How Can Freelancers Get Paid without Delays

Running a small business or pursuing a freelancer career both rely on regular payments by clients and other business entities. If they don’t pay you on time, they’re exposing you to the risk of unsteady cash flow and financial instability.

The report on poor payment practices published in 2016 by the UK Federation of Small Businesses showed that 37% of SMBs had cash issues because of untimely payments.

In order not to get on the receiving end of this trend, you can take the following measures to get paid on time for your work.

1) Ensuring advance payments

Trust is extremely important in the business world. That’s why you should always ask for advance payments when you’re collaborating with a client for the first time. Only when they prove that they’re reliable business partners who don’t postpone their financial obligations should you loosen up a bit.

The amount you’re going to demand to be paid in advance will depend on the size of the project.  On the one hand, you shouldn’t overdo when asking for an upfront payment. On the other, this advance payment also needs to ensure that the client will approach that project in a serious manner.

For all these reasons, a down payment of some 15%-20% sounds reasonable.

Also, this amount of money should be paid to your account sometime before the project kicks off. Again, this timing will depend on your preferences. For instance, for larger projects that demand a lot of preparatory work, this advance payment should be made even months in advance.

As opposed to that, fees for smaller projects could be covered a few days in advance.

2) Keep everything in writing

As we’ve already stressed out, establishing a trustworthy relationship with a client is a great thing for business. But until you reach that stage, you should pay attention to every single detail regarding your freelance work. And the best way to put all the details under control is to keep everything in writing.

First and foremost, you need to make a contract with every new potential client. There’s no room for a laidback approach in freelancing work. You can never tell if a client is going to pay for your work. Even if you work with honest people, they can get in financial difficulties and fail to pay you.

When you sign a contract with your client, you’re legally protected and you can fight for your rights in court. Since making a new contract on your own is time-consuming, you can check out these contract templates for freelancers.

Moreover, if you work via any of the freelance platforms, you can use their contracts and project forms. For instance, Upwork has some practical forms and milestones for fixed-price projects that protect both clients and freelancers.

When it comes to written documents in freelancing, you should also issue clear and timely invoices. Keeping them in order will help you properly track your due payments and predict any potential payment issues. As a result, you’ll be able to run your finances in an organized way.

3) Work only when you get paid

One of the most common mistakes freelancers do is start working without getting paid. Of course, it’s not realistic to expect from a client to pay the entire sum before the project begins. However, they need to make the aforementioned advance payment and set the milestones.

When these two details have been arranged, you can start with your work.

The same pattern should be applied in every single stage of every project you take. By doing so, you’ll protect your freelance existence and ensure proper financial planning. But there’s another important goal you’ll reach with such an assertive attitude: you’ll demonstrate to your clients that you’re a committed professional who shows appreciation to clients and deserves their respect.

4) Anticipate the potential issues

Speaking of freelance platforms, it’s important to mention one big advantage that they bring: you can see the client’s history. Taking a look at their previous projects, the feedback they’ve received and the amount of money they’ve already spent will help you form an image of the client. If you happen to apply for a project offered by an unreliable client, you’d better skip that collaboration.

Apart from that, sometimes freelancers don’t know how to build a firewall from nit-picking clients who would like to make dozens of changes on the project. Since every change you make will cost you in time and resources, it’s crucial for you to limit the number of changes in advance. Also, define how much you’ll charge for each change beyond that pre-agreed number.

Further, you can help yourself a lot if you create an emergency fund and save assets for your business. While this might sound too optimistic for a new freelancer, you don’t have to aim at large figures. Any part of your income that you manage to put aside is welcome. As time goes by and cash comes in, you should be able to make savings that would cover your six-month business expenses. When you reach that goal, you’ll keep your freelance business intact when the payment tide is low.

5) React at once to non-payers

In order to get paid on time, stick to a 15-day payment period. As a matter of fact, setting even a shorter period of time for your clients to make their payments won’t be wrong.

New freelancers often accept any type of work, just to make some money and get things started. This way of thinking should be abandoned at once because you’re not a charity organization, but a business professional who makes for a living through freelance work.

Because of that, it’s extremely important to react at once to non-payers. Even if your client has made an advance payment or activated milestone payments, but stopped paying at one moment, you shouldn’t proceed with your work.

This is the right time to activate some steps against late payers. First, you should send them a reminder note and set the new payment deadline. If that doesn’t work, send out another reminder, but this time including the actions you’re going to take in case they don’t pay you. What you can also do here is contact a debt-collecting agency, just to keep that option on the table. If nothing else works, give the debt collectors the green light to collect your debt from non-paying clients.


Getting paid on time is the pillar of your freelance work. By postponing or avoiding their financial obligations, your clients are putting your entire business effort in danger. You’ll be able neither to concentrate on other projects nor pay your bills until you get paid for your work.

Only a paid freelancer is a happy freelancer and you should always bear that in mind. If you don’t respect and protect yourself and your income, nobody else will.

Mark Thomasson
Mark is a biz-dev hero at Invoicebus - a simple invoicing service that gets your invoices paid faster. He passionately blogs on topics that help small biz owners succeed in their business. He is also a lifelong learner who practices mindfulness and enjoys long walks in nature more than anything else.
Let's be inbox friends!

Let's be inbox friends!

Drop us your email to receive a weekly digest of our latest blog posts right in your inbox.

To confirm your subscription, please check your email.