Over my years as a freelance computer consultant, I’ve heard many stories of workers who have difficulty getting paid for their work. There can be disagreements about whether a project has been completed, claims of cash-flow problems or even, at the worst, simple fraud. Sometimes companies or individuals can be slow to pay invoices or, when they grudging pay, complain about the quality of your services. There are, it seems, a myriad ways to not get paid for your work.
After talking with my peers about payment problems, it seems I have had it easy. Where they might have experienced several issues with payment, I might have had one. It seems that, often, payment issues have more to do with how we do business, rather than any particular type of client.
Over the years, I have found that part of the secret of getting paid is to act like you expect to be paid. This might sound a bit odd, but I have seen workers who are not confident in their work and offer a host of apologies and excuses, even when they are completing the assigned task in a better than average fashion. They don’t have respect for their own work, and this spills over, often unconsciously, to their clients. This makes it easy for clients to request change after change without additional payment. These clients will often let invoices sit unpaid for weeks or months, considering others more worthy of payment. In the worst cases, it may take threats of legal action or more to get paid.
If you want to get paid, reliably, for your work, there are a few guidelines that you need to follow.
* State your rate, confidently, at the beginning of the relationship
Make sure that your clients know your rates and payment requirement before performing any work. Nothing is worse that having a client question your rate after you have already performed significant work. You may never see the payment for that work, even if the client has benefited significantly.
Don’t apologize for your rates, either. There will always be those who cannot afford your rate, especially as you gain experience. In many cases, the only resource you have to sell is your time and your knowledge. Discounting your rate either shows a lack of confidence in your own work or a belief that you have mis-priced your work.
* Carefully specify projects, deliverables, change order processes and payment plans
If you are working on a long-term project, your project plan must contain a detailed account of deliverables, and the payments associated with those deliverables. Payments should be on-going, at regular intervals. A detailed change-order process should be in place to allow changes as the project develops, but also provide payment plans for this additional work.
It might sound like an enormous amount of work, but if you launch a project without carefully specifying your rates, payments and change order process, you are almost guaranteed to lose money. You are setting yourself up for disagreements over the original specification, the change orders and even whether the project is complete in everyone’s mind.
* Don’t extend credit until a relationship is established
In my own business, I ask for payment at the end of each service call, either by check or cash. As I develop a relationship with the client, especially in small business environment, I might eventually move them to a monthly statement. I only do this, though, once they have established the ability, and desire, to pay. To be honest, since I always apply the 2 previous guidelines in all my work, this is usually not an issue. Those clients who show any issues with payment are quickly abandoned. There is no reason you should have to deal with payment issues. It only saps the strength of your business and damages your own confidence in your work.
The final truth is, payment problems in our businesses are usually of our own making. If we don’t price our services correctly, or don’t have confidence that our rates are fair and appropriate, we send out subtle signals that allow less than scrupulous clients to take advantage. Specify your larger projects so that payments and change orders limit opportunities for disagreement. These few simple guidelines can help you build your business and your career by showing your clients that you expect to be paid for your good work — something any worker has a right to expect.