Seeing Red: Overdue Bills

by Mar 17, 2015

No one enjoys paying bills. Even worse is paying overdue bills. Late fees pile up and until you make a payment the final figure continues to climb until it’s completely paid off. It’s a vicious cycle that will perpetuate itself unless it is taken care of earlier rather than later. Money owed to freelancers is no different than any other bill, but they are sometimes treated as something less than the digital newspaper bill.

Freelancers are people. Let’s just start there. They have bills just like everyone else; rent or a mortgage, maybe a car payment, student loans, utilities, credit cards, sounds like any other person out there. But when you work for yourself, you have to wear the accounts receivable and accounts payable hats of your business. That means sending out reminders to clients with open accounts that their bill is overdue. It also means they have to pick which bills they need to pay get paid first or how much to send as a partial payment. Again, a vicious cycle.

No one enjoys sending out overdue or late payment reminders to clients. I detest this part of my job. There is no way to convey frustration, or worry, or panic in an email and know you’ll get paid. Some clients simply forget, which is understandable, and pay right away when they get a reminder. They apologize and send the check. Everyone is happy. Some clients insist they already paid in full. Proving this is pretty simple, check with your bank. Then there are other clients that just never respond. No matter how many emails you send they just hit the delete button on their inbox and pretend they never got it. Luckily, I have yet to encounter a client that went this route. I’ll come back to that kind of client another time.

In a perfect world freelancers would get paid at the moment they send over the final work. Sadly, it is not a perfect world. I give a grace period of 30 days for every invoice unless another arrangement was made. Out of all my clients, 99% of them work for an established business. That means they, as individuals, get a regular paycheck. They show up, do their job, collect money. I work for myself so I rely on the paychecks from projects I complete. Nothing steady about my process: get project, complete project, send invoice, wait. The wait could be a few days or beyond the allotted 30. Either way, I still have to wait. It’s stressful and takes a lot of gusto to hold back screaming at my computer with my own bills piling up on my desk while my open accounts run over their time limit. My bill collectors have no qualms sending additional overdue reminders and making me hate their establishment for not being more understanding.

Bottom line: your freelancer has bills too. If you can pay your bill to them quickly, you should do so. Your freelancer will thank you and will want to work with you again. It builds trust and better business relations between you both. In the future, they will be more understanding if you can’t pay right away, since they already know you’re good for it. That’s something no big business will do for a customer.