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Freelance Tip: How To Make Sure You Get Paid By Your Clients

Robbie Janney

The freelancer’s worst nightmare is a client who doesn’t pay on time — or at all. Here are a few steps you can take to make sure that doesn’t happen.

Cover image via Chokniti Khongchum.

If you have ever worked freelance, you’ve probably run into this situation. You agree to terms, work the gig, and send in the final product. The client thanks you. Weeks go by. No check. You make countless calls, send countless emails, and get countless “check’s in the mail” responses. Maybe you finally get paid. Sometimes you don’t. It’s frustrating and exhausting, so here’s a guide to making sure that your client pays you for your work.

Sign A Contract

How To Make Sure You Get Paid By Your Clients — Contract
Image via Freedomz.

Here’s something that no one ever told me as a new freelancer: an invoice is completely different from a contract. This may seem obvious, but when you are first starting out, the whole freelancing process is a little vague.

When consulting with a client about the project, listen attentively and respond with your day rate and other fees, like equipment rentals, so they know what to expect. Once you reach an agreement, draft a contract that includes these very important elements:

  1. Expected completion and compensation dates. Every job will be different, but creating a set schedule has always worked for me in the past. If you let the client know when they can expect the finished product, then you deserve to know when you will get paid. Keep each other accountable with a binding contract. This will be helpful down the line if they don’t pay when they said they would — you have written proof of the agreement. If the company is on a net-30 or net-45 payment schedule for their vendors, try your best to work with them. But if you need to rent equipment with that money, make sure the client knows that you absolutely need that money before the gig starts.
  2. Contract amounts. Always include the exact total of the job. That way your client knows exactly what to expect, and you have a written agreement covering that amount. It helps to outline exactly what costs what (shooting, equipment, editing rates, etc.), so the client knows where their money is going.
  3. Revision limitations. Another freelancing nightmare is endless revision. I’ve had clients ask for 7-8 revisions that cost me countless hours. Unfortunately in those situations, I felt helpless because I didn’t establish a revision limitation in my contracts, so the client felt like they could kick the work back as often as they wanted. Clarify how many hours of revisions you will grant them before you begin charging additional fees.
  4. Put everything in the contract. Every customer will have wants and wishes, and you need to put them in writing before agreeing to a job. Asking a lot of a freelancer is okay, but you need to agree on everything before the gig starts.

Be Persistent

How To Make Sure You Get Paid By Your Clients — Be Persistent
Image via Iakov Filimonov.

So you’ve done everything right. You signed a contract, did your job, and sent out the finished project. Unfortunately, you haven’t gotten paid, and it’s overdue. What do you do now? Well, don’t immediately vilify the client. Companies have lots of vendors to pay, and things like corporate videos and commercials sometimes get lost in the paperwork.

Send them a polite email reminding them that the payment date has passed. Most of the time, they will usually respond and send the money. Things happen, you got the money, everything is great.

But in rare circumstances, this isn’t the case.

If the client isn’t responding, keep emailing them. Twice a week. Three times a week. Eventually ramp it up to every single business day. Make sure your voice gets heard, and that they know that you need to be paid. Remember to be respectful and not threatening. If you have the phone number of the person who set up the gig, reach out to them personally. In the most extreme circumstances, try going to the office. It’s much harder for someone to ignore you when you are standing right in front of them.

Don’t Fall For Sob Stories

How To Make Sure You Get Paid By Your Clients — No Exceptions
Image via AJR_photo.

In my years of freelancing, there’ve been a few times when the client didn’t pay on time, and they responded with the “We don’t have the money to pay you” excuse. Maybe it was a startup or a local business without a lot of capital. It’s business, and it happens.

Of course, every situation is different, and there is usually a solution. Try your best to work with your client, but if they won’t agree to anything, remind them that you have kept up your end of the deal, and that they are not keeping theirs. Be sympathetic, but do not let them take advantage of you.

When I’ve heard this excuse, I’ve sometimes granted more time for payment. In one instance, the client paid me weeks later with a written apology and a few extras to show their appreciation. The payment may have been late, but it worked out in the end.

On the other hand, one company gave me the same excuse, but they didn’t pay me, and they took advantage of my patience. These are the companies that think that if they just ignore you, you might eventually stop asking. Be very, very firm with these clients. You performed a service, and you must be paid for it.

Choose Your Clients Wisely

How To Make Sure You Get Paid By Your Clients — Choose Carefully
Image via Vladimir Arndt.

Whether or not you get paid on time can depend on the type of business you’re dealing with. If it is a very healthy business, they will most likely pay you on time. If it’s your uncle’s friend who has a new invention that “reinvents the way we shuck oysters” that he runs out of his garage, think twice before agreeing to a contract.

Trust your gut, always. If you get the feeling that job is going to be a hassle, don’t take it. Or if the client continually tells you how small the budget is for the project, be wary. These are the types of people who think filmmaking and video production is easy and may not value you or your work when the time comes.

Looking for more video production advice? Check out these articles.

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