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I've got a freelance client that I'm working a set number of monthly hours for, who I bill every month on the 1st for the same sum. This is a medium term arrangement set to continue indefinitely. The work is daily and interactive with him, and currently accounts for half of my total income.

I understand that generally after invoicing for a freelancing gig, it may take at least 30 days to receive payment. However, given that this is a recurring payment, essentially a "salary", is it reasonable to expect payment in a more reasonable timeframe? I almost wonder how he can't be prepared for it by now.

Recently I received no response to the invoice for 15 days and sent a friendly reminder about it, for which I received a response not to harass him about payment. This isn't a client I want to lose, so I wonder how I can better arrange for timely payment without giving the impression of harassing?

  • Did you mention payments terms before signing the contract and/or SOW? – Canadian Luke Mar 17 '14 at 17:23
  • No, unfortunately not. Past payments with client were generally within reasonable time, and assumed it would continue. – Miro Mar 17 '14 at 17:31
  • In cases like this, it helped me on dozens occasions talking to the client on this issue. I would explain to him the same things you said to us here. If he's a good client, he'll understand and will pay sooner. If not, this may be a signal that he's not as good client as you've presented him here. All of us has been stuck with "good" clients just because he offered us some doze of safety. Recently I dropped hard client who paid me 50% more than other, just cause I could not handle his behaviour. – Peter MV Mar 17 '14 at 21:37
  • If you can stand to be without 1/2 of your income for one month, and this arrangement will go on indefinitely, then it doesn't matter after that -- you're still getting paid every month. – tcrosley Mar 18 '14 at 18:36
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This sounds very close to a retainer style agreement, but with payments in arrears. I don't like this.

If you and the client know that it will cost $xxx of money every month, it should be due by the 1st of each month, in advance. That would make it a proper retainer. You need an agreement in place (contract, Scope of Work, etc) to protect you, and the client. Even if the client is big, you should not be bullied around. Period.

I would recommend getting a proper retainer contract drawn up with a lawyer, and making sure issues like this will not happen again. For example, how does one party end the contract? What happens if payment is not made? What happens if they want you working more than what is in your retainer account? A lawyer will get all this written down, in plain Legalese writing, and explain in detail what you are signing with your client. In my experience, I only do this type of arrangement with 2 very good clients, and it does include a lot of reasonable restrictions. See this answer for what I do and suggest.

In short, you need these terms worked out ahead of time. After work has started, you may only be going on the client's good word that you'll get paid, and on time. Every time you do something for a client, it needs to be billed out; whether it's once a month, or as you leave their site each day. On the invoice, it should state your payment terms, and it should be clear before working for the client.

Since you already did the work and billed the client, you are currently waiting for the money to come in. I would suggest getting the contract (as suggested above) drawn up, ready to sign with the client. Schedule a meeting to talk to the client, and explain (very calmly!) your concerns about payment, and the work you are doing. Make sure you never put down the client, but that he respects you as you respect him. If he is being rude, interrupting when you are speaking, etc., then I would just leave the client; you may try another day if you feel that would help.

When dealing with businesses, they have their own practices. If they do not work for your company, you need to address that with them, and potentially reach a compromise with them. Remember, they are paying for your expertise, and they expect to get their money's worth. They need to feel as though they are in charge, and that you are there just to guide them and complete anything they can't/won't themselves. I would start the conversation slowly and softly, and explain that you do like this working relationship, but would like to see the money a little quicker. It will be a touchy subject for most clients, so please don't beat around the bush to talk to them.

Now, do I feel you are in the right for calling and asking about the money owed, after only 15 days? I'm on the fence. I believe I need to get paid in a timely manner, but I also send out the bill every day, as soon as the work is done. My terms are set to Net 30, so I don't even think about the bill until the next month. Usually, I set aside the 1st of each month to go through "overdue" bills, and just send a friendly reminder. After 60 days, I add 2%, compounded monthly. I have not gotten to 90 days yet, as the 2% late fee after 60 days gets the money almost right away.

Hope this helps, and do realize, this may be a touchy subject. Don't beat around the bush, respect them in your conversations, and understand their point of view (i.e. Joe Freelancer wants money quicker than usual for some reason).

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"I understand that generally after invoicing for a freelancing gig, it may take at least 30 days to receive payment" -- this is incorrect.

You have the power to set forth your own payment terms. But you have to do this BEFORE STARTING WORK!!! Don't make the mistake of getting through even a day's work without covering this incredibly important element.

I have a musician friend who got burned by having the wrong expectation. He works as an independent contractor, and the bandleader (his friend) got a gig for a big restaurant company in the area. The "standard" setup is that musicians get paid on the same night, but whether the restaurant followed the "standard" or not was never discussed. After the gig (or a few nights???), the restaurant managers told the band leader to submit an invoice and that payment would be rendered within 30 days -- but again this only happened because the band leader didn't discuss it up front. For my friend, it got ugly for his financial situation.

It's perfectly okay, BEFORE starting work, to ask: "Are you able to meet Net 15 payment terms?" Or whatever is a good number for you. Many businesses I deal with tell me that their "standard" is 30 days, but are willing to meet my terms because I've asked for them. For me, 30 days is very, very risky.

The closed mouth won't get fed. Open your mouth and ask. The worst a potential client can say is, "no, I can't meet those terms." At that point, you still have the ability to make an educated decision whether or not to continue; without asking, you're just guessing. I've been foolish in that regard, but I learned better. Getting your money should never be guess-work.

  • I wish I had known this before freelancing at a prominent hospital in NYC. Not only did they have a habit of paying on the 90th day due to their 90 day net terms, but even when I'd agree with my direct report about a start date, they'd take more than 90 days to get a contract through. I ended up having to file bankruptcy over this as someone forgot to renew my contract and I wasn't able to get onto a new one for months, and by the time I finally got a pay check it was more than 1/2 a year later. Moral of the story: Always set your own payment terms, and never work exclusively for 1 client. – virtualxtc Jun 16 '18 at 6:33
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Payment terms can alter depending on the country, type of client, type of work etc. Generally I stick to a 30 day payment period for all my work, it's reasonable for me and usually for the client as well. There are exceptions however, e.g. if I work for a government institution I know in advance it may take 90 days or more to get paid.

Important thing is to get a term discussed and written down, so I would advise you to get it done with the client as soon as possible. It's nothing to be hesitant about, just mention to the client that you neglected to discuss payment terms and would like to do so now.

Also, what a lot of people seem to forget, when an invoice is sent you can request payment immediately. Payment terms are a favor to your customers, not an obligation: there is no law stating you HAVE to grant 30 days payment period. Although I understand everyone does work with payment terms (I do as well) it can't hurt to mention this when you want to start discussing the payment terms.

Finally, I don't like the way your clients said you were harassing him: you did your work and sent an invoice, nothing wrong with requesting payment. Again, payment terms are a favor from a supplier to a customer, nothing less!

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