6 Ways to Get Paid as a Freelancer or Consultant
The Best Forms of Payment for Freelancers
The gig economy is booming—and there’s plenty of proof that freelancing is on the rise. According to a survey by Freelancers Union and Elance-oDesk (now Upwork), more than 57 million Americans earn freelance income—with tens of millions likely to follow. Business Insider predicts that 40 percent of Americans will be freelancers by the year 2020.
If you plan on freelancing at some point in your career or are currently a freelancer, one of the first things you’ll need to figure out is how to accept payments from clients.
Like anything, some forms are better than others.
6 Forms of Payment for Freelancers
Checks. Accepting checks is one of the easiest ways to get paid as a freelancer. The biggest advantage is there are no fees for depositing a check into your bank account, making checks one of the best forms of payment for many. The downsides to accepting checks include waiting for the check to arrive in the mail and waiting for the check to clear in your bank account. If you need the funds available as soon as possible, electronic payment options might be better—but you can’t beat the price of checks.
See how to avoid taking bad checks: Rules for Accepting Payment by Check
PayPal. PayPal is the most common form of payment freelancers receive. It’s free to set up an account, and clients can pay you electronically as soon as your work is completed. The money appears instantly in your PayPal account and you can then easily transfer the money over to your checking or savings account. Transfers to your bank take at least one business day, but you can also use a PayPal debit card for instant spending from your PayPal balance.
The downside? Fees. For payments you receive, expect to pay a 2.9 percent transaction fee, based on the amount you receive, plus $0.30. While that might not seem like a lot, it can add up to thousands of dollars per year or more if you accept most of your payments through PayPal.
Credit cards. Freelancers can accept credit cards as a form of payment, and customers may prefer paying with plastic. These payments are typically processed through PayPal or another online payment system.
You can also purchase your own credit card processing equipment to accept payments from clients. You’ll need wireless credit card terminals and credit card processing software or a merchant account. Several vendors offer hardware that works with your mobile device, so you don’t necessarily need the large terminals you see at checkout counters. Keep in mind that most freelancers who accept credit cards use apps or other service providers to get paid. For example, you can take credit cards using your PayPal, Google Wallet, Wave, or QuickBooks account—eliminating the need to purchase your own equipment.
See how to get started on the cheap: 4 Affordable Mobile Processing Solutions
Electronic funds transfer. The easiest, quickest, and least expensive way to get paid is through an electronic funds transfer (EFT). Payments are sent directly from one bank account to another without any apps or payment processing companies involved. The transaction typically takes two to four business days to move from your client’s bank to your bank, but once the money is there, you do not need to worry about transferring it again like you would with PayPal.
The disadvantage of EFTs is that your bank—or your client’s bank—needs to accommodate those transfer requests. That’s sometimes difficult (or costly) when you’re moving funds from one bank to another. Because of this, most clients that hire freelancers prefer to use checks or online apps to pay their freelancers. However, a client with a robust payroll provider may be able to set up payments easily.
Accounting software. In addition to helping you track income and expenses, your accounting software might help you collect payments. What’s more, the revenue is automatically updated and linked to the client when one service handles everything. Programs like QuickBooks or FreshBooks can create invoices and make payment easy for your clients. They may even send reminders and let you know if clients have viewed your invoice or not. If you’re already using an accounting program, find out if it will also send invoices and handle payments.
Square Cash. Similar to PayPal, Square Cash is an online option for freelancers to accept payments.
Instead of having to transfer the money from your online account over to your bank account, though, the money goes directly into your checking account. Like an EFT, the funds will take a few business days to show up in your account. The fee is also less than what PayPal charges at 2.75 percent of payments received. For personal use, sending money from one person to another is free of charge. Clients don’t need a Square Cash account or app—they can pay online at www.Cash.me.
Tips for Getting Paid
Make it easy. To prevent slow payments, make it as simple as possible for clients to pay you. Give them multiple options so that they can use the one they’re most comfortable with. For example, on invoices, include a “Pay Now” button, offer credit card payments, and include instructions for paying by check.
Invoice often. Don’t wait too long to invoice for work you’ve completed. It’s important to keep earning revenue, and invoicing can seem like an annoying task, but it’s also important to actually collect revenue that you earn. If you wait too long, clients may need additional reminders, and they may get the impression that you’re in no rush to get paid.
Follow up. Sending an invoice doesn’t guarantee payment. Set up a system to ensure that you’re actually getting paid, and reach out to clients who are slow to pay. It’s possible that they’re busy, but it’s also possible that they’re reluctant to pay. Whether they’re just dragging their feet or they have a problem with your service (or billing process), get in touch to keep things from getting out of hand. Again, some billing services handle this task for you.
Note: Justin Pritchard updated this article.