Experiencing too many dry spells in your copywriting world? Here’s my advice on how to keep the freelance cash ticking over nicely.
Many years ago, when I was a rather naïve freelance copywriter, I worked with a client I knew well and allowed about five invoices to pile up – and therefore payments owed to stack up. You can find out how I managed to get paid – eventually – by reading my blog on taking clients to court. Grrrrr.
Older and wiser, let me share my hard-earned tips on how to keep the freelance cash flowing. After all, a freelance copywriter’s life can be very up and down and make all the the difference between shopping at LIDL and Waitrose, as fellow copywriter Pete Matthews always proclaims.
Freelance cash tip #1 – Ask for a deposit upfront
How much you want to request is entirely up to you and may depend on the total project amount. If you’ve worked regularly with a client, they’re more likely to accept a suggestion of a 50% downpayment. But new clients…..well, why would they take the risk?
So, you then have three choices: 1) be cheeky and ask nicely anyway, 2) offer to produce a sample piece of work for free (also an excellent way to see how you like working with the client btw), or 3) ask for a small downpayment of, say, 10% which is then doubled or tripled if the client is happy to proceed with you after seeing the first few wow paragraphs/pages.
Freelance cash tip #2 – Ask for payment in stages
Agreeing to stagger payments is especially crucial if quite a large amount is involved. If I could tell you how many times a client has declared an immediate need for a copywriter due to an imminent deadline and then – a month later – has yet to give feedback (or, even worse, the brief)…….well, that’s life and delays inevitably happen.
Let’s say you’ve agreed a project fee of £1,000. You could request a downpayment of 25% with another 25% after providing the first copy draft and the remaining 50% on sign off.
Freelance cash tip #3 – Keep rolling out invoices if you can stay below the VAT threshold
There’s another big benefit to staggering payments as per the above tip, rather than sending in several chunkier ones at the end of the month.
You have to register for VAT with HM Revenue and Customs (HMRC) if your annual taxable turnover in the last 12 months is over £81,000 or the value of taxable supplies is likely to exceed that in the next 30 days. However, there isn’t a fixed period like there is for the tax year – it’s a rolling 12-month period which could be any time. For example, the beginning of July to the end of June. So check your rolling turnover regularly and spread out payments across days and weeks.
Freelance cash tip #4 – Shorten the length of your payment terms
Really big companies will have strict protocols in place about paying freelancers and suppliers after 30 days, or longer, or on their month-end payment run (so check when this may be).
As before, it never hurts to ask. I normally suggest 30 days for invoices over £1,000, 14 days if over £500 and seven days if under. The nifty thing about this is that, if you’ve agreed to spread the amount over stages as per tip #2, then you’ll always get paid in 7 or 14 days. Clever, huh?
The other mega advantage is that if a potential client is sticky about budget, you can negotiate to meet it in exchange for a faster payment turnaround.
Freelance cash tip #5 – Put the payment date on your invoice
Sounds simple and obvious, but many freelance copywriters never bother. It’s also particularly worth doing if a bank holiday is looming or your client is whizzing off on annual leave.
Freelance cash tip #6 – Sign up with Pay On Time
Oh, and don’t forget to sign up with Pay on Time – a fantastic free UK service with stacks of advice to support small businesses in getting paid – and add in this disclaimer plus their logo.
Freelance cash tip #7 – Get a PO number
Tricky one this as it usually only happens with larger clients or sizeable ad and design agencies. A purchase order is your proof that your freelance copywriting services have been ordered and therefore is legally binding.
Freelance cash tip #8 – Always ask to be paid by BACs
Most people do so these days anyway. If a client is dragging their heels, ask them to make a CHAPs transfer. This electronic bank-to-bank technology means nippy same-day payments within the UK, so long as funds are released before 3pm.
Freelance cash tip #9 – Ask international clients to pay all currency and bank fees
Doing freelance work with an overseas client? As well as adding your bank’s SWIFT code and your account’s IBAN number, so that international payments can be made and received easily, always ask the client to pay all the currency charges and the bank transfer fees. Otherwise both the client’s bank and your bank will charge you.
Freelance cash tip #10 – Get your Ts & Cs signed
Set out everything very clearly in your proposal and ask your client to sign your copywriting terms, providing their details in full and including whether or not they’re registered as a limited company. Want to know why this really really matters – read more about sole traders v limited companies here.
Freelance cash tip #11 – Be stubborn
My final copywriter rule brings me back to where we started – don’t let your invoices pile up. Put your pen down and politely tell your client you hope they understand that you can’t send any more work or make revisions until all debts have been cleared.
About the author: Caroline Gibson
Caroline has been a freelance copywriter for over 15 years, with clients ranging from international brands to small businesses looking to become big businesses.
Before then, she worked for some of London’s leading ad, branding and design agencies. Also, she won awards in each of these discipline.
Nice collection of tips. I would just add that asking for 50% up front is pretty normal. Assuming the client has vetted you, the risk for them is no greater than it is in all sorts of contractor situations. I routinely require a 50% downpayment from all new clients.
Another tip has to do with copyright law. I don’t know how similar the U.S. and U.K. are on this, but on my side of the pond, if your writing is a work for hire, you retain the copyright until you are paid in full. That means the client would be unable to publish what you wrote until they paid you. When faced with clients who are dragging their feet, I’ve reminded them of this fact and been paid right away.