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Tips for making sure you get paid as a freelancer

Computer in a desktop

As with anything, being a freelancer, independent contractor, or business owner comes with its own set of pros and cons.

Being your own boss means that you don’t have all of the protections that an employed worker enjoys. Employers are regulated and the vast majority wouldn’t dare to not pay their workforce. But as a freelancer, you’re more exposed to certain risks, like lack of payment.

Not getting paid despite dedicating yourself to a project is soul-crushing and. And if you don’t get paid, your business will quickly become a mere hobby

So, what can you do to get paid as a freelancer?

  • Set clear expectations
  • Use a contract
  • Document communications and transactions
  • Require a deposit be made for work to be started
  • Don’t over-promise or over-commit
  • Send easy to use invoices

Set clear expectations from the start

As you negotiate a freelance project, it is vitally important to be very clear about the working relationship between you and the client.

Before even responding to an email or making a phone call, you should already have an idea of your pricing schedule.

Don’t agree to begin a project without first discussing pricing and payment expectations.

Once in agreement, put it in writing with a formal contract

At first, this process may seem difficult or confusing. But with each project, you can fine-tune your process

Establish a clear freelancer-client contract or SOW

A freelancer contract doesn’t have to be complicated and full of legal jargon. Although, it’s always recommended that you obtain professional legal advice to make sure the language is appropriate and doesn’t set you up for future problems.

Freelancers Union, an organization representing and protecting more than 56 million freelancers across the nation, offers an easy to use contract creator. Other contract creators can be found with Legal Zoom, and Nolo. These contract creators may not be free.

A statement of work (SOW) generally provides a clear outline of what is expected, the responsibilities of each party, the due date or deadline of completion, payment amount, and any other special payment arrangements

Beyond the contract, there is still more to do. A contract won’t magically guarantee that you are paid or paid on time, but it’s a great start.

Keep accurate documentation

Document every communication between you and the client. This includes phone calls, emails, and invoices.

This can serve as a paper trail in case of any future issues or misunderstanding.

Sometimes, your freelance clients simply forget to pay.

A previous email or invoice can easily be re-sent to the client as a friendly reminder to pay you.

A better alternative, however, is to be proactive in securing payment before you even start working on a project.

Require a deposit prior to beginning the project

There are different ways to collect a deposit for freelance work. For example, you could ask for 25%-50% of the total project fee to be deposited up front.

By asking for a percentage of the total prior to getting started, you can protect yourself from zero payment while also reassuring the client that they won’t get cheated either.

Of course, your client may feel uneasy if you requested the full 100% upfront. By requesting just a portion of the total, both parties show they are truly committed to the project and it is both party’s best interest for the project to be completed as promised.

The remainder of the project cost could be due once the project is finalized or incrementally in phases - whatever makes sense for your field.

This should be discussed, agreed upon, and outlined in the contract.

This strategy can be especially useful when working with a new client until trust is earned. Don’t just assume that you will be paid because a client gives you their word. Lack of payment can be a common problem in the business world, so take the steps necessary to protect yourself.

At least with a partial, upfront payment, you won’t be completely out of money in case the client fails to pay upon completion of the project.

Start out small and avoid over-committing

Sometimes, freelance work can seem like famine or feast. When you haven’t had any work for a while or if you are just starting out as an independent contractor, any job prospect can make you salivate.

Be careful not to let this blind you.

Avoid promising to complete large amounts of work for a new client.

First, you don’t want to spend a large chunk of time dedicated to a project only to find out the client won’t pay you.

Second, you may find that you and the client are simply not a good fit and a working relationship just simply isn’t possible.

If a client wants 10 web pages designed, agree to design just one or two to start. This will allow you to see how well you work together and to see if the client pays you in full or on time.

Then you can increase the project load with more confidence moving forward.

Send easy to use freelancer invoices

Help your client, and yourself, by sending an invoice for freelance work that allows the client to easily pay you.

What does this look like?

Send an electronic invoice that allows one button to be clicked so that a payment can be made, either via credit card, check, electronic transfer, or direct bank deposit.

The easier it is for a client to pay, the more likely it is that you get paid as a freelancer.

What can freelancers do if a client hasn’t paid?

For better or for worse, there is a process that must be followed - and it's similar in the case of a contract dispute or lack of payment.

The answer to this question depends heavily on the exact situation.

The first steps are the most logical ones: send a follow-up email, letter, or invoice. If this doesn’t work, call the client.

Next, if there is a higher-level manager or representative that you could talk to, try to reach out to them.

If these steps don’t result in finally getting paid, consult a legal professional that can give you advice for your specific situation,

Wrapping up - protecting your freelancer payment

As you can imagine, taking steps to avoid non-payment is ideal. To highlight, one way you can increase the odds of getting paid as a freelancer is to require an initial deposit from your client before you start on any work.

Early on in the working relationship, avoid overcommitting to projects. Instead, start small, earn your client’s respect, and allow your client to earn your trust. If any red flags come up, you can easily terminate the relationship and have the peace of mind that you didn’t agree to a large scale project. If you required an initial deposit from your client, at least you won’t be completely left out to dry financially if something goes awry.

Make it easy for clients to pay you. This can be done with electronic invoices that allow for one-click payment methods. The more payment methods you accept, the easier it will be for the client to pay.

Keep accurate documentation. At the very least, this will help you follow up with your client and, if needed, would be useful if legal action is taken.


Hi there! This post exists to offer you (hopefully) useful information and insights, but it cannot take the place of personalized professional advice. Please consult a qualified expert if you have questions about your business. Also, Azlo doesn’t endorse any third-party sites that are linked here.

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