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August 13, 2021 · 6 min read

How to get paid on time

Fact: being paid on time for your work should be simple. Another fact: a third of freelance invoices are paid late (particularly if you’re a woman). After facilitating hundreds of thousands of freelancer payments, we’ve been able to pinpoint what works when you want to know how to get paid on time.

Ensuring timely payment isn’t a one-and-done task—it’s a process. So, we’ve broken down a typical journey with a client to share how we’ve been able to secure timely payment at every stage of an engagement. 

Before the engagement

Invest in tools:

We have a whole department dedicated to navigating billing for our network of freelancers because it’s full-time work. Without the help of a full operations team, you’re personally responsible for:

  • Creating and sending invoices by hand
  • Keeping track of and sending payment reminders
  • Notifying clients of a non- or late payment
  • Organizing your tax information in one place
  • Verifying banking information and processing any form of client payments manually (e.g. CCs, ACHs, wire transfers, etc.

Luckily, there are plenty of tools to help you automate as many of these processes as possible. These are our most trusted billing automation tools:

    Cost: $49/user/month
    Key features: Customized invoice templates that can be sent on a one-time or recurring basis to your clients via email and US mail; payment status tracking; automated payment reminders; auto-charge and auto-pay. Plus, their platform seamlessly integrates with QuickBooks and Xero.
    Why freelancers use it: It’s a simplified AR system to manage multiple accounts at one time.
  • Bonsai
    Cost: $19/month for basic subscription or $29/month for Workflow Plus (includes client nurturing and white-labeling features)
    Key features: Customizable contract, proposal, and invoice templates for unlimited clients; global payment processing; customizable billing automation workflows; time tracking; a client portal to view and submit payments. Plus, a $10/month add-on for tax support.
    Why freelancers use it: It’s a seamless process from proposal to contract to invoice, and can cover time tracking and taxes, too.
  • FreshBooks
    Cost: $25/month for 50 clients or $50/month for unlimited clients
    Key features: Expenses and payment tracking; project profitability tracking; customizable invoices and payment reminder templates; free accountant support; auto-charging functionality for invoice payments and late fees.
    Why freelancers use it: It’s a flexible billing solution for those switching between hourly and retainer invoices, and the time tracking integration automatically updates invoices.

Verify a client’s quality

Before we take on new clients, we always verify their ability to make timely invoice payments.

Using public knowledge and review sites like G2 and Trust Pilot protect you from working with bad clients that have a history of poor communication and late payments. Here’s how to read reviews to ensure a client is worth it:

  • Ignore 1-star reviews:Unless their reviews are overwhelmingly 1-star, a reviewer that had substantial enough experience with a client typically doesn’t leave 1-star reviews. In most cases, 1-star reviews are left when a unique misunderstanding or situation happens that doesn’t reflect the validity of the overall company.  
  • Look for patterns:If 20 people are saying a company is unresponsive or slow to respond to key messages, it’s probably because they are. In our experience, poor communication is a key indicator of poorly timed payments.
  • Do your own research:If a client is just starting their company, or still in the MVP stage of their product, they’re likely not going to have many reviews online. Don’t be afraid to ask your contact if there is someone you can chat with—a previous vendor, client, or employee—to learn more about what it’s like to work there. Particularly for longer-term engagements, vetting goes both ways.

Mitigate potential blockers in your contracts

We’ve learned the hard way that you can proactively reduce a lot of friction and miscommunication around payment with clients by clearly establishing your expectations and working collaboratively in your contracts. Here’s how we’ve learned to how to get paid on time from clients:

  • Collaborate on net terms: Flex on your typical terms now and then in order to reduce friction around payment for a given client. For example, if you normally do net-15 terms, but a client wants net-45, a reasonable compromise might be net-30 to meet them halfway. Just be sure that the terms are clear and understood by all parties.
  • Establish non- or late payment terms:Making clients aware of the repercussions of missed payments will add a sense of urgency to never miss an invoice. We recommend stating a clear time frame for a grace period upon a late or non-payment before you will stop work until the invoice is paid (e.g., 7 days after the invoice was due) or charge a late fee.
  • Deposit terms: For client engagements where extended net terms are in play (e.g., net-45+), we highly recommend asking a client for an initial deposit. At the end of the day, it’s your responsibility to protect your time and your business, particularly if you’re freelancing without the support of a platform.

During the engagement


For an invoice to get paid on time by a client can sometimes feel like a game of cat and mouse: you have to catch the right person at the right time. We’ve found that the best time to send invoices depends on the invoice recipient. 

  • If your client is paying the invoice: Send the invoice on a weekend day.
    They’re most likely connected to their inbox 7 days a week, but disconnected enough from their busiest work hours. Plus, studies show that invoices sent during the weekend are paid 10 days faster than those sent during the week. What’s better than on-time payments? Early payments.
  • If someone from the financial department is paying the invoice: 7:58 am on a Monday. Wait to send your invoice until the last possible minute before their work hours begin first thing in the week; that way, it won’t get lost in the incoming mail from the weekend.

Consistent follow-ups

In the unfortunate instance of a missed invoice payment, notifying a client that you’re going to have to stop work until they’ve paid their outstanding invoice can be uncomfortable. Here’s our communication method for tracking down payments:

  • 1 week before payment is due:Send an email with the attached invoice
  • 1 day after late payment:  begin sending friendly reminders via Slack or email 2-3 times a week
  • 1-2 weeks after the due date has passed: Call the client and reiterate your non- or late payment terms
  • If all other communication methods haven’t been fruitful:It’s time to stop work and pursue 3rd party solutions to rectify the missed payment. 

As a freelancer, chasing down late payments can be pretty uncomfortable, especially if the billing contact is the client you work with directly. When you work through, we manage all payment-related communication with clients with a balanced tone of kindness and candor. 

For example, in the instance of a missed payment that requires a pause in the work, we’ll send an email with the attached invoice saying something like:

“Hey [Client Name], [Your Name] is really excited to continue working with you on your project! A friendly reminder that payment was due on [Date] and we’re just waiting to hear back from you and confirm payment before [Your Name] can resume work.”

Definitely less uncomfortable when someone else is serving as your bill collector—with the added security of being paid on time regardless of when the client pays

After the engagement


Now that your engagement has ended, consider: what worked in your process? What needs to improve? If you’re like 69% of freelancers concerned about non- or late payments from clients, you might even ask: is handling your own billing worth it? If you’re at that point in your freelancing practice, we’ve got you covered: gets you paid on time by quality clients without ever having to send an invoice. Apply to join today: