Freelancing software that helps you get paid faster.
How to bill a client in 5 easy steps
Freelancing can be a difficult business to master. You not only have to seek out, secure, and service clients, you also have to create a seamless and effective accounts receivable process. For many independent contractors, the invoicing and collection portion of their business is the greatest struggle. How do they make sure they get paid on time? What is the proper way to ask for money? What are the best resources available on how to bill a client? Is it possible to set up automatic payments?
Rest assured that the task of getting paid isn’t complicated, but it does require you to be professional and consistent. Read on to see the five required steps to getting paid promptly from your freelance clients.
1. Refer to the contract
Most good freelance relationships are based on a contract. Whether you created one, the client provided it, or you collaborated on a contract that incorporated both parties’ feedback, this is the starting point for billing practices. Your freelance contract should have outlined the important details you’ll need to refer to in your invoice, and it will guide you on the proper billing amount. It may even include extras, such as who the invoice gets addressed to and how payment will be made.
If your contract is missing an important component needed to promptly bill, you’ll need to go back to the client now – before your first invoice – and get clarification. Ideally, it would be good to have these new details in writing via a contract addendum or new legal agreement. If nothing else, a simple email where you both type out “I agree” in response to the payment terms is sufficient.
2. Create an invoice template
Since every client will have a slightly different preference for how they want to be billed, it’s best to set up each first-time invoice for a client as a template. This way, it’s easy to duplicate the original invoice (complete with address, billing contact, payment terms, etc.) and simply update the project details (such as the hours tracked on your timesheet), and the amount due. For larger corporations who require extra billing details – such as P.O. numbers or internal line item reference codes – this is the simplest way to save time on what could be a lengthy process each month.
Invoice templates, one for each client, can then be accessed easily each time you want to rebill the same client. As client info changes, you can easily update the template so that future invoices show the correct information, too.
If you're billing your clients by email, a strong template can go a long way. Get below our pack of 5 ready-to-use templates for sending invoices.
3. Make it easy to pay
Most invoicing services, including Bonsai, work with third-party payment processors like PayPal or Stripe to get you paid for services directly from the invoice. This offers a huge advantage to freelancers who want to both appear professional and cut down on time between sending out an invoice by email and receiving payment. By giving clients a one-click payment solution and asking for payment in an email, there’s little chance they will forget to pay you or send the money to the wrong account, address, or contact.
If you require payment by check, ensure that your invoice includes everything a client will need to send it. Who should the check be made out to? If your business name is different than the name on your bank account, be sure your invoice indicates so. If you accept Chase Payments, Zelle, or another P2P payment service, include a line about which payment email money should be sent. (Note: Invoices paid with cryptocurrencies are generally more likely to be paid late. Think carefully before accepting Bitcoin, etc.)
Finally, if you would like to be paid via direct deposit to your checking or savings accounts (also known at ETF – “electronic funds transfer”), this will usually need to be set up before your first invoice. Discuss the possibility with the client while in the contract phase, if possible. You’ll be asked to provide a copy of a voided check or the routing and account numbers of your bank account to have this payment option set up. (Only provide this information to a trusted client. You may also choose to have this option take effect once you have been paid a few times and have come to trust the client.)
4. Send invoices promptly
Each client will likely have a payment schedule that is unique to them. This also means that you’ll need to send out invoices to meet that payment “cycle.” Do they only send out payments once a month? Know what the cut-off date is to send invoices and get paid promptly. Are they open to invoices at any time – or after each project or milestone completion? Know if it’s OK to send freelance invoices as work progresses and how they feel about being billed multiple times in a pay cycle.
You should also know how they handle outstanding invoices. If you bill every 30 days, for example, and payment from an earlier invoice hasn’t been made in time for the next invoice to go out, will you add the totals together? If so, make note that the first amount is being carried over. (This can be labeled as a “balance forward.”) You don’t want to confuse their accounting department by billing multiple times for the same amount due.
The sooner you send out an invoice, the sooner you’re likely to be paid. Keeping cash flow constant depends – in large part – on your ability to keep invoices current. If you are lazy about creating and sending new invoices, you’ll soon find yourself not getting paid in a timely fashion.
5. Follow up with late payments
The wonderful thing about contracts is that they usually only have to be referred to for results to happen. If you have waited the 30 days from invoicing without payment received – and your contract promises “net 30” for all invoices, you now have standing to contact your client and inquire about payment. You don’t have to be rude when checking in; a simple “I just wanted to ensure you got my invoice and see if you have any questions” should do. Some invoicing tool also include a “remind” button that you just have to click to send a pleasant follow up note. Most clients are embarrassed by the idea of not paying their bills on time, and that is usually enough to get payment your way.
Unfortunately, 29% of invoices are paid late. So, what if you’re kind about checking in and you still aren’t paid? Using the tips above to include that amount on the next invoice is a start. Make a note that you will start charging interest to unpaid amounts (provided that is included in your original contract.) If you don’t get paid within a reasonable time after this, you may consider whether you want to continue providing services. At some point, it may be wise to hold off on delivering more work until they have gotten caught up with their invoices.
If, after several attempts, you still aren’t paid, are given the run-around, or – worse yet – “ghosted” by a non-paying client, you do have some options. You may try going to the head of the company to inquire about payment status. (Often this is a personnel matter and will be resolved once someone in charge learns of it.) A final option may be to enlist the help of a collection professional, provided the amount owed is large enough to cover fees for their services, too. Small claims court is also a valid route, although this can be difficult for clients living in a different state than you.
For freelancers who live in New York City, the recent “Freelance Isn’t Free” regulation may provide some relief. Designed to protect independent contractors from late or non-payment, it can offer relief in the form of court-ordered payments, along with extra penalties relief. If you don’t live in New York, you may want to check with your state attorney general about what options are available to you.
With a proper invoicing process in place, the average freelance should spend no more than 30 minutes per month per client on handling money matters. Unfortunately, due to faulty contract language, inconsistent billing techniques, and lax collection efforts, independent consultants usually spend much more than that. By creating a good process from day one of your business, you can significantly cut down on time spent chasing money and build incredible goodwill with those clients everyone wants the most. Stop worrying about all of that with a free Bonsai trial.