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I currently work full time for a client. I know that isn't the definition of freelance, but certain characteristics of our relationship lead me to believe that I'm still a freelancer. That being:

  1. I am self employed
  2. I work remote and choose my own hours
  3. I can say yes or no to any projects he gives me
  4. I can take as much time off as I want with next to no warning required (there are obvious exceptions to this)
  5. I can, and do, take breaks to work with other clients periodically
  6. While I work full time for him I have no contract what so ever

The first five are the characteristics of a dream job, but number 6 was an accident. I was first employed by him via a freelancing platform, but after two weeks he was banned from there due to a violation of their T&C by asking for English speaking freelancers in the title of a job post. It was at this time that he asked me if I would like to get paid directly. To this I readily agreed to. Because of this sudden change no contract of any sort was drawn up. At the time I also had no reason to doubt that I would get paid. Because:

  1. I had already been paid by him twice already
  2. His business was in a tail spin when I joined. I personally replaced 5 other developers. Meaning he needs me. (He seems to attract all the freelancers who don't know what they are doing)

And that being said I do always get paid, but I have yet to be paid without having to remind him.

The way payment is supposed to work is I send him my time sheet every Tuesday and he pays me for the previous Monday to Sunday. He apparently pays about half of his freelancers this way. The others are paid via the freelancing platform. He is in Australia and I am in the UK so I send him my time sheet every Monday evening my time. By the time I get up on Tuesday it is already about 5pm down under so he has had all day to pay me. I normally wait till Tuesday evening my time before messaging him and every time, like clock work, he get back with the phrase "I will pay today". He has only once said sorry, normally it's just those 4 words.

It's Wednesday today and even after a reminder this morning still no payment. If I was to say what I feel then I'd be gone in a heart beat and at the loss of a weeks pay since there is no contract.

So my question is this:

What can I say to a full time client who always pays, but just always late and I don't have a contract with

P.S. I have definitely learned my lesson about contracts...

  • I would not consider 1 day between invoicing and payment "late" by any stretch of the imagination. And with no contract... you may be obligated to provide 10-30 days between invoicing and payment (depends on your location). – Scott Oct 12 '16 at 18:13
  • Hey @Scott, yeah I totally agree with you. The issue is he has said he will pay me every Tuesday and he's not. Every time I remind him he's not saying "it's on it's way" he has forgot or doesn't care – yobddigi Oct 12 '16 at 18:16
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    I really wouldn't see an issue if payment is always made. People get busy. While in theory he may want to pay every Tuesday... it's not impossible he's got other things going on and needs another day or two just due to existing demands on his time. – Scott Oct 12 '16 at 18:23
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This is not a late payer. Chasing him does make you seem desperate. A late payer (and I have had a few in my time) pay after 60 days. I take great pleasure in waiting for their next contact or request and gently turning them away. I turned one away today, politely and nicely, but it feels great, almost like revenge! Lol.

I would treat this client of yours with kid gloves. Keep it friendly, make it a standing joke between you. However I would also start 'extending' the time worked. An additional hour here or there adds up to 4 or 5 a week which makes up a sort of late payment of sorts. I am not saying be dishonest, but start rounding up. 40 mins here is an hour on the timesheet etc.

But, you cannot work full time for him with no benefits, no stability, no contract, no respect etc etc for much longer. So while it pays the bills keep going but make selling your services your No.1 priority. Find new local customers you can start to build a proper foundation on. This is your main focus while filling in the timesheet is a very short term answer to very real bills. If he cut you off tomorrow what would you do? You need a buffer and more stability.

Look, as freelancers, we make money when we charge for our expertise. It might only take me half an hour to transform someones website, but that half an hour took years of development, training, practice and understanding. They do not pay me for half an hour, they pay for access to that knowledge. When you can charge hundreds of pounds for half an hours work is when you are really getting there. Project work is the key too. They pay you a few thousand to get a job done. You get it done. If you get it done in a few days, great. Everyone is happy. No one can say, "but it only took you a day or two". Get three of those jobs done in a week and you have had a great week.

For me customers pay up front. Either a 50% deposit for project work (or 33% for a bigger project with 3 payments), or they buy a block of hours which they can then use up. A 10 hour block is far more expensive than say a 40 hour block. These block hour packages have proven very popular BTW. But are only available to customers where I did the initial site build. Otherwise it is project work for them too.

I would suggest that you build up some savings to buffer 'late' payments against.

He sounds altogether dubious though. To keep saying "I forgot" does not value your work in any way. Hourly rates can be the worst to work to. He has already broken T&C's of the original website almost certainly by continuing to use you and bypassing them.

But while he is your only source of income, it is kid gloves all the way. You want your customers to enjoy interacting with you. To welcome your emails, not think "oh here we go again".

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I would suggest the following answers as options:

  1. Make and sign a contract with payment terms and detail what happens when payments are late.

  2. Ask for payment before you start the work.

  3. Keep reminding them to pay.

  4. Charge late payment fees if payments are not made on time.

  5. Find a client that pays on time.
  • 1. I want to, 2. I get paid by the hour so can't get upfront payment. This is more like payroll, 3. I already do, 4. Doubt he would agree, 5. Trust me... I'm looking :) – yobddigi Oct 12 '16 at 20:21
  • As an alternative to payment before you work, you could ask for a retainer or deposit that you'll return once your work is complete and all paid up. Doesn't sound like that would work either, but it's an option. Best of luck! – Accountant Derek Oct 12 '16 at 20:27
  • I suggest talking to the client and telling him you want to renegotiate the terms. Start with the contract - and in there, you can list whatever terms you want - but bear in mind that he may want to adjust things to be comfortable for him. It wouldn't hurt to have someone familiar with international law take a look at it. Since you two are located in different countries, I don't know what kind of legal recourse you may have should the contract be in violation. – Voxwoman Oct 13 '16 at 20:33
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You will get burned. I've been here. I "trusted" someone like this. It destroyed me.

First, get another customer, ASAP. You're going to need it.

Second, do not turn over your work product until you've been paid. If you're working in software, version control is great because you can retrieve a version by its date and turn over source code as payment is made. DO NOT USE THEIR VERSION CONTROL

Third, get a contract. No matter how much they scream, GET A CONTRACT.

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