This is not an article about how to find clients or make money. This is the nitty-gritty: the technical details of how freelancers actually request and receive payment.
Have you agreed on payment terms?
The most important first step after agreeing on payment is to put it in the contract.
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You can choose to design your payments to be in advance, upon completion, on a schedule, whatever you want. But whichever you choose, put it in writing in the contract and do not start any actual work until the contract is signed.
The way you design the payment schedule may be different for each project or client. For example, I charge per word rates for blog posts and articles, and I send an invoice with the total AFTER it is written and sent to the client. I invoice for the total word count times my per word rate.
However, for manuscript editing, I require 25% up front as a deposit to start editing and the rest on completion.
For monthly retainer clients, they typically pay once per month and I send an invoice on the 15th, to be paid immediately.
For each client or project, these terms are spelled out in the contract and ALSO I have the details in my current client spreadsheet so I have everything organized in one place for my own notes.
How do you request money/invoice clients?
There are two ways that I invoice clients.
The main one I use is the free PayPal invoicing function. I really like their invoicing and templates, and it’s free to use with a free PP account. I can save templates for each client and just change the hours/dollar amount and it will send it for me.
While I don’t LOVE the fees PP takes from transactions, I also understand that is how they make money. [Note: When calculating how much money I make each year, I only count what I actually received from PP, not how much I invoiced for — I am not counting the fees I paid to PP, as that is almost like a tax or service fee, not in my take-home amount.]
Plus, for people who do NOT have PP accounts, they can simply pay PP invoices with any credit card, so an account is not required.
The other invoice I use is an MS Word document with the invoice template that I have to manually fill out. Some clients use accounting services like Bill.com or Quickbooks and prefer Word or PDF invoices. So, I fill out my Word invoice, save it twice — once as Word, once as a PDF — and send both copies to the client via email.
I have had issues in the past when only sending the Word copy that the client’s accounting software had issues with the formatting, so it has become a habit to also send a PDF.
There are other ways to request payment, of course. You could use an accounting software of your own and send invoices through that system. You can send a Venmo request, or a simple email saying “This is what you owe me, here’s how to pay.”
Personally, I think whatever works for YOU and your clients is great.
How do you accept payment?
To make it as simple as possible for clients, I can accept a variety of payment methods: PayPal, Zelle, Venmo, and my personal favorite: direct transfer.
There are others, too. Occasionally I get a wire transfer or someone asks to send me a personal check, but PayPal and direct transfer are the most common options.
Nonetheless, my preference is direct transfer, as there are no fees associated with it and the money lands squarely in my business account. Venmo is also a good option with no fees.
In the end, accepting payment is more about the payER than the payEE. It’s what the client feels most comfortable with. As long as the end result is me getting the payment, then I’m good and happy to be flexible.
As a note, I have personally chosen NOT to have Stripe or other payment-taking apps on my website. I’ve found that for me, it’s a pain on the backend and other options are simpler for my needs.
How do you keep track of it all?
Some people use accounting software to track everything and others don’t. I think it is best that you find what works best for YOU and your business. I have colleagues who love Bill.com and Quickbooks and Zipbooks, others who prefer to keep their own records, it’s what works for YOU to stay organized and consistent.
I personally use Google spreadsheets to keep track of my clients, invoice numbers, rates, payments received, and notes.
I don’t want to take a screenshot and expose client information, so I’ll simply describe it to you.
My main spreadsheet has 3 separate sheets:
- 1 for editing and project clients
- 1 for monthly retainer clients
- 1 for totals
Column 1 is company name, 2 is client name, 3 is email address, 4 is where I found the client (referral, outreach, ad, etc.), 4 is the date we first spoke, column 5 is the price/rate we agreed to, 6 is a short description of services/needs & how payment will be made, 7 is a column for invoice number after I send the invoice, 8 is the time quote for the work, 9 is a running total of how much money the client has paid me this calendar year, and 10 is any notes or additional information, such as account logins, deadlines, and details.
Monthly Retainer Clients
Basically the exact same as the first sheet, with one added column for billing date (when I send the invoice and payment is expected).
This sheet is for my accountant more than any other. I have a few different things on this one.
First, I have a column listing January through December. Next to each month, I have a column for PayPal money received, a column for non-PP money received, and a column for monthly totals with a SUM at the bottom showing all the monthly totals added together for an ongoing yearly total.
Further down the sheet, I have a list of all business expenses, with total money spent, what it was spent on, and the date. Same for any donations made.
I also have a column for book royalties, which ARE included in my monthly non-PP totals, but I do keep a separate list just to see how much I make from royalties.
Each year, I copy the structure into a new sheet for the new year.
You need to define the payment terms in the contract, have a specific way to request and receive money, and then somehow keep track of it all.
When it comes to treating freelancing as a BUSINESS, you MUST do these things. The money you make is income, you MUST keep track of it and pay taxes on it, and also be able to answer clients when they have questions on payments or the process.
Staying organized and having a system in place for requesting and receiving payments is imperative to running a profitable business over time.
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