Rihanna’s song - bitch better have my money - is perhaps the most apt song that web designers can relate to when working with clients. Pay me what you owe me should go down as the most iconic lyric that freelancers around the world scream inside their heads when negotiating and dealing with clients! And rightfully so - after hours of struggling with complex design tools and being at the receiving end of the many requests (sometimes even the most ridiculous ones), it is only fair that you receive timely payments from your clients. But we know this is a difficult territory for most of us, it makes for awkward conversations and sometimes even the mere mention of money makes even the more seasoned professional grapple with anxiety and desperation.
In this article we look at some methods to secure your payment before and during the project delivery. In the odd circumstance that you may find yourself in, when the project is already handed-over and the client has withheld your hard-earned money, we’ll dive into some ways to talk your clients into paying you pronto.
1) Have a contract in place
I notice this with many freelancers – especially those who are new in the industry - who come on Facebook groups and whine about late payments from their clients. When I ask them about their contract and the agreement with their clients, I’m usually greeted with a blank. Unless you don’t explicitly state how you will be paid, do not expect the client to magically assume when to pay. It is mandatory to have a contract in place with your payment terms clearly mentioned so that both you and your clients understand the money-talk and the timelines to abide by. This is the first step you should take before starting any work on a project. In fact, it is also wise to include late payment fees should the client miss a payment deadline.
Consider using an online proposal tool such as Better Proposals that will have you up and running with your personalized contracts in no time. It also integrates with payment gateways such as PayPal, Stripe and GoCardless to initiate payment as soon as the client agrees to your services.
2) Communicate with the right people
As a web designer and developer, you may want to stick to your craft of creating websites and leave the task of collecting payments to an internal staff. This is absolutely fine and even advisable so as to remain distraction-free. However if you do so, communicate clearly to your employee when to contact clients for payments and how to follow-up. Sometimes, we tend to overlook the fault in our own process and blame the clients for not paying on time. It also helps to ask the clients to nominate either themselves or a team member to contact to. This ensures that the clients do not dodge your calls and pass you around their team with no single person held responsible for making payments.
3) Make things easier
Not all clients are going to pay you the same way. Some via net banking, some of them will write a cheque while others may use a different mode of payment. Ensure that you have these payment options made available to them before the contract is signed. Every client has his preferred method of paying their contractors and this should be mutually agreeable to both parties. Making payments easier for them means that you will be getting paid on time and not spend hours quibbling on the phone with their accounts department. Tools such as Wave and Freshbooks are easy to setup, send invoices automatically, reminders if they remain unpaid as well as setup auto-billing options for your clients to ease the entire process.
It is also smart thinking to ask the clients to send a screenshot of the payment as soon it is done. For those who are paying you via cheque, request them to send a photo of it before it is mailed to your office. Asking for visual proof of payment puts clients in a position where they won’t intentionally delay what’s due and save you from the usual “we’ve already mailed it a week ago” and you’d be left wondering why you still haven’t received it (hint: they weren’t exactly honest as you expected them to be!)
4) Structure your payments correctly
How you want to get paid is a call you have to decide. A lot of freelancers and agency owners agree on a 50% upfront payment and the rest to be paid once the project gets delivered. While it is always great to be paid at least some initial amount, this method may not bode well with many others. There are other payment structures you may want to look into, such as:
a) A 100% upfront payment: Nothing beats getting paid in full before the project starts, however it is also the most difficult to pull off (and not necessarily implausible). You certainly need to display a lot of expertise to win the trust of the client first. Asking for the entire payment is usually met with a lot of resistance though you can reduce that by offering a discount on the project. If you position your offer well enough, many (if not all) clients will take it up. I mean – who doesn’t love discounts?
b) Payment plans: For those clients who aren’t willing or able to pay the entire amount upfront, you can set up payment plans to provide convenience and relief. If so, split the entire amount to smaller ones for them to pay each month. It’s much less of a burden on them and should see you getting paid regularly.
Another approach to splitting payments (and which I’d prefer than the aforementioned one) is to ask for it when certain milestones are met. As you are drafting your contracts and mentioning the various milestones the project will have, a payment clause dictating certain sum of amounts to be cleared after reaching each milestone is a better way to get heftier payments in time.
However what happens when the project gets delivered and you still haven’t got paid (fully or partially)? This can occur quite commonly amongst those who are still not very sure of their own payment process, have a lackadaisical attitude in following-up with the clients, someone who is still learning the tricks of the trade or any other reason. Here’s what you need to do:
1) Follow up: As easy as it may come across to some, there are people who are technically experts but aren’t as good at managing their businesses. Follow up with the clients on a consistent basis and remind them about the pending fees. Create a series of emails to be sent, for instance on the 1st, 7th and 14th day – gently reminding your clients about overdue payment. Speak to them on the phone after each email is sent out so that they don’t feign ignorance. Usually this method suffices and most businesses will clear payments after displaying a few hiccups.
2) Revoke licenses: As harsh as it may seem but sometimes you have to pull the trigger to draw attention. Many web designers and developers create their clients’ websites using tools (that have their personal licenses) and charge their clients for it. A lot of these premium tools have a dashboard that’ll give information on which websites the tool is being used on. It also gives you the ability to revoke licenses from any website you choose. For example, Beaver Builder (a page builder for WordPress) has this functionality:
As you can see, one can revoke a license (by deactivating it) from the client’s website with a single click. This will not necessarily break the website right away (it could in the future due to compatibility issues with other plugins or theme or WordPress updates) but the site won’t have access to any future updates for that plugin itself – which is a big security threat to the site anyway and no client would want to risk that.
3) Leave reviews
If you have the misfortune of dealing with a very insensitive and obnoxious client who doesn’t respond to your emails, phone calls and avoids you post site delivery; you can then think of coercing him in paying you by leaving reviews on his Google My Business page, other third party review websites such as Clutch or GoodFirms; and other important site directories. Companies want to have a spotless business profile and no business owner in his sane mind would want others to see unfavourable reviews regarding non-payment for the work done. Surely, nobody would want to do anything with such a business. Hopefully a threat to actually leave such a review should be enough of a scare to get your fees back.
4) Use professional help
If you have a sizeable amount of payment pending from a client and cannot afford to let it go, approaching a debt collecting agency is one of the last resorts. Professional collection agencies offer their services either on a fixed rate or on a contingency model – which means that you don’t pay the agency until they recover the debt your clients owe you. Their pricing structures, the time it takes to recover payments, features such as skip tracking (when the debtor has left the location), on-site visit etc., differ from one agency to another. Also, take into account that as a web designer, you may have clients from across the globe. Thus using an international debt collecting agency such as this one may come in handy as they have representatives in multiple countries to assist in account recovery.
We understand that money is a difficult subject to talk about as is, and dealing about it with clients can easily become nerve-wracking. Remember that clients generally do not want trouble themselves but you may come across a few bad apples along the way. We hope this article provides guidance towards refining your payment process or helps you kick-start if you haven’t had one yet. Let us know in the comments below how you handle it for your business.