moonlighting app. Superb, right? You have all you need housed within one app on your phone (or desktop if you prefer). The invoiced client doesn’t even have to be on Moonlighting themselves; you can still use the same tools for clients on Moonlighting for those outside–that way you have all the records you need in one place.
If Worse Come to Worst
And if does happen (and it may) that your client refuses to pay or ends up not being able to, there is a cool resource called Williams & Harrick that will send a legally threatening note on your behalf to get your clients to pay. Go out and show ‘em who’s boss.
If you follow these few tips for getting paid as a freelancer, you’ll be able to hang on until we all get the Freelance Isn’t Free Act protecting all the unlucky ones not in NYC. Don’t forget to download the Moonlighting app to stay on top of finding new clients, messaging them, and sending invoices!