ABCs of Freelance Writing: U is for Upfront Payment

I’ve written about the sticky subject of collecting money from difficult clients before. In an article I wrote for Small Business Bonfire, I shared some ideas I had for getting deadbeat clients to pay up. But today I’d like to talk about one way you, as a freelance writer, can avoid dealing with deadbeats entirely.

It’s called an upfront payment.

And it’s glorious.

Tips for Collecting Upfront Payments

Create a fee schedule for your most popular services.

Online freelance writing payment

First things first, establish freelance writing fees so you’re not wasting time debating what to charge. Most of my pre-pay clients are in a hurry to get a job done, and having a rate sheet expedites the process.

Choose between full and partial upfront payments.

When it comes down to it, you have a couple of pre-pay options: you can bill for a fraction of the invoice upfront, or you can bill for the entire cost of services. I’ve done both, but I tend not to split invoices under $200.

Explain your upfront payment policy.

New clients may need to be reassured that you’re not going to leave them high and dry after you’ve got their money. Explain your entire process in writing (preferably in a contract) before any money changes hands. Confirm your commitment to the deadline and be clear about what happens if the customer is not satisfied with the work or requests revisions.

Offer immediate Payment processing.

FreshBooksI bill with Freshbooks because it enables me to send invoices and statements immediately via email. I can collect payments through my PayPal account, making it possible for me to accept a job, bill the client, receive payment, and begin work on a project in a matter of minutes. Freshbooks even has an arrangement with PayPal where you can opt to waive the standard PayPal fees and select a flat rate fee per transaction for $.50. That’s pretty sweet, because those percentage-based PayPal fees can seriously eat into your profits if you use it a lot.

Never miss a deadline.

The thing about charging for work upfront is that you have to be able to deliver consistently. If you aren’t committed to delivering the finished product when promised, you’ll have a hard time maintaining a solid business relationship with your clients.

Deliver your best work.

Think of the upfront payment scenario like a transaction at your local electronics store. As a customer, you expect to walk away with a solid product that lives up to the claims on the packaging. Your clients feel the same way about your writing. When a client pays upfront, there’s a greater expectation for you to get the job done right the first time.


About Emily Suess

Emily Suess is a technical marketing writer by day and a freelance copywriter by night. And, no, she's not related to Dr. Seuss.
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  • http://www.terrificwords.wordpress.com Terri

    I like this ida. And it’s something I’ve been contemplating doing after last year when I got stiffed by a client. I’ve been thinking of starting a policy in which all clients who have projects of $500 or more must pay half the balance upfront.

    • http://blog.emilysuess.com Emily Suess

      My advice is to go for it, Terri. Lots of freelancers insist on getting at least 1/3 of the bill upfront –particularly on large projects where the risk for non-payment is very high.

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  • http://www.maheshrajmohan.com/blog Mahesh Raj Mohan

    Great post, as usual, Emily, and thanks for the note about FreshBooks. One of my great pet peeves with PayPal is its fee policy, so I will definitely look into this service.

    I almost always take a percentage upfront, unless the payment is $200 or less. It does provide a greater expectation to get it right the first time (which I prefer anyway), but I do build a revision clause into my contracts to mollify any new client fears. :-)

    • http://blog.emilysuess.com Emily Suess

      I use a revision clause too. I allow for up to three just to maintain confidence from the client’s perspective, but I find that one revision usually does the trick anyway.

      Excellent point!

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  • http://www.girlyfight.com Stacia

    Great post. In a previous life, I did a lot of website development as a freelancer and I almost always asked for milestone payments, starting with a chunk upfront. Some of those projects could run in the thousands of dollars and to set milestones with due dates meant great accountability for both me and my client.

    Nothing I’ve done with editing/writing/marketing has been anywhere near that large but I still split payments. For the marketing, I ask half when I deliver the plan (they could always take my plan to someone else to implement and the plan is at least half the work!) and half when I’ve completed the work.

    My husband was stiffed twice. Once, he had to write it off as a loss. The other time, he was paid with an office chair instead of cash. Nice chair but not as green as money!

    • http://blog.emilysuess.com Emily Suess

      Getting stiffed sucks, but it happens to a lot of us. I was working with a corporate client who perpetually paid late (even though they used their own contract terms!). Months later, it’s almost settled. But they still owe me $6.75 in late fees. Grr…

      I guess a chair is better than nothing though….

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  • http://www.nibblemethis.com Chris

    I have been lucky, I haven’t had a slow or no pay yet but I have been working with just a handful of reputable companies and they are all repeat customers.

    But the next time I’m approached “cold call” style, I’ll keep this idea in mind.