The difference between being a freelance writer and writing as a hobbyist? Getting paid.
Why is it that so many freelancers – writers or otherwise! – have such a hard time getting themselves paid?
My rates are stupidly “reasonable” (AKA: Too dang low!*), but I’ve never once had any qualms about getting paid. Invoicing has always been something I’ve excelled at.
*I’ve been slowly raising them over the past few months.
And considering the importance of invoices, you’d think that freelance writers would do everything possible not to make any mistakes. However, such is not the case!
Here are ten of the most-common mistakes I’ve witnessed freelance buddies and/or mentees making with their invoices:
1. Sending the Invoice to the Wrong Person/Department
If you’re working for multiple clients and you’re not super-duper conscientious, you’re probably going to slip up and send your invoice to the wrong person at some point.
At best, you’ll end up embarrassed, look a little less professional, and have to wait a bit longer to get paid. At worst, you could end up violating your contract by divulging your client’s private information to another party — which could land you in legal trouble.
Or, if you’re invoicing a large company or multi-person office, you may face a different sent-your-invoice-to-the-wrong-person scenario. You don’t want to end up bottling your invoice and setting it afloat in a sea of business people, to be lost forever!
When it comes to larger businesses, the person you’ve been communicating with may not be the person who’s in charge of paying you. Never make assumptions when it comes to money. Ask! And then address your invoice accordingly.
2. Not Itemizing
Always reiterate what your client is paying you for.
Of course, the level of detail that goes into that itemization is up to you. You can itemize using large, general terms (“blog post,” “ghostwriting,” or “content marketing”) or you can break it down into the nitty-gritty details (“two 1,500-word articles on puppysitting,” “extensive editing for web copy on business homepage,” or “300 pre-written social media updates with 25 pre-chosen SEO keywords”).
The main point is to be specific enough that you and your client can easily keep track of exactly what they’re paying you for.
3. No Due Dates
Sending out your invoice “on time” is almost meaningless if you don’t state when you expect to be paid.
Never send out an open-ended invoice. Always include a due date, even if that date is far into the future.
Some freelancers like to put “due in 30 days” or “due in net 30,” but I don’t recommend doing it that way. Specific due dates tend to be better, from personal experience. When you make your due date a non-specific point in time, your clients are less likely to connect with it as a “real” deadline. Give them a “tangible” date for their brain to hold onto.
4. Not Restating Your Terms
What are your policies in regard to revisions? How do you handle refunds and returns (and how many days does your client have to ask for one)? Who owns the rights to what and for how long?
I’m sure you already covered this stuff in your initial contract, but, just like it’s wise to itemize, it’s also a great idea to briefly restate your terms when you invoice.
Scope creep isn’t exclusive to the duration of the project. In fact, many clients wait until after a project is “over” to start making additional demands on your time. By restating your policies within your invoice, you continue to set professional boundaries, teaching your client exactly how you want to be treated.
5. Not Saying HOW You Wish to Be Paid
Never assume that your client knows how you’d like to be paid.
If your client is in New Zealand and you’re in America, you’re not going to want to wait a month for a check to arrive in the mail! You’d probably prefer an online payment via PayPal or something similar. (Side Note: Embrace modern technology and start accepting electronic payments! The easier you make it for clients to pay you, the more likely they will pay you).
Also state what currency you’d like to be paid in. There’s nothing quite like expecting dollars and then getting paid in yen due to a misunderstanding.
6. Adding on Previously Unmentioned Fees
This is what we in the business refer to as “a dick move” — and it’s one of the fastest ways to get on a client’s bad side. Your client should never be taken by surprise by what they’re asked to pay you. All potential fees should be listed in your contact. And attempt to discuss any fees your client has incurred (or is about to incur) before sending him/her your invoice.
Never, ever, purposely try to pull one over on your client by ripping them off.
The best way to keep your policies and the peace? If your client requests something outside of your previously agreed-upon scope, let them know that if you fulfill their request that you’ll have to charge extra. Give your client a chance to back out. If they choose to proceed after your warning, then you can tack on your fees to your invoice — guilt free!
7. Not Proofreading Before Sending
Is everything spelled right? Is the currency right? Did you do the math right? Did you remember everything? These are all questions you should ask yourself before sending your invoice.
Double-check your invoice for typos and accuracy. Not only will this help to ensure you look as professional as possible as a freelance writer, it will increase your chances of being paid the correct amount for your hard work.
8. Not Following Up on Late Payers
Just because you sent an invoice doesn’t guarantee that you’ll be paid on time — or at all! That said, there’s no reason why you shouldn’t follow-up and continue to pursue your client. Within reason.
Yes. I mean, you can sue your client or enlist a collection agency to chase them down if they take eons to pay you; however, that’s not practical in most cases. Don’t throw good money after bad in an attempt to get what you’re owed (or for revenge). You’ll end up wasting valuable time — time you could’ve been using to find a client who will pay you.
Sometimes it’s better to cut your losses.
On the plus side, if you kept track of your attempts to collect what you were due, you can write off the gig as a bad debt at the end of the year. It’s not the same as getting paid, but at least you won’t take as big of a hit.
9. Not Invoicing as Soon as Possible
The other night I was speaking with a dear freelancer buddy over Skype and he mentioned that he had finished the project he’d been working on, but hadn’t invoiced his client yet. At which point I emerged from his computer screen like Freddy Krueger welcoming someone to primetimeand shook him forcefully by his coat lapels.
As freelancers, I know a lot of us feel weird about asking for money for our work (especially since most of us have jobs we actually enjoy!). Or maybe you don’t want to pester your client or come off as “desperate” by jumping the gun. I totally get that.
But don’t wait for your client to forget you either. Send out an invoice after each completed milestone of a project. Or, immediately upon finishing your project.
Sending out late invoices leads to getting late payments – or, sometimes, not getting paid at all. You finished your work on time, so there’s no reason for you not to get paid on time. You were a professional and now it’s time for your client to step up and get on your level.
10. Not Invoicing at All
Never assume that your clients know what’s going on when it comes to paying you. Not because they’re an idiot or trying to scam you (though that does happen sometimes), but because they’re incredibly busy professionals. They have a lot on their minds and a ton of things to keep track of! Just like you do.
Getting paid is ultimately your responsibility as a freelancer. And the first step toward owning that responsibility is sending out an invoice.
It would be a huge mistake not to!
Have you made any of these invoicing mistakes? Tell me about it in the comments!
Lauren Spear (née Tharp) is the owner and creator of the multiple award-winning LittleZotz Writing. She’s written hundreds of bylined posts helping freelance writers to become BETTER freelance writers. Thousands if you count all the articles she’s ghostwritten (but she’s not allowed to talk about most of those).