How to Make Sure You Get Paid for Your Freelance Work

How to Get Paid - And What to Do If You Don't Get Paid

Avoid Non-payment by Employers
Make Sure You Get Paid. Sheer Photo, Inc. / Getty Images

Freelancers and those who work as independent contractors often have trouble getting paid. This includes all types of contract workers who are self-employed and rely on income from others to keep going. 

If you are starting a freelance business, one of the first things you will need to do - after figuring out how to get paying clients - is to deal with the issues relating to payment. Here are some tips to make sure you get paid for your work.

There are two parts to this process - first, getting payment then what to do if you don't get paid.

First, a caveat: There are some people who will never pay you, no matter how much you try. It's best to figure out these people right away, before expending a significant amount of time and energy on them. 

Getting a contract and accepting payments

1. Get it in writing. Get details of the work requirements. Don't rely on assumptions. That means putting together a contract or work for hire agreement (they are essentially the same thing). Define the work specifically and include specific details on when you will get paid, how much, and what happens it one party doesn't fulfill the terms of the contract. I

It doesn't take long to put together an independent contractor agreement, and it's better to get everything in writing than have major conflicts over assumptions.

2. Wait for that first payment. Don't do a significant amount of work without getting paid and verifying that the first payment is not going to bounce.

Don't let pressure from the client deter you from waiting. You don't want to waste a lot of your time if that first payment is not good.

3. Don't accept checks. Checks may take several days to clear, and you might be doing work only to find out the check bounced. If you have a long-term agreement with a client who pays you faithfully by check, you can slide this rule.

4. Use safe, secure, and verifiable payment methods, like PayPal. You can also accept credit cards on PayPal, and this cheaper than trying to figure out how to accept credit cards through your own website.

5.Get advance payments. Don't wait until the work is complete - get an advance. Or, spread out the payments through the term of the contract. You can get paid something up front, then at key points throughout the work (thirds, or quarters, maybe). A final payment at the end before the client is shown the final work product can help make sure you get everything you are owed. This is a matter of negotiation, because the client will want to pay only at the end, but separate payments are good for everyone.

6. Work through reputable services. When you are just starting out, these services may be helpful in getting clients. In addition, they have to some degree vetted these clients. I'm talking about companies like ​eLance, ​​99designs or oDesk. Sure, they will take a portion of your payment, but you can be more sure of getting paid. And you can develop your own clients from the references you gain as you go.

What to do if you don't get paid

1. Decide at what point you will stop doing the work and notify the contractor of your decision to stop work.

At some point in a relationship with a client, you may have to send a notice that unless the money owed is paid you will stop work. It's a tough ​call ​and depends on the relationship and possibility of future work. But, on the other hand, do you want to continue to work for someone who is slow in paying or whose checks always bounce?

3. Begin the collections process. When you go into business, one of the things you will need to decide is how you will collect money from clients or customers who don't pay. You should set up a collections system to watch accounts receivable (money owed to you by clients), send out reminders, and determine your collections methods if you don't get paid. As with all management decisions, waiting until you have a lot of unpaid bills yourself and then rushing around going after those who owe you is not the best solution to this problem.