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28 June 2018

Freelancers: top tips to get paid on time

If you are a freelancer, managing cash flow can be a constant headache that keeps you awake at night worrying about being able to pay the bills at the end of the month.

Receiving payment for the hard work you have done should be a simple and easy process, however this is not always the case, as firms often delay sending payment which has left the UK in a major late payment crisis.

Moreover, the implications are not only financial, if you don’t know when you are getting paid you could end up suffering from anxiety and stress. Not to mention the time out of your schedule having to constantly chase money from invoices you are owed when you could be working instead.


The Federation of Small Businesses champion the important contribution freelancers make to our economy in such a variety of industries, so we have some advice for how to make sure you get paid on time for your work:

1. Research your buyers

Before signing on the dotted line, research potential clients to see if they have a track record of poor payment. The UK government now requires the biggest businesses to report on their payment practices. These reports are available to search online.

More than 1,000 large companies have so far started to report on how they pay, and thousands more will follow suit over the coming months.

Reference agencies such as Experian will conduct credit ratings for a small fee. These are a good way to get a sense of how bigger firms treat suppliers.

2. Make payment terms clear

Ambiguity around payment terms has to be avoided at all costs. If you expect to be paid within 30 days, make that crystal clear when drawing up agreements. Equally, leave your buyer in no doubt that practices such as retrospective discounting, where big firms decide to pay less than agreed simply because they’ve paid on time, won’t be tolerated.

It’s also a good idea to send payment instructions and deadlines alongside invoices when they’re issued. Setting up user-friendly online and card payment facilities can also help avoid delays.

Ultimately, you’re looking to pre-empt any excuses your clients might try and muster for paying late.

3. Provide timely reminders and know the law

Setting up automated emails to clients to remind them when payments are due can nudge them into settling invoices more promptly. It’s also important to be aware of legislation in the space, such as the payment terms set out in the Public Contract Regulations.

Cost effective legal support is also out there to help tackle repeat offenders. In a lot of cases, a letter from a solicitor is enough to make late payers change their ways.

4. Make late payers pay 

You have the right to charge interest on invoices the moment they become overdue. Use it. FSB research shows that eight in 10 small firms don’t charge interest on late payments. That needs to change.

It can be a daunting prospect to take this kind of action against important clients. However, you need to remember that, if payment terms have been made clear, you’re only taking the kind of fair, commercially savvy action that would be returned if the boot were on the other foot.

If clients expect work to be done on time, payment should be made on time.

5. Don’t be afraid to speak out

We can’t hope to change our endemic poor payment culture unless we’re prepared to call out bad practice.

Appointed towards the end of 2017, the Small Business Commissioner has been tasked with bringing our late payment crisis to an end. As part of his efforts, he’s established a dispute handling service, which provides assistance to those who are not being paid on time.

If you have been affected by late payments, don’t hesitate to reach out to the Commissioner. The late payment crisis will not climb up the national agenda unless we as small businesses are vocal on the issue.

It’s hard to avoid being stung by late payers at some stage during your firm’s development. But following these five steps can help you steer clear of the waiting game.

Too many big businesses don’t play fair. Adopting the right tactics, however, can ensure you aren’t left waiting for the cash you’re rightfully owed.